MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Timberlake is headed here to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday, stirring talk and fueling questions about one of the most scandalous moments in the history of the NFL’s annual spectacle.
It was Timberlake, after all, who along with Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show gave birth to the phrase “wardrobe malfunction’’ and together were embroiled in “Nipplegate.’’
As the infamous halftime show culminated, Timberlake pulled off part of Jackson’s outfit, briefly exposing her right breast in front of a TV audience of 140 million viewers, many left wondering about what had just happened.
“Let me ask you this,’’ Trevor Reilly, a linebacker for the New England Patriots, said this week, “was that whole thing planned or not? What’s the consensus?’’
Jackson isn’t talking about it. “No comment,’’ her publicist Paula Witt said in an email to USA TODAY Sports.
Timberlake has said little other than that he’s sorry for what happened.
So USA TODAY Sports hunted down the key players: an Ecuadoran tailor, a body piercer, a former NFL executive, a TV producer and the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was tasked with getting to the bottom of an incident that has football players like Reilly wondering about the halftime show that will forever link Jackson and Timberlake.
“She asked him to do that, pull (her) shirt off? ’’ Reilly said. “And why did he agree to it?’’
Best to start with the Ecuadoran tailor.
Marcello Garzon, the tailor
Garzon, 66, speaks with a thick Ecuadoran accent. But during a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports last week, he made himself clear: Jackson asked him to alter the leather outfit she brought to Houston to wear during the halftime show.
“Tell me straight what you need from me,’’ Garzon said.
Details are needed. Details about the alteration, and anything else Garzon knows about the halftime show scandal.
“No, sir. That’s confidential,’’ he replied. “That’s really confidential. How do I say that? I signed the papers with Mrs. Jackson to not release anything at all.’’
He was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement before he altered the garment?
“Yes, sir,’’ Garzon said.
But he did, indeed, meet Jackson the week of the Super Bowl?
“Of course, I met her,’’ Garzon sniffed.
The hunt continued.
Jim Steeg, the NFL executive
Steeg, then the NFL’s point person for the halftime show, said he was in the league’s command booth at Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) when Jackson and Timberlake were on the stage. But he said he was distracted when Mike Pereira, then vice president for officiating for the NFL, turned to him.
“Pereira said to me, ‘Hey, did you just see what happened?’ ” Steeg recalled. “I said, ‘No.’ Then he played it back on the TiVo that we were using for instant replay.’’
The image of Jackson’s exposed right breast stared back at him.
Steeg said he immediately called Salli Frattini, then a producer for MTV, which was producing the halftime show.
“You could hear in the (MTV production) truck they were all kind of giving each other high fives and celebrating the fact the show was over and they did a good job,’’ said Steeg. “It didn’t take but a minute or so when Salli called back and …’’
The image of Jackson’s exposed right breast stared back at Frattini.
The celebration in the MTV truck was over. The damage control was underway. Frattini hustled to the NFL command room, according to Steeg.
“I was upset and I’m still upset about it,’’ said Steeg, who has been credited with turning the NFL’s halftime show into an extravaganza during his 35-year career with the league.
“The thing that bothered me the most about it is I didn’t think the institution was respected,’’ he added. “I thought the Super Bowl was kind of the pinnacle for everybody, and I didn’t think it was respected as an institution.’’
Salli Frattini, the producer
Frattini, the first woman to produce a Super Bowl halftime show, last week heaped praise on Timberlake — but not on Jackson — when asked about “Nipplegate.”
“I believe he kind of manned up and talked about it all and I’m not sure she really did, you know?’’ Frattini said. “I’m glad his career has continued to flourish. I’m still a supporter and I have no regrets and disregard for Justin.’’
“I don’t believe she handled the situation as well as he did,’’ Frattini said. “I’m still not quite sure why anybody thought that (nudity) would be a good idea to do in the first place.
“If somebody could get me the answer to that, that would be the golden prize.’’
During a Thursday rehearsal, Frattini said, the production team experimented with Timberlake pulling off Jackson’s skirt without involving nudity. The reveal was choreographed to take place as the song Rock Your Body lyrics culminated with Timberlake singing “gonna have you naked by the end of this song.”
Frattini said the idea was nixed but refused to say why. She also said she is convinced the idea that led to Jackson’s breast being exposed came from Jackson or Jackson’s stylist and was presented to Timberlake in Jackson’s dressing room.
“There was a meeting right prior to the halftime (show),’’ Frattini said. “The idea was pitched to Justin. Janet’s stylist or whoever else was in the room. (Timberlake) went along with it and the mistake happened.
“There wasn’t supposed to be any reveal. There should not even have been an action moment or anything ever ripped off her body.’’
That remains is open for debate.
Byriah Dailey, the body piercer
Dailey said it was Super Bowl week when Wayne Scot Lukas walked into Taurian Piercing and Metal Shop in Houston. Lukas, according to Dailey, identified himself as Jackson’s stylist and said he was looking for nipple jewelry for Jackson.
Lukas settled on a sunburst nipple shield Jackson wore during the halftime show, according to Dailey.
“At the end of it, while we were talking, he was like, ‘OK, watch the halftime show. There’s going to be a surprise at the end.’ ” said Dailey, who keeps a laminated copy of the People magazine story that documented his role in the scandal.
Dailey said he still has the second sunburst nipple shield.
“I had a pair of them,’’ Dailey said. “I still have the other one, believe it or not. They only purchased one. … I was kind of happy to get rid of it.”
Nonetheless, he was never contacted during one of the most high-profile investigations ever launched by the FCC.
Michael Powell, the FCC chairman
Michael Powell said he still remembers sitting next to one of his neighbors at a Super Bowl watch party in 2004 during the halftime show.
“And I said, ‘Oh, my God. If this really happened, my day is really going to suck tomorrow,’ ’’ Powell told USA TODAY Sports. “And I went home and I had a TiVo and I did what everybody did.’’
Meaning, he watched the replay and froze the footage, confirming Jackson’s right breast had been exposed, albeit for less than a second.
“And I turned to my wife and I said, ‘Oh, yeah, my day is really going to suck tomorrow.’ And it did,’’ Powell said.
“The war was on the minute we walked into the office. People were falling all over themselves to announce their outrage and their discontent.”
Powell said the first call he got was from Paul Tagliabue, then the NFL’s commissioner.
“Insisting (the NFL) had nothing to do with this,’’ Powell said.
Shortly thereafter, Powell said, came a call from CBS, which had broadcast the Super Bowl. An executive insisted CBS knew nothing in advance about what happened, according to Powell, who said the FCC received a flood of calls from angry TV viewers.
“It was as if somebody had come into your church and took their clothes off while you were sitting there on Sunday morning,’’ he said.
So Powell ordered a investigation.
Video was reviewed. Interviews were conducted. Facts were collected.
“There was a lot of baying for blood,’’ said Powell, now president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, “and I really wanted that to be directed away from Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson as artists and more to where we really had jurisdiction most, which was the authority of those who were broadcasting and producing the show.’’
Eventually, the FCC levied a $550,000 fine against CBS. But the courts overturned it, ruling networks had been given insufficient notice of what constituted indecency.
As Super Bowl LII approached this week, Powell found himself asking questions similar to those lobbed at USA TODAY Sports by the Patriots linebacker Trevor Reilly and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugler-Hill.
“What really happened with that?’’ Grugler-Hill asked.
More than the FCC could prove, according to Powell, who estimated he testified about the matter on Capitol Hill for a total of nine hours.
“To this day, despite some ambiguity about who knew what, I think we were relatively convinced that somehow those producing the show knew what was going to happen,’’ he said. “Their story to this day was that they had absolutely no idea on how the artists just did this up on their own.
“That’s plausible, but didn’t seem to us where the evidence pointed.’’
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Janet Jackson Super Bowl nipple: What really happened in ‘Nipplegate’?