During a spectacularly dull halftime show for a spectacularly dull Super Bowl LIII (Patriots win, big whoop), there was an unexpected guest who interrupted Adam Levine: Squidward, the anthropomorphic squid from Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Rodger Bumpass). Three minutes into Maroon 5’s performance, Squidward showed up out of nowhere with the yellow sponge himself, SpongeBob, by his side. Together, they introduced rapper Travis Scott via a victorious tune played by tuna.
In one of the most boring Super Bowl games in recent history, these few seconds were easily the most entertaining of the whole night.
There is absolutely no connective tissue to SpongeBob, Adam Levine, and the NFL. And yet these three things came together for one glorious moment, to the delight and/or utter confusion of millions. Just why on Earth was SpongeBob at the Super Bowl? The answer is a lot sweeter and sentimental than it seems.
In November 2018, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). On the petition site Change.org, a fan named Isreal Colunga created a page urging the NFL to have David Glen Eisley’s arena rock anthem “Sweet Victory” — heard in the Season 2 episode “Band Geeks,” an acclaimed classic often considered one of the show’s single best episodes — performed during halftime.
“As some of you may or may not know, Stephen Hillenburg—the creator of Spongebob Sqaurepants—has passed away recently,” Colunga wrote on the Change.org page. “As a tribute to his legacy, his contributions to a generation of children, and to truly showcase the greatness of this song, we call for Sweet Victory to be performed at the Halftime Show.”
In the weeks leading up to Super Bowl LIII, Colunga’s Change.org petition started going viral online. On January 13, Maroon 5’s Twitter page posted a video teaser of their performance, which included a brief video clip of SpongeBob. Suddenly, a scenario in which Maroon 5 plays “Sweet Victory” at the Super Bowl became real.
It didn’t happen. Not really, anyway. While Adam Levine did not perform a rendition of “Sweet Victory,” both SpongeBob and Squidward (and Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Mrs. Puff too!) still made a brief appearance to introduce rapper Travis Scott, who dropped in the Mercedes-Benz Arena in a Super Saiyan fireball.
Why SpongeBob Fans Love “Sweet Victory”
On September 7, 2001, Nickelodeon aired “Band Geeks,” regularly hailed by fans and critics as one of the funniest episodes in the entire series. The episode revolves around Squidward — the disgruntled, nihilistic co-worker of SpongeBob who dreams of being a music conductor — when he’s challenged by a successful, snooty rival to play at the Bubble Bowl.
In what is basically the movie Whiplash condensed into a dozen minutes, Squidward does his hardest to train SpongeBob and the rest of Bikini Bottom to become world class musicians, only for him to fail at the last minute. But when it’s showtime at the Bubble Bowl, Bikini Bottom comes through for Squidward, busting out a legitimately awesome stadium rock performance.
The song, “Sweet Victory” by David Glen Eisley, is “sung” by SpongeBob, while the live-action footage of the Bubble Bowl comes from stock footage of a 1980s United States Football League game.
In Cartoonician’s “The Oral History of SpongeBob SquarePants,” writer and storyboarder Carl Greenblatt reflected on the episode:
“When we were storyboarding ‘Band Geeks,’ we knew that we had to have a big number at the end where everyone rallies together for Squidward. The story outline called for making it a really great marching band sequence, and it usually helps to have the music ahead of time to board to, so we started searching around.
“We sat there listening to marching tune after marching tune and they all sort of sound the same. And the more we heard, it didn’t seem terribly funny that the finale was just them playing marching band music well. But nestled in among the traditional marching band tunes was this over-the-top, ’80s-style rock song called ‘Sweet Victory.’ It was different than what we were looking for, but it was so amazing that we knew we had to use it. So we boarded the sequence to the music, and it felt like such a better ending than any song we could have written on our own. We even got to give it an ’80s jump freeze-frame ending. I think my favorite part was Aaron Springer’s drawings of Patrick on the electric drums. That and SpongeBob saying, ‘It’s the thrill of one more kill.’”
“Band Geeks” was awarded “Best Sound Editing in Television - Animation” at the 2002 Golden Reel Awards and has been placed among the top episodes in retrospective rankings by The Washington Post and The Guardian. In 2012, Nickelodeon UK viewers chose “Band Geeks” as number one out of the show’s best 100 episodes.
You can watch the original “Sweet Victory” scene from “Band Geeks” below.