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This post originally ran in January 2018. It has been updated!

Maroon 5 will be the halftime entertainment at Super Bowl LIII, much to the chagrin of, well, just about everyone. What was once a highly sought-after gig has become one many acts won’t touch under any circumstances, and as polarizing as the rest of our public life.

Even before it became toxic, picking the right halftime act was never as easy as it should have been. For the first several decades of the Big Game, halftime seemed like an afterthought, with performances dominated by area marching bands, local crooners and all-too-frequent Up With People sightings. In later years it became a repository for rockin’ grandads.

The missed opportunities are staggering. The Super Bowl halftime, these days, is the ultimate stadium rock gig; alas, the NFL spent that golden era of denim foisting smooth jazz and standards on the masses. What follows is the ultimate What-If, a recasting of every Super Bowl halftime show.

Before you get apoplectic, here are the Ground Rules:

1. It’s a football game. It’s macho. There will be a lot of rock
2. It’s watched by dads. I am a dad. Hence, there will be a lot of dad rock. (But not the National or Wilco. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t justify them.)
3. Timing is important. We’re looking for of their performance—so you can’t adopt the NFL’s early 2000s strategy and just say, “Get the Stones” if no one else comes to mind. The idea is that the Super Bowl is the showcase event for the biggest artist of the day, a crowning achievement of sorts.
4. To avoid Prince taking up permanent residency, no act can play more than once every 10 years.
5. We’re doing this without the benefit of hindsight. For instance, U2 is the pick in 1988. They’d be better in 1993, but we wouldn’t have known that in ’88. Ergo, they play in ’88.
6. Bonus points if the acts have a local tie-in
7. Real-life events are taken into account (see Super Bowl I). Setlists are drawn only from songs that had been released (or at least written) and that were actually played live by the band (so the Beatles cannot play “A Day in the Life” with a 40-piece orchestra).
8. Multiple performers are allowed only if there’s a thematic reason for it.

O.K. Let’s rock.

Super Bowl I (Jan. 15, 1967)

Los Angeles Coliseum
Real Life: Grambling State and Univ. of Arizona marching bands, Al Hirt, the Anaheim High School Drill Team and Flag Girls
Recast: The Beach Boys

The big question in the mid-’60s was Beatles or Stones? Stones or Beatles? The answer, for our purposes, is neither. In January of ’67, the Beatles had stopped touring, and the Rolling Stones had better things to do: They were in New York for the Ed Sullivan Show (their famous “Let’s Spend the Night Together” performance aired the night of the game). At the time—remember, we’re operating without hindsight—Sullivan was a much bigger gig than the Super Bowl. So who gets the call? The Beach Boys. Their non-threatening, feel-good California vibe is perfect for an event that’s trying to make a name for itself without scaring anyone off.

Setlist: Good Vibrations | Help Me, Rhonda | I Get Around | Do You Wanna Dance? | California Girls

Super Bowl II (Jan. 14, 1968)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: Grambling State marching band
Recast: The Rolling Stones

All that stuff about a non-threatening band goes out the window in the first post-Summer of Love Super Bowl. Granted, the Stones only played a handful of shows in ’68, but with a new album that desperately needed to generate some positive buzz (Their Satanic Majesties Request), this is a gig they’d probably book.

Setlist: Paint it, Black | Get Off of My Cloud | Let’s Spend the Night Together | She’s a Rainbow | (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Super Bowl III (Jan. 12, 1969)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: Florida A&M band, area high school bands
Recast: The Beatles

The Jets’ upset of the Colts came 18 days before the Fab Four ended their live hiatus with their final performance, on the roof of Apple Records. So it makes sense they’d be both ready and willing to play. What better way to knock off a little rust? As for what they’d play: The Apple show featured four versions of “Get Back” and a bunch of tunes that wouldn’t exactly get butts out of chairs. (Face it: No one’s dancing to “Dig a Pony.”) Plus, Let it Be’s most accessible number, the title track, hadn’t been recorded yet. And one senses they’d bristle at trotting out the moptop-era greatest hits. 

Setlist: Get Back | Day Tripper | While My Guitar Gently Weeps (with Eric Clapton) | Hey Jude

Super Bowl IV (Jan. 11, 1970)

Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
Real Life:Tribute to Mardi Gras (including Al Hirt and Doc Severinsen)
Recast: Creedence Clearwater Revival

In 1969, CCR released not one, not two, but three albums, a KISS-like display of prolificacy that’s even more impressive when you take into account the quality of the work: Bayou Country, Green River, and Willie and the Poor Boys. That, and their appearance at Woodstock, made them megastars—and a perfect NOLA performer.

Setlist: Born on the Bayou | Bad Moon Rising | Down on the Corner | Fortunate Son | Proud Mary

Super Bowl V (Jan. 17, 1971)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life: Up With People
Recast: The Temptations

Motown makes it first appearance. The Jackson 5 easily could have been the pick, but we’re going with the Temptations, a slightly edgier selection given their foray into psychedelic soul. They slide in just under the wire: frontman Eddie Kendricks would leave the group early in ’71.

Setlist: Get Ready | Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) | Psychedelic Shack | I Second That Emotion | My Girl | Cloud 9

Super Bowl VI (Jan. 16, 1972)

Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
Real Life:Salute to Louis Armstrong (including Carol Channing and Ella Fitzgerald)
Recast: Led Zeppelin

The release of Led Zeppelin IV in November of ’71 pretty much solidified the band’s status as the premier rock outfit around. Even Carol Channing could see that.

Setlist: Rock and Roll | Stairway to Heaven | Whole Lotta Love | Black Dog | Communication Breakdown

Super Bowl VII (Jan. 14, 1973)

Los Angeles Coliseum
Real Life:Happiness Is (which closed with Andy Williams singing “People”)
Recast: Elvis Presley

We’re taking a few liberties with reality here. January 14, 1973, wasn’t just game day—it was also the day of Elvis’s “Aloha from Hawaii” special. But we’re going to assume that by this time the Super Bowl had become a sufficiently desirable gig. So given the chance, the King would take it and get the same bump in popularity he did from his Hawaii show, which was finally aired worldwide three months later.

Setlist: See See Rider | Burning Love | Blue Suede Shoes | Hound Dog | Suspicious Minds | Can’t Help Falling in Love

Super Bowl VIII (Jan. 13, 1974)

Rice Stadium, Houston
Real Life: The Texas Longhorn Band with Miss Texas 1973 on fiddle
Recast: Stevie Wonder
This is an instance of Ground Rule 4 biting us. Wonder had just released Innervisions in the summer of ’73, an on the strength of that alone he’d be the perfect halftime act. He followed it up with Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life. (That’s three Album of the Year Grammys right there.) So while, in retrospect, it would make more sense to wait to tap Stevie until, say, ’77, he gets the call here. Perhaps Miss Texas 1973 could throw in some fiddle on the improv funk stew in the middle of “Living for the City.”

Setlist: Higher Ground | Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours | Living for the City | Superstition

Super Bowl IX (Jan. 12, 1975)

Tulane Stadium, New Orleans
Real Life:Tribute to Duke Ellington
Recast: The Who (with special guests)

And now we come to our first product-plugging performance. In early ’75 the Who had wrapped filming of the movie Tommy, which would be released in March. Nothing like a garish halftime show to drum up a little interest. Also, Tina Turner makes alternate history as the first female halftime performer.

Setlist: I Can’t Explain | My Generation | Substitute | Acid Queen (with Tina Turner) | Pinball Wizard (with Elton John) | See Me Feel Me/Listening to You

Super Bowl X (Jan. 18, 1976)

Orange Bowl, Miami
Real Life:200 Years and Just a Baby: A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial (featuring Up With People)
Recast:Rebel, Rebel: A Tribute to America’s Bicentennial (featuring David Bowie and Lynyrd Skynyrd)

How do you best celebrate America’s 200th birthday? Fireworks, parades and patriotic tunes are nice. But that’s a little light on the rock. And let’s face it: Bowie and Skynyrd provide a little something for everyone. They’re a musical melting pot, and that’s what America is all about. (The big question: Does Bowie join in on “Free Bird.” In my mind, Yes. Yes, he does.)

Setlist: Rebel Rebel | Young Americans (Bowie) | Sweet Home Alabama | Free Bird (Skynyrd)

Super Bowl XI (Jan. 9, 1977)

Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Real Life: Disney’s It’s a Small World
Recast: The Eagles

Five weeks after the release of Hotel California, putting the Eagles on at the Rose Bowl is probably the biggest no-brainer on the list.

Setlist: Hotel California | Victim of Love | Life in the Fast Lane | Take it Easy

Super Bowl XII (Jan. 15, 1978)

Superdome, New Orleans
Real Life:From Paris to Paris of America (featuring, you guessed it, Al Hirt)
Recast: Bee Gees