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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Super Bowl LII: As usual, pregame show just passes time

NBC Sports personalities Dan Patrick and Tony Dungy

NBC Sports personalities Dan Patrick and Tony Dungy speak prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann

People have been complaining about Super Bowl pregame shows since around the time Super Bowl pregame shows were invented, dismissing them as vapid, vacuous wastes of time.

Which misses the point, because it assumes they have lofty aspirations, which they do not.

They serve as background noise parties, collect a few extra advertising dollars from between the sofa cushions and give the host network a chance to promote other programming.

By that standard, NBC got the job done Sunday, preparing viewers for Super Bowl LII with 5 ½ hours of mostly innocuous fare that generally avoided embarrassment and kept things moving, which is all one can ask.

The closest thing to news to come out of it was when NBC’s Kathryn Tappen asked “This Is Us” star Milo Ventimiglia what fans might expect from the special post-Super Bowl episode of the hit show.

“Jack dies,” he blurted out, referring to his character, Jack Pearson. Well, at least that was settled early.

The “This Is Us” spot was one of a number of promotional appearances, including ones by Josh Duhamel of NBC-owned USA Network’s “Unsolved,” and Blake Shelton of NBC’s “The Voice.”

Also: It turns out that the Olympics are on NBC starting Thursday. Who knew? And that NBC will televise NASCAR, as illustrated by the presence of new analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. There even was a promo for the Kentucky Derby, which is not until May, and NBC-owned Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage of the soccer World Cup this summer, complete with an ice sculpture shaped like the World Cup trophy.

NBC’s feature segments generally were short and simple, which is a smart move, because no one has patience for multiple mini-documentaries on Super Bowl Sunday. NBC picked its spot with one lengthy feature, a worthwhile one on the relationship between former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and quarterback Doug Williams.

Dan Patrick and Liam McHugh were amiable co-hosts, with McHugh dropping several clever lines, such as when analyst Chris Simms completed his one pass during an on-field demonstration.

“And with that, Chris Simms breaks his dad’s record for completion percentage at a Super Bowl,” McHugh said.

One early highlight was a piece on former Vikings coach Bud Grant, 90. When asked about attending an outdoor Vikings game in a golf shirt two years ago when it was 6 degrees below zero, he said, “Hey, get over it. This is Minnesota.”

Grant cried when talking about why his players’ demeanor during the national anthem mattered to him, saying he lost many friends in World War II.

Speaking of which, the biggest controversy of the season — player protests during pregame anthems — was dealt with via an interview with the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins. But that was at 1:47 p.m., many hours before kickoff.

NBC visited Tom Brady’s extended family in Browerville, Minnesota, including an interview with his mother, Galynn, whose roots are in that state.

The network invited former New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump to be interviewed during the pregame, as he was on Fox last year and as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama often did before him. Trump declined.

Patrick interviewed halftime performer Justin Timberlake, but as at his news conference Thursday, there were no questions about the “wardrobe malfunction” during his last Super Bowl show, with Janet Jackson, in 2004.

Per tradition, the subject matter turned more to Xs and Os as kickoff neared, as well as to the obligatory sitdowns with the starting quarterbacks. The Brady interview also featured his mother talking about her battle with cancer leading up to last year’s big game.

At 6 p.m., Carrie Underwood began the stretch drive with a recorded performance of her song “The Champion,” with appearances by Super Bowl stars of the past, including Joe Namath.

Then, at last, it was time for a football game.

Brief blackout. The screen went black for a brief period midway through the second quarter of Super Bowl LII after the Patriots had kicked a field goal to cut the Eagles’ lead to 15-6.

When NBC’s picture came back, the network did not go to a commercial break before the ensuing kickoff.

An NBC spokesperson said, “We had a brief equipment failure that we quickly resolved. No game action or commercial time was missed.”

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