Big Show, in an attempt to bring me out of retirement and put me on full tilt by running up a fresh deficit at the end of the NFL season "(which would doubtlessly lead to me handicapping WNBA games), shot me a list of Super Bowl prop bets. One that stood out was:
"Length of time it takes Billy Joel to sing the National Anthem: 1 minute 44 seconds"
Now, I'm a big fan of the National Anthem. I think it goes back to my Boston Garden youth days - even watching on tv - when Rene Rancourt would sing the National Anthem at a Bruins playoff game, you wouldn't be able to hear him by the final verse: the crowd would be screaming so loud.
Now, living in New York City in the post Sept. 11th world, the Anthem is still always an emotional event. I always try to make it to sporting events on time, if for no other reason than to see the National Anthem.
More importantly though, I thought this prop line was beatable. I immediately conferred with the ultimate degenerate, Dirty Dave, who liked the angle, and set off on his own research.
Today, Dirty Dave came back to me with a YouTube video of Billy Joel singing the National Anthem at the 2000 World Series in Yankee Stadium. He clocked in at 1:40. Now, there are several mitigating factors here, and we set off analysing it like the Zapruder video:
1) The World Series is big, but it's not the Super Bowl
2) Billy Joel is a native New Yorker, and actually seemed a little nervous on his home stage.
3) Billy sang the Anthem about as quickly as he could - not really any pauses, and only one real drawn out note ("and the lannnnnd of the freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee") - there is clearly room for pauses or more long notes.
Dave thought the under was a slam dunk. "Presidential approval ratings are highly correlated with the length of the National Anthem," he postulated brilliantly.
"Please work up the covariance matrix," I demanded, leaving nothing to chance.
"the R squared is running .96" Dave had it on the tip of his tongue.
I was worried about another factor: booze. I mean, a few shots of Johnny Black, and suddenly Billy, who's no stranger to the bottle, slurs a word, forgets his next line, and blam, we're at 2 minutes easy. Dave wasn't buying it "No way - clean and sober," he corrected me. "But Dave, we're talking about the fucking SUPER BOWL here - Billy is a top notch professional, but he may very well have a drink to calm his nerves, and is likely to take his time, enjoying the spotlight." Big Show added, "I'm sure he'll have a driver, so that won't be an issue."
I continued my own research, looking up past Super Bowl National Anthem videos, and coming up with the following evidence:
Whitney Houston: SB XXV: 1:55 (Persian Gulf)
Cher: SB XXXIII: 1:45
FaithHill: SB XXXIV: 2:00
Mariah Carey: SB XXXVI: 1:54
Dixie Chicks: SB XXXVII 1:32
Beyonce: SB XXXVIII: 2:07
With the exception of the Dixie Chicks, who were clearly out of their league, all the times came in over 1:44. Whitney, Mariah, and Beyonce and Faith Hill are all divas who really like to whale on their high notes, and are on the upper end of the spectrum. The Dixie Chicks wanted to get out of the global spotlight, and rushed through it. Cher did a pretty much no-nonsense version, seeming like she'd drag out the last verse, but wrapped it up tight. I can see Billy Joel smiling for the camera as he pauses professionally before bellowing: "And the hooooooooome, of the bravvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvve," as the clock hits 1:52.
I then checked a few non-super bowl events, and found that Jessica Simpson's NFC Championship performance came in sub 1:40, as did Kelly Clarkson's renditions. This lends credence to the fact that the Super Bowl anthem is likely to take longer than Billy's World Series Anthem.
Big Show clarified the exact rules: "Time starts when Billy Joel sings the first note: Action is on Anthem only."
Dirty Dave realized "So if he busts into Captain Jack the under is safe!!!" Again, ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Dirty Dave.
We couldn't help but take our NASA level analysis to the market analogy extreme, as Dave mocked, "I hear one guy had sold it futures style (meaning the longer the anthem goes, the more money he loses) and was panicking to hedge out his Piano Man risk," before we found out about the "Action is on Anthem only" inane clause.
In the end, Dave was adamant on the "under," but I think the risks lean toward the "over," especially given the slightly better price (-115 vs -125)
For a legendary Anthem-related performance, check out this awesome clip from Boston where the fans gave a raucous standing ovation during the CANADIAN national anthem to basically say "Suck It" to the Montreal fans who had booed the U.S. Anthem in Canada. This is from the Fleet Centre, not the Boston Garden, but the crowd noise is insane, and it's the legendary Rene Rancourt. Imagine every game being like that. Goose bumps.
I give props to the Canadian Anthem too - they can do it right. However, the best Anthem ever is this one from the NHL all star game in Chicago in 1991 at the start of the Gulf War. Probably the best rendition you'll ever find on video. And that's why I love the National Anthem. Hit it hard Billy Joel.
Until next time,