This Sunday, February 11th, the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will compete in Super Bowl LVIII — perhaps you’ve heard about it. The two teams will take to Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium for the final contest of the 2023-24 season, dissected by the yearly spectacle that is the Super Bowl halftime show.
This year, R&B superstar Usher will take the stage for the Apple Music Halftime Show, continuing the NFL’s streak of featuring some of the most recognizable artists on the planet. But that streak is shorter than you might remember. While the Super Bowl halftime show has stood as a bombastic, anticipated, much-discussed staple of the football season for two-and-a-half decades, the performances of yesteryear weren’t always so exciting.
For the first leg of what’s known as the “Super Bowl Era,” various marching bands would fill the void between the second and third quarters. As football’s profile continued to grow following the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, higher-ups began to wonder how to keep eyes on the broadcast while the players hit the locker rooms.
Let’s just say, it took a while for them to figure it out. Prior to the 2000s, the only halftime show that resembled what modern audiences have come to expect is Michael Jackson’s 1993 performance. Outside of the king of pop, the years were littered with bizarre “celebrations,” Disney tie-ins, and, yes, marching bands. A good deal aren’t worth remembering, but others are so strange that we can’t help but trumpet their existence. Welcome to the wild world of pre-millennium Super Bowl halftime shows.
1976 — “200 Years and Just a Baby: A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial”
In 1976, just a few years removed from the Vietnam War and Watergate, the United States of America celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. To NFL organizers, this called for a celebration, and thus, “200 Years and Just a Baby” — what a name. Presented by Up with People for Super Bowl X, the show marked the first halftime performance to not feature a marching band as its headlining act. In place of trumpets and snare drums, hundreds of performers sang “some of the greatest sounds in American history,” or at least, that’s how the broadcasters billed it. We’d make a joke about the manufactured, sanitized optimism and distorted representation of America, but The Simpsons already beat us to it.