Petty jazzed about Super Bowl show

Tom Petty, left, and Benmont Tench take part in a news conference Thursday.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, February 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 11:55 p.m.

How do you top the release of a four-hour documentary and boxed set celebrating a 30-year musical career?

For Tom Petty and his fellow Heartbreakers, playing the halftime show at Sunday's Super Bowl - a spectacle that routinely ranks among the most-watched TV shows ever - should do just fine.

"It's mind-blowing; something that you never even dream of," Petty said Thursday at a news conference in Phoenix, the site of Sunday's Super Bowl. "It never crossed my mind. But it's very exciting. We've had quite a week already."

On Thursday, the Gainesville native and his fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bandmates rolled into Phoenix for a performance that is smack in the middle of what is among the top 10 TV shows in American history. Last year's Super Bowl with 93 million viewers was the third-most-watched show ever, after the '96 Super Bowl (with 94.8 million) and the all-time leader, the final episode of "MASH," which lured 106 million viewers in 1983.

How in the world does anyone, including a Gainesville-born rocker who once fronted a band called Mudcrutch (before it morphed into the Heartbreakers), prepare for a gig like that?

"Well, a lot of it is just trying to remember the next chord," Petty said Thursday. "But we play to the audience, and hopefully that will take care of everything else."

Sitting with fellow Heartbreakers (and Gainesville natives) Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, as well as other members of the band, Petty seemed his relaxed-and-trademark-mellow self Thursday in the only Super Bowl press event the band is taking part in.

While Petty, 57, patiently sat through one request to critique a reporter's rendition of "American Girl" ("Well, first of all, no," Petty responded to the request, prompting laughter) and another request to accompany a female reporter to post-Super Bowl parties ("You'll have to talk that over with my wife," he said), he also fielded questions that cut to the heart of his much-admired integrity.

In concert, for example, Petty has often drawn huge applause after announcing that his tours have no corporate sponsor. Yet, the Super Bowl is like "a big corporate orgy in America meets Tom Petty," one reporter said. "How did the two come together?"

"Well, you play on TV, you have a sponsor; that's just the way it works," Petty said at the news conference, which carried live on the NFL Network. "And we just try to entertain the people and be sweet boys."

Petty was asked what he thought of "American Girl" being played as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was introduced at an event during the New Hampshire primary. "We weren't aware of it (at the time)," he said.

"We've heard about it. But we're not endorsing any candidates. You wouldn't want to take a guitar player's advice on something like that," he said.

Petty also reminisced briefly about growing up in Gainesville - "where everything has a Gator on it," Petty said.

"I think my earliest memories were going to the big pep rallies in the stadium the night before. It's called a Gator Growl."

Counting pre-show entertainment, post-show analysis and the game itself (between the New England Patriots and New York Giants, starting at 6:17 p.m.), Super Bowl Sunday will last for hours. Yet Petty and band will have only 12 minutes to perform and to run down their own version of a gridiron dream.

Planning the still-secret setlist - "They were taking odds in the L.A. Times today on what we'd play," Petty said - wasn't easy.

"We tried to pick the ones that would do the best 12-minute show, that would take you somewhere in that amount of time," he said.

"And it's a little bit of a challenge. We've had to try to rearrange some things, make them a bit shorter to fit in. But I think we've chosen a good set."

Bill Dean can be reached at (352-374-5039 or

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