In the run-up to the 1976 Super Bowl, the NFL decided to undertake a more ambitious halftime show. Don Weiss, the executive in charge of game-day operations for the Super Bowl, was on Up With People’s board; the father of a cast member was friendly with then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. During this era of cultural malaise, the combination of the group’s upbeat message and youthful exuberance proved irresistible to pro football.
The Uppies performed at the 1976 Super Bowl in Miami (“200 Years and Just a Baby,” the bicentennial tribute show was called), in 1980 in Pasadena, and, of course, in 1982 at the Silverdome.
Roos had joined Up With People after finishing his freshman year at the University of California at Berkeley, taking a break from college to travel around the world with his cast. General Motors sponsored the trip to Michigan — Up With People was heavily dependent on its close ties to corporate America — so the group performed at some local GM facilities before their engagement at the Silverdome.
At the Super Bowl, they sang a Motown medley, building up to the grand finale: the human car. Roos was part of the hubcap. “It’s mortifying,” Roos says now. “It felt like we were an act in a high-school talent show.”
Watching the video on YouTube, it’s hard to disagree. Although, in fairness, they weren’t much worse than the rest of the era’s halftime shows. Like, say, the NFL’s awkward stab at multiculturalism in Miami in 1979 — the “Caribbean Carnival,” which featured a boat-shaped float “sailing” over a blue tarp, with musicians playing regional tunes at each port. The Haitian band never showed up, the tarp got snagged on the base of a goal post, ripping the sea, and the float’s motor conked out near Puerto Rico. Or the 1989 show in Miami, which featured an Elvis impersonator and “the world’s largest card trick.” Or the 1992 show in Minneapolis, with Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill skating on sheets of Teflon spread over the field.