Greg Cote

Oh, nostalgia as Super Bowl welcomes back to halftime stage Mr. Wardrobe Malfunction!

It was a Super Bowl moment nearly as famous as Joe Namath’s guarantee. Now, 14 years later, Justin Timberlake returns to the halftime stage.
It was a Super Bowl moment nearly as famous as Joe Namath’s guarantee. Now, 14 years later, Justin Timberlake returns to the halftime stage. AP

Super Bowl With a Smirk is back with our fourth of five daily columns needling the self-important NFL and the excess and gravitas of its big game.

Justin Timberlake is back starring in the Super Bowl Halftime Show sponsored by America’s second-favorite cola, and that can mean only one thing: questions about, references to and flashbacks of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Time flies, so it was Feb. 1, 2004, when Timberlake last strode across an SB halftime stage and when, during a duet with Jackson, the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” infamously was born.

Other than Prince singing and magnificently shredding guitar in a Miami downpour in 2007, it might have been the most memorable halftime moment ever when Timberlake ripped off a tearaway piece of Jackson’s top, as planned, but inadvertently exposed her right breast. It was a scandal that begat an FCC investigation, outraged parental groups and mortified then-new commissioner Roger Goodell. Imagine the outrage if we all knew then that the “accident” was likely planned all along to be precisely the publicity-getting monster it turned out to be.

“We’re not going to do that again,” Timberlake assured (well, no duh) of this Sunday’s performance.

Mystery surrounds Timberlake’s encore. Will there be a surprise guest? An NSYNC reunion? Will there be a tribute to Prince in his home state, Minnesota? Will Timberlake get political? Will he be Mr. Sexyback? Smirk suggests spreading an unfounded rumor that Janet Jackson herself will join him onstage.

Timberlake’s only hint: “There’s a lot going on in the world. I want to take the opportunity to do something that unifies.”

Smirk suggests the easiest way for Justin to unify virtually the entire country would be to lead a “Beat the Patriots!” chant, but that may be a lot to ask.

No matter what he does on stage, of course, Super Bowl halftime shows have grown to become even more anticipated and popular than the game itself, according to the Association of Super Bowl halftime show producers.

▪ What’s as frosty as the Minneapolis weather? Jay Ajayi’s relationship with the Dolphins, apparently. The Eagles running back, asked what he thinks of his ex-Miami coach Adam Gase, smiled, didn’t answer and murmured “next question.” Later, he said, “To come to a team that was successful and had a great locker room, a brotherhood, and where I felt welcomed and appreciated, was the most important thing to me.” Ouch.

▪ Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ third annual RISE Super Bowl Town Hall is Friday and will explore using sports to improve race relations. Sure, because it worked so wonderfully this season when players kneeling during the national anthem against social injustice brought everyone together like never before (!).

▪ Friday’s 23rd annual Rebuilding Together initiative will rehabilitate six homes in the Minneapolis area. The event has become a Super Bowl Week staple that has gone on without a hitch except for that one time bitter rival Habitat For Humanity crashed the event and began loudly heckling Rebuilding Together volunteers’ hammer skills.

▪ I don’t wanna say it’s cold in Minneapolis, but this is the first Super Bowl injury report I’ve ever seen with players listed as questionable due to frostbite.

▪ The NFL announced that game-day security precautions will be tight Sunday. Prohibited items that may not be brought into the stadium include coolers, backpacks, beach balls, fireworks, laser pointers, umbrellas and Colin Kaepernick.

▪ Radio Row has been the usual circus this week as sports-talk hosts from around the country compete for the best interviews among a parade of has-been former players and C-list celebrities. A brawl broke out Thursday between rival Cincinnati stations over who would get Carrot Top first.

▪ Gronk Update: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to be likely to play Sunday but is officially still questionable. Doctors are having a difficult time distinguishing his concussion symptoms such as a hazy stupor from his normal behavior.

▪ Four winning teams of players ages 9 through 14 were crowned in the NFL Flag Football Championships in Orlando. Suspiciously, three of the four are from the same area in Arizona and will be tested for steroid-laced Happy Meals.

▪ At a security briefing on counterfeit merchandise, NFL officials warned that if the pricey leather Super Bowl jacket you bought has no logos whatsoever and looks suspiciously like a 1980s Members Only jacket, it might not be officially licensed apparel.

▪ Sentences I Never Imagined Writing (one in a series): “CBS reports someone used the cryptocurrency Bitcoin to buy a $9,360 seat on the 50-yard line Sunday.”

▪ Finally, our Super Bowl Party Tip du Jour: To save you the cost and bother of having to host a Super Bowl party next year, make Sunday’s gathering alcohol-free and the game broadcast radio-only.

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