TAMPA, Fla. – Anybody who thinks it's tough playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl with 150 million people watching should try serenading Barack Obama with the majestic granite visage of Abraham Lincoln staring over your shoulder.
Bruce Springsteen did.
"It kind of was a good warm-up for this," Springsteen joked Thursday after arriving in Tampa with the E Street Band. "That takes some of the pressure off, you know."
In his first news conference in more than 20 years, The Boss was as cool as ever.
Wearing black jeans, a black crewneck sweater and black boots, Springsteen and his band charmed a standing-room-only crowd by joking about his lack of football knowledge, that the group is still together — and its members still alive — and the tremendous year he's having personally and professionally.
"Is there anybody from New Jersey? Don't give them the microphone!" the Garden State native called out before taking questions in his first large forum since a 1987 news conference for Amnesty International.
But Springsteen has reason to celebrate.
His song, "The Wrestler," from the movie of the same name, won a Golden Globe earlier this month, and he followed it with a performance at the National Mall to honor Obama two days before the inauguration. Springsteen was a huge Obama booster during the campaign.
His latest CD, "Working on a Dream," was released Tuesday, and he'll kick off a world tour in San Jose, Calif., on April 1.
"Good times," the 59-year-old rocker smiled. "You just have years where things happen, or years where it's quieter. But what's special for me right now is I really believe our band is going through sort of a golden age. We've made three of what I think are some of our best records in a row, which is really one of the reasons we're here. And the band, on the last tour, played the best it's ever played.
"We've been on the road awhile. We're some old soldiers. But the band is still really burning, and I really want people to know about the record. Good year, you know? It's been great."
So now the band plays Sunday's halftime show of the Super Bowl, which is enjoying a run of booking major talent for the roughly 15-minute slot before the largest television event in the nation. Acts have recently included the Rolling Stones, U2, Paul McCartney, Prince and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The NFL said last year's halftime show with Petty was watched by more than 148 million viewers in the U.S.
Springsteen, for years, had turned down invitations to play the Super Bowl, unsure of the legitimacy of such a performance. After all, for many years the halftime show was made up of local and college marching bands and drill teams.
But Springsteen said the opportunity to promote the album, and the upgraded production team that has given the invitation a prestige factor, changed his mind.
"Initially, it was sort of a novelty and so it didn't quite feel right," he explained. "But it was just like, this is the year. ... Bands of our generation, you can sort of be seen on a stage like this or, like, not seen. There's not a lot of middle places. It is a tremendous venue."
The performance is expected to be a teaser for the upcoming tour, and scores of Las Vegas sports books are taking bets on the set list. Asked who ultimately decides what songs will be played, Springsteen staked his claim as leader of the band.
"I'm the Boss! The Boss decides what we play!" he yelled. "Nobody else decides. People suggest. Hint. Beg. Cajole. But I decide."
Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward said he was looking forward to the performance, and even had a song request.
"I love Bruce. I hope he plays 'Born in the USA.' He has a great voice when he says, 'Boorrrn,' " Ward said. "He has a lot of swagger about himself. He's very confident. When he's up there performing, it's all about him."
Springsteen only offered one slight teaser, vowing to pack the bands' usual emotion and energy into their brief performance.
"We want it to be a 12-minute party," he said. "The idea of the show is, you are going to the Meadowlands, you get lost on the way. You are watching your clock, `Damn, the show is starting right now.' You stop at a bar to get some directions, and the bar gets held up while you are there. So that takes another 45 minutes to get out of there.
"You come back and you miss your exit on the turnpike, and you are driving to get back around. And so you make it into the stadium 2 hours and 48 minutes into the show — that's what you are going to see: the last 12 minutes."
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