Super Bowl XLI partied like it was 1999. And not just because of Prince.
Sunday's big-game telecast on CBS pulled in the highest ratings since 1999's Super Bowl XXXIV, and scored the second-biggest Super Bowl audience ever, averaging 93.2 million party-chip enthusiasts, Nielsen Media Research stats showed.
In the annals of TV history, CBS noted, Super Bowl XLI will go down as the third most watched program ever, behind the final episode of M*A*S*H* (106 million, in 1983) and Super Bowl XXX (94.1 million, in 1995).
Last year, by comparison, a mere 90.7 million tuned into the big game.
On Sunday, 64 percent of all TVs in use from 6:30 p.m to 10 p.m. (ET) were locked in on the game and related spectacle. Nearly 140 million, a little less than half the population, caught some or all of the festivities.
Ratings peaked at 9-9:30 p.m., CBS said, after halftime, but before the Indianapolis Colts definitively put away the Chicago Bears.
In the other big contest, Budweiser's 30-second spot about crabs that bow down before a beer chest that, in the right light, looks like one of their own emerged on top in USA Today's annual Super Bowl ad survey.
The poll, based on the likes and dislikes of 238 adults, ranked the 57 Super Bowl in-game spots (each costing $2.6 million per 30 seconds of airtime) from most popular to least popular.
The yin to the Bud crabs' yang was salesgenie.com's apparently without irony tribute to aspiring Gordon Gekkos (and the cutthroat Andy Bernards from The Office they more resemble).
In Ad Age, about the best critique Bob Garfield could say of the salesgenie.com spot was that it was "so monumentally brainless and amateurish it actually attracts attention—i.e., is this really a Super Bowl ad???"
Overall, commercials for Bud or Bud Light comprised seven of the top 10 spots in the USA Today poll.
The highest-rated non-Budweiser ad was one of Doritos' so-called "fan-made" commercials, the winner being the one about the guy, the girl and the bags of chips they accidentally smash. The ad concept was submitted by the powers-that-be at a North Carolina-based production company.
Kevin Federline's Super Bowl debut, meanwhile, went over okay with critics but not with the men and women in USA Today's survey, which ranked the spoof for Nationwide Mutual Insurance in the bottom 10.
Ad Age's Garfield, however, gave the Federline spot, in which Britney Spear's estranged husband goes from rapper to fry cook, three and a half out of four stars. "Very sporting of [Federline]," the critic wrote, "and very clever of Nationwide."
The critics and the USA Today public diverged even more over the Snickers spot in which two car mechanics chew on opposite ends of the same candy bar until their lips meet.
Those surveyed by USA Today ranked the commercial among the 10 best. On salon.com, columnist King Kaufman ranked the commercial as the most "anti-gay."
Of how the mechanics, post-lip-lock, scramble to do "something manly," and end up ripping off swatches of chest hair, Kaufman observed: "Because depilation is so straight."
Kaufman preferred the likes of Emerald Nuts' spot about bad Robert Goulet (it was a top 20 spot in USA Today), and CBS' in-house Late Show promo featuring David Letterman cozying up on a couch with former nemesis Oprah Winfrey (unranked by the newspaper).
In the New York Times, writer Stuart Elliott didn't so much have favorite ads as he had Iraq on the brain, noting that "the ongoing war seemed to linger just below the surface of many of this year's commercials." One of Elliott's chief exhibits was a top-rated Bud spot about two guys engaged in a hard-core game of rock, paper, scissors.
One spot that nobody liked or disliked, because it didn't air, was the one with the guy proposing, for real, to his girlfriend.
The guy, who has identified himself only as JP (the better to keep the proposal a secret), had been trying to find a sponsor willing to turn over its prepurchased airtime to him and his marriage-minded pursuit. But a sponsor didn't bite. CBS didn't either, although, according to JP's site, My Super Proposal, the network sounded tempted.
"During the game, CBS called several times to say that they might air it—maybe during the game, maybe after the game—the roller coaster kept my nerves on a high wire, but by the [third] quarter, we knew it wouldn't be shown," JP wrote in a post Sunday.
But all is not necessarily lost. JP wrote that now he's going to film the proposal with the intention of airing it during Veronica Mars, his girlfriend's favorite TV show. The commercial might just air in his local market (whatever that is), he wrote, or possibly nationally. No word from the CW yet on its apparent new role in the proposal saga.
If JP really wanted to impress his intended fiancée, he should have tried to enlist Prince in his cause.
The funky rocker was the star of Super Bowl Sunday, playing "Purple Rain" in a Miami downpour, and delivering, in the estimation of the Associated Press, "one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows—ever."
"[Prince] didn't come across as a painfully safe choice—or a has-been," Douglas R. Rowe wrote for the wire service, "the rap against the previous couple of Super Bowl halftime acts, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones."
McCartney and the Stones, of course, were enlisted as halftime performers because of Janet Jackson, who flashed a breast during Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004.
CBS, which aired Jackson's breast and has the record indecency fine to show for it, experienced no such controversies this time out. About the worst it got was the rain that didn't let up on Prince or the players.
To New York Daily News columnist Bob Raissman, though, the game and the coverage was all wet.
"Unless you were delusional, no one watching last night could call the Colts' 29-17 victory over the Bears scintillating football," Raissman wrote. "The same can be said for CBS' Super Bowl XLI telecast. It was mediocre—at best."
But highly rated.