For 35 years, the Super Bowl halftime show was a gaudy punch line, nothing more than an ideal time to refill the nacho trough and uncap another bottle of suds. We were routinely punished with such intermission groanfests as "A World of Children's Dreams," "Blues Brothers Bash" and "A Tapestry of Nations" starring Toni Braxton. This stuff made Up With People look like a Kiss concert. It's as if they were trying to suck. But in 2002, Super Bowl XXXVI, the Irish lads in U2 changed everything. Blending showmanship, hits and a big sloppy kiss to a wounded nation, Bono & Co. made the halftime show must-see TV. From then on, we've still been critical (Paul McCartney was a dud; the Stones creaked a bit, too); but we also haven't wanted to miss a second. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band should knock 'em flat at Sunday's Super Bowl XLIII. But will the Boss top our top five halftime shows of all time?
>> 5. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004
Nipplegate! The "wardrobe malfunction" flashed 'round the globe! But before Ms. Nasty brazenly introduced her right one to the masses, Jackson and JT generated serious steam.
4. Diana Ross, Super Bowl XXX, 1996
Diana Ross, the original diva, looking fabu in flowing redness, exits the stage via helicopter. Can't remember a thing she performed. But I'll never forget that chopper.
3. No Doubt, Sting, Shania Twain, Super Bowl XXXVII, 2003
Gwen Stefani's midriff pushups were hot, very hot. But the peroxide pixie's duet with Sting on Message in a Bottle was an unexpected lesson in May-December heat.
2. U2, Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
It's one of the great images in Super Bowl history. The Dubliners wailing Where the Streets Have No Name as the names of Sept. 11 victims scroll behind him. And then, at the end, good Irishman Bono opens his jacket to reveal a peak of American flag, a flash of brotherhood.
1. Prince, Super Bowl XLI, 2007
Oh, it was weird all right: Dylan covers, Creedence covers, even a snarky take-that to the Foo Fighters. But it was also jaw-droppingly awesome, His Royal Badness whipping up a maelstrom. There were explicit shadow puppets and Prince playing Purple Rain in the rain! The Colts beat the Bears in the game, but all anyone was talking about the next day was the Purple One's killer halftime set.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.