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Purple Rain was final cry of a Super storm

The greatest misconception about Super Bowl Sunday is that it's a one-day event.

Sure, the game itself is a three-hour spectacle that the National Football League manages to shoehorn into a tight 10-hour television window, but most of the action happens in the two weeks before the game.

That's when television ads are polished, Hall of Fame inductees announced and the commissioner meets with ownership in an attempt to figure out how not to over-milk the cash cow.

So congratulations to Roger Goodell for making it through his first season as NFL head, even if his lone contribution to the success of the league so far was approving Prince's halftime appearance — the greatest Super Bowl performance by a man in purple since Ray Lewis.

Oh, and the Colts won, even as the NFL continues to handle its off-field issues with the dexterity of Rex Grossman securing a wet football.

But here are a few observations about the Super Bowl fortnight to take you into Saturday's season finale, the Pro Bowl:

1. The Shawne Merriman rule

The NFL announces it's considering a rule to ban players testing positive for performance enhancers from competing in that season's Pro Bowl.

That's like telling Johnny if he hits his little brother once more he won't be allowed to eat his spinach.

Last season, almost 20 percent of the players who were named to the Pro Bowl found an injury that allowed them to skip the game. In the past, some of these injured players hobbled their way through a couple rounds at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

The Pro Bowl is a nice honor, and most players have contract bonuses for being named to the team. But once that bonus kicks in, the incentive to play is small. Players on the winning team get $40,000, while the losing-side members get $20,000.

The average salary for an NFL starter in 2006 was $2.26 million ($141,250 per game), so the league every year is asking its marquee players to risk injury in a meaningless game for pride and chump change.

That'll teach 'em to stay off the 'roids.

2. Irvin in the Hall

Let's get this straight. Baseball had no testing or penalty for steroids, yet Mark McGwire was held out of the Hall of Fame because he allegedly (no positive tests) took a substance that was against the law.

But football welcomes Michael Irvin into its Hall of Fame despite three arrests and one conviction (and league suspension) on drug charges.

Please don't try to make the argument that cocaine is not a performance-enhancer. Lawrence Taylor, another Hall of Famer who was suspended for drugs during his career, is on the record stating it bolstered his on-field aggressiveness. Perhaps the drugs helped Irvin deal with the pain and pressures of being an NFL star, much as other athletes use and abuse alcohol.

Either way, the Hall of Fame election is a negative message for our youth, one enhanced by Irvin's continuing presence as an ESPN analyst.

Again, excuse my confusion.

ESPN had no problem putting Irvin back on the air despite his very public and recurring drug problems but fired excellent baseball analyst Harold Reynolds for what was reported to be harassment of a female network employee — something that could have been handled quietly behind company doors in Bristol, Conn.

3. You have 30 seconds ... Go!

During the season, I was thinking how nice it would be if the NFL eliminated all male performance drug ads from its telecasts — that's always squirm time for me when the kids are watching.

The networks do reserve the right of refusal for ads, even when the going commercial air rate for Sunday's game was $2.6 million per 30-second spot.

But then Sprint Mobile Broadband came up with its hilarious Super Bowl ad about the businessman who felt inadequate because his wireless connection was not up to speed, calling the problem "Connectile Dysfunction."

Sprint hit the target with its message but would have made a bigger splash with the right punch line:

"For downloads lasting longer than four hours ..."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at 578-2300 or bvanderbeek@modbee.com.

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