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Our couch potato's guide to Super Bowl Sunday

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Superbowl Commercial: AP Photo/Frito Lay

It takes quick reflexes, concentration, and stamina to meet the challenges of the Super Bowl, and that’s just for the viewers at home. Fox is planning 12-plus hours of coverage on Feb. 6, starting at 10 a.m. ET, so whether you plan to watch the game for the showdown on the gridiron or for the sideshow of the ads and performers, you’re in for a long haul. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard; here’s ours.

THE ENTERTAINERS Along with the NFL, Fox is taking pains to make certain that Super Bowl XXXIX is nothing like CBS’ 2004 debacle that is remembered more for Janet Jackson’s ”wardrobe malfunction” than for the play on the field. The day will be so squeaky clean that a pregame network telecast of Fox’s cable yakfest The Best Damn Sports Show Period is renaming itself The Best Darn Sports Show Period so as not to offend the tender sensibilities of Fox broadcast network viewers. This year’s halftime performer is senior rocker Paul McCartney; rest assured, he won’t be dropping any F-bombs or baring his nipple.

The pregame performances will make a point of teaming new stars with old ones. Gretchen Wilson will perform with the Charlie Daniels Band; Black Eyed Peas with Earth, Wind, & Fire; and Kelly Clarkson with John Fogerty (they’ll be performing at the ”NFL Tailgate Party”). Paying tribute to Ray Charles, Alicia Keys will sing the late soul legend’s arrangement of ”America the Beautiful,” accompanied by a choir from Charles’ alma mater, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. Another choir, made up of military cadets from the four service academies, will sing the national anthem before kickoff.

THE COMMERCIALS Some people reportedly watch the Super Bowl just for the ads; after all, with Fox selling each 30 seconds of commercial time for a record $2.4 million, ad agencies try to make the seconds count by being especially creative and entertaining. Of course, last year, that meant crotch-biting dogs and flatulent horses. This year, thanks again to Miss Jackson, the ads will be a lot less racy; Budweiser decided against an ad that spoofs last year’s bustier-bursting incident, while Fox rejected a cold remedy ad that would have shown about two seconds of footage of 84-year-old Mickey Rooney’s bare derriere. On the other hand, there’ll still be a Cialis ad, likely to include reference to four-hour erections.

Many advertisers are falling back on a tried-and-true tactic: celebrity endorsers. Heineken’s ad reportedly features Brad Pitt; in a commercial shot by his Fight Club director, David Fincher, Pitt finds himself amid a frenzy of paparazzi, only to realize that they’re more interested in his just-purchased six-pack than his six-pack abs. P. Diddy stars in a Diet Pepsi ad that also features Cindy Crawford and Eva Longoria; a car breakdown forces him to hitch a ride in a Pepsi truck, which also becomes the center of paparazzi attention when Diddy disembarks at a red-carpet event. Spike Lee directs an ad for Lay’s potato chips, where an offer of the salty snacks persuades a grouchy neighbor to toss a stray ball back over the fence, along with some other long-missing items: a dog, a ’72 Chevy, and MC Hammer.

Other star pitchers to watch for: Gwen Stefani and Eve (in an iTunes ad), the Muppets (Pizza Hut), the Budweiser Clydesdales (who’ll get into a snowball fight), Spider-Man and Captain America (Visa), and Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and a talking unicorn (Emerald nuts).

The Super Bowl has traditionally been a strong showcase for teasers and trailers from big movies that are still months away. Along with ads for the soon-to-be-released comedies Hitch (with Will Smith) and The Pacifier (with Vin Diesel), watch for spots promoting Batman Begins, The Dukes of Hazzard, and the Steven Spielberg-Tom Cruise collaboration The War of the Worlds.

AFTER THE GAME Once the postgame show finally winds down, around 10p.m. ET, Fox hopes you’ll stick around to watch a special Super Bowl-themed episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer and Ned Flanders find themselves planning the game’s halftime show and come up with a G-rated Biblical spectacle. Then it’s the premiere of American Dad, another cartoon from Seth McFarlane that looks an awful lot like McFarlane’s Family Guy.

THE ALTERNATIVES There will be other things to watch besides football. The networks’ counterprogramming consists mostly of reruns: Cold Case and other crime dramas on CBS; various Law & Order shows on NBC; and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC. Other channels are programming some anti-macho marathons. At TNT, it’s Charmed all night long; Bravo is showing several episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Hallmark plans a night of Little House on the Prairie. Say, did Merlin Olsen ever play in the Super Bowl?

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