Will the Real Star of the Super Bowl Please Stand Up?

There was a distinctly weird moment during Sunday’s Super Bowl, and I’m not talking about Ahmad Bradshaw falling backward into the end-zone for that touchdown that Bill Belichick wanted the Giants to make.

No, it was the only other part of the three-hour spectacle that I actually watched: the half-time show. I live 364 days of the year in a football-free zone and confess that I didn’t know Madonna would be performing. But, as half-time approached, the friends and family I watched the game with began to buzz. There was genuine — albeit condescending — concern about whether the 50-something material girl still had it.

As if.

Who didn’t thrill to see our lady of the golden tresses, former wearer of black rubber bracelets and oversized hair bow, ride in on that Trojan parade? The gold-plated skirt, the regal Egyptian headdress, the thigh-high black boots. Granted, I don’t get out much, but I couldn’t help but be mesmerized.

Being of a certain age myself, I grew up with Madonna, from her first writhing-on-the-floor MTV video to her late-in-life acquisition of the faux British accent. As a teenager, “Lucky Star” blared from the boom box in my garage as I practiced a routine for my high school drill team. I snipped collars and sleeves from sweatshirts, wore fingerless lace gloves and chunky rhinestone necklaces for a brief, breathless time. For many teenage girls in the 1980s, Madonna’s blend of power, sexuality, and outrageous fashion was a tonic.

Which is why on Sunday night, the other forty-something moms and I, having barely watched any of the Super Bowl itself, gravitated to the widescreen TV for the half-time show and stood there transfixed. It wasn’t the usual sex-pot fare — some 20-something pop star showing off in hot pants. And it wasn’t — bless his heart, but please — Paul McCartney. It was Madonna, and she brought it as only she can.

Everyone in the room went a little slack-jawed. Here was this 53-year-old woman we’d all mocked — dancing among bare-chested gladiators and sprinting past cheerleaders half her age and then getting down in those deep, soulful knee bends. Who else, I ask you, can make a long, black choir robe look sexy?

She wasn’t us exactly. As we nursed our Amstel Lights and nagged our kids to keep their shoes off the couch, she wasn’t us by a long shot. But there will always be something of Madonna’s story that is part of our own, and seeing her on stage still singing (OK, lip-synching) and dancing (so she slipped that one time!) after all these years was weirdly uplifting. For one thing, it more than made up for the sad turn of events that recently befell Demi Moore. Our other 50-something celebrity mom’s split from Ashton Kutcher and subsequent whip-its fiasco wrecked the fairytale ending of marriage to a man more than 15 years her junior, a diet of only raw food, and the lead role in a Charlie’s Angels movie after multiple childbirths. Though we wanted to believe in all that Demi’s story promised, in the end, it’s Madonna who gives us hope.

None of us could take our eyes off her, and it wasn’t even in an ogling, beer-commercial kind of way. It was more — am I overstating it here? — in utter awe of her celebrity prowess, of her élan, of her superhuman ability to recreate herself time and again. For a moment I thought we women might be so moved as to turn off the TV, put on some music, and dance the night away. But there was another half of a football game to watch. And so we took Madonna’s disappearing through the stage floor in a puff of white smoke and the ensuing plea for World Peace as our cue to putter around the dining room table and tidy up the kitchen.

Over the next hour or so, Tom Brady would fail to lead his once-great team to victory, and a slew of new commercials would play out across television screens all over America. To us, none of it mattered. The real show was over the minute Madonna left the stage.