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Prince Rocks Classic Hits at Super Bowl Halftime Show

Phew! CBS got through the halftime show without a "wardrobe malfunction."

The Artist Formerly Known as a Munchkin of Wardrobe Dysfunction began by singing "Let's Go Crazy," but he didn't.

Prince, who became a Jehovah's Witness in the mid-1990s, no longer wears yellow, butt-baring pants as he did at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards (prompting Howard Stern's send-up at the '92 VMAs). The closest thing to a fashion statement Sunday night was an odd kerchief on his head. So the NFL had no repeat of the 2004 Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake show, which happened the last time CBS broadcast the game.

Photo Essay: Super Bowl XLI

The 48-year-old Prince, who rose to stardom in the '80s with his distinctive fusion of R&B, funk, soul and rock, once looked androgynous and produced songs that (lest we forget) drove Tipper Gore nuts (and made her a fat target for anti-censorship types like Frank Zappa).

Musically, the diminutive, erstwhile prodigy from Minneapolis kept it old-school, rockin' the house with "Purple Rain" and other golden hits.

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He delivered one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows — ever. Consequently, he didn't come across as a painfully safe choice — or a has-been, the rap against the previous couple of Super Bowl halftime acts, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones.

By the time Prince took the midfield stage (shaped like his symbol when he was The Artist Formerly Known As Prince), Jim Nantz and Phil Simms had already given a bravura performance in the booth.

Making his Super Bowl play-by-play debut, Nantz kept viewers on top of the action. Simms managed to be self-effacing about at least one comment that was off the mark. He insisted the weather would not be a factor; after the third of four turnovers in the first quarter, he chuckled about what he said.

"The rain is absolutely having a little effect," he acknowledged. (Speaking of the rain, some cameras were foggy and speckled with drops, but the quick cuts made it less noticeable).

Now in their third season together, Nantz and Simms have a nice rapport.

As usual, much of the day's viewing diet had more to do with quantity than quality.

But, how can the nation's highest-rated TV program — and the run-up to it — NOT be bloated?

Ingesting 10-plus hours of Super Bowl coverage forces you to act like an anaconda: Just unhinge your jaws, swallow your prey and try not to be too conscious of your distended, distorted body.

There isn't enough party dip in the world to give you that much indigestion (although the food segment with chef Bobby Flay came close).

The six-plus hours of pregame hoo-ha began at noon EST with an NFL Films recap of the season, "Road to the Super Bowl," with Tom Selleck capably filling the old John Facenda role of narrator.

Next came "Phil Simms All-Iron Team," which the neurotic Caveman from the Geico commercials gave a lighthearted beginning, middle and end.

The ever-needy Caveman tried to wheedle the picks out of Simms on the golf course before they were announced on the selection show — with limited success, and limited satisfaction.

Derrick Brooks? "I just don't get it," said the Caveman, who would have picked, uh, Bonnie Raitt.

The quality of the players' character (including Brooks') was a big determinant in being chosen for Simms' squad, which gave the show a heartwarming touch and made it appealing to casual fans.

Then came the four-hour "The Super Bowl Today," which — in the true commercial spirit of the whole affair — began with Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., who also was promoting "Norbit."

Just like every other Sunday of the football season, the CBS studio quartet of host James Brown along with analysts Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe made you miss the guys on Fox. They simply lack the chemistry of Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long et al. And no one on either show is as funny as FOX's Frank Caliendo.

The heart-tugging stories really kicked in during the last pregame extravaganza, almost ad nauseam — among them, Everson Walls' willingness to donate a kidney to former Dallas Cowboys teammate Ron Springs; Chicago Bears running back Thomas Jones' supportive family; a visit with soldiers in Iraq; and Bill Walsh's much-chronicled battle against cancer.

They even went all the way back to the tragically early deaths of long-ago Bears running backs Walter Payton and Brian Piccolo. (Hmmm. Might Netflix get a run on "Brian's Song")?

Almost all of the ground covered was well-trod: Marvin Harrison's taciturn tendencies; the Jekyll-Hyde performances of Rex Grossman; the matchup between the first two black coaches to lead their team to the NFL title game.

As you can imagine, all the feel-good segments got a lot more airtime than, say, the story about the Bears' Tank Johnson needing a judge's OK to get out of house arrest on gun-possession charges and travel to Miami.

The story barely got four minutes (remember: out of four hours!) including Esiason, Sharpe and Marino weighing in on whether Johnson should have been allowed to play. (Predictably, Esiason opposed Tank's participation, Sharpe defended it, and Marino came down hard in the middle of the issue).

Katie Couric, who can chant "We're No. 3" about CBS News, joined the guys, for yet another "very touching story indeed," as Brown put it after introducing the high-priced "Evening News" anchorwoman by citing her sports reporting credibility. ("She brings a sports background to the desk. She ran track — an outstanding cheerleader).

She tackled the topic of Hines Ward, last year's Super Bowl MVP, and his Korean mother, who was shunned in her native country because of her biracial marriage, winding up a single mother here, and the bigotry that mother and son were subjected to.

But isn't this a year-old story? Where's the fresh, hard-hitting news?

Before all those hours fully dedicated to hyping the game, "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer was broadcast from Dolphin Stadium. At least the conversation was a little more serious with new league commissioner Roger Goodell as a guest.

Meanwhile, Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" was busy with presidential candidate John Edwards. Who cares about that, right?

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