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Super Bowl XLIII: How Exactly the Game, and Much More, Will Go Down

Sunday’s a big night whether you’re a football fan, a Springsteen fan, or just an admirer of clever television advertisements. It’s a lot to look forward to, so we’re here to tell you how everything’s (almost probably) going to play out.

Will the coin toss be heads or tails?
Even odds on
According to gambling guru RJ Bell, founder of, some professional bettors in Vegas believe that tails is actually slightly more likely. Their rationale? The commemorative coin used at the Super Bowl is ornate (and, thus, heavier) on the heads side, and the physics (allegedly, somehow) dictate that the coin is more likely to land heads-down, or tails-up.
We say: Tails.

How many political references will Keith Olbermann make?
Over-under: 2.5, according to Bell
Olbermann says he draws a line between his sports reporting and political commentary. But there is an interview with Barack Obama scheduled to air on the pregame show, and while Olbermann may not be as vitriolic as he is on MSNBC, it may be impossible to avoid mentioning politics, particularly with the biggest stage he’s had since Election Night — and five hours of pregame show to help fill.
We say: Three.

Will Jennifer Hudson lip-synch the national anthem?
11–10 odds on
In his 2003 book The Making of the Super Bowl, Don Weiss, who for years was the man responsible for making sure Super Bowl Sunday went off without a hitch, admitted that following an incident in which Garth Brooks almost refused to perform the anthem at Super Bowl XXVII, the league insisted on prerecording the anthem. The late Weiss is obviously no longer in charge of such things, so it may not be a hard rule still, but it’s certainly possible.
We say: Yes, but we probably won’t be able to prove it.

Will Kurt Warner break Joe Montana’s career Super Bowl passing record?
4–1 odds on
Though Montana played in four Super Bowls to what will be three for Warner, the Cardinals QB needs just 364 yards to break the record. He topped this number in his two previous Super Bowls, but those were with the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams. He hasn’t come close so far in these playoffs (topping out at 279 against the Eagles), and though he did throw for that many three times this season, they were against the 16th, 18th, and 30th-ranked defenses in the league, while Pittsburgh’s was No. 1.
We say: No.

Which show will NBC air the most commercials for?
Leading contender is
The Office, at 5–4, on
Bell suggested to us that the best way to try to predict NBC’s ad habits is to study the ones aired on Thursday night, typically a prime night for them. We did this, and counted up the ads shown from 8 to 11 p.m. last night, and in doing so discovering a flaw in the system: The program most commonly advertised? The Super Bowl. Also, SNL was more heavily advertised than it would be on a Sunday, while Thursday night shows were underrepresented (especially with a special episode of The Office airing after the game). But Medium, which airs Mondays, had the second most, while Heroes and Chuck were tied for third. Of these front-runners, Chuck this week airs a 3-D episode, which seems like the kind of thing NBC would point out all night long.
We say: Chuck.

How much will John Madden talk about food?
Over-under 1.5 times, according to

“The Super Bowl is a very serious venue, and he’d probably be a little less loose than typically,” says Bell. He adds that Madden tends to spotlight the local cuisine of the home city, and since we’re not sure the Tampa culinary scene is a particularly noteworthy one, going with the under here seems wise. (On the other hand, Bell says that if the game’s a blowout — certainly a possibility — the odds of small talk like this go way up.)
We say: Once.

What songs will Bruce Springsteen play?
“Born in the USA” has the best odds on
He’ll get about twelve minutes to perform; last year, Tom Petty did four songs in that span, so let’s assume the Boss will do as many, possibly trimming some a bit. The NFL has wanted Springsteen since at least early 2007, meaning he probably turned down a spot last year. What’s changed? He’s got an album to promote, so expect to hear its first single, “Working on a Dream.” He’s likely to play songs most of the audience will know, so let’s add “Born in the USA” and “Born to Run.” In an article on, Chris Phillips, editor of Springsteen site, suggests “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” as a possibility, something the online community seconds. And we know the band will be horn-heavy: Max Weinberg’s taken three of seven of his Late Night band with him to Tampa.
We say: “Working on a Dream,” “Born to Run,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Born in the USA.”

Will Larry Fitzgerald score a touchdown?
2–3 on
He scored in nine regular-season games and had five touchdowns in the playoffs, including at least one in each game. He comes into the game as probably the hottest player in the league, and though fellow receiver Anquan Boldin is healthy, he’s still not happy, so the Cardinals would be crazy not to go with what got them there. (It’s hard to see how Arizona has any chance of winning if Kurt Warner and Fitzgerald don’t have a great game.) Arizona didn’t face Pittsburgh this season, but they played four games (between the regular season and playoffs) against teams ranked in the top five in overall defense, and he scored in three of them.
We say: Yes.

Will it be a blowout?
Pittsburgh has 5–1 odds of winning by 8 to 11 points, and 6–1 odds of winning by 12 to 15 points, according to
Pittsburgh’s the clear favorite, but things are going wrong for them at the worst possible time. Ben Roethlisberger had rib X-rays just yesterday, while Hines Ward just started practicing again, and didn’t even do so at full speed. That said, their defense is truly great: They led the NFL not just in overall defense, but in passing and receiving defense. (Pathetically, they finished a mere second in rushing D.) And though the Cardinals did just fine two weeks ago against Philly — the third-ranked defense — in the NFC title game, the Eagles were even more a Cinderella team than the Cards are, what with the wild-card berth and the quarterback who’d been benched just weeks earlier.
We say: Not a blowout.

Who will win?
Pittsburgh is a seven-point favorite, according to
Let’s get Metacritic here and look at what everyone else has to say. As of last night, four of six of’s experts had picked the Steelers. Four of six experts picked them on, as well. President Obama picked the Steelers; so did Vice-President Biden. For good measure, a Madden NFL 09 simulation has Pittsburgh winning, too. Who are we to argue with experts, presidents, and video games?
We say: Pittsburgh wins.

Who will win the MVP?
Ben Roethlisberger is a 2–1 favorite, according to
Even if Roethlisberger isn’t 100 percent, he’s still the most likely to win if Pittsburgh does. On his Wall Street Journal blog, Carl Bialik explains that through the first 42 Super Bowls, quarterbacks have won the MVP more times (22) than all other positions combined. He more or less comes to the conclusion that the quarterbacks aren’t necessarily the most valuable, but might be considered so because it’s an easily quantifiable position, and one that can vary the most from game to game (meaning on a given day he can also be the least valuable player on the field).
We say: Roethlishberger wins.

Related: Twenty-Five Years of (Highly Irreverent) Super Bowl Highlights

Super Bowl XLIII: How Exactly the Game, and Much More, Will Go Down