February 7, 2016 3 Comments
So for the 50th time, it’s Super Bowl Sunday in America, and around the world. Might be a good game, occasionally it is (for whatever your definition of good is). Best one I ever saw was Super Bowl XX: daBears against the Pats, about which it was said, “If they don’t score, we can’t lose”. But I grew up with The Monsters of the Midway, and even now, when I’ve rather soured on professional sports, I have a soft spot for them (and the Cubs, as well).
But there was one, where I couldn’t tell you a thing about the game, but like a large portion of America, I was in tears before it ever started. That was Superbowl XXV, and it was only a couple days after Desert Storm had started.
Here from ESPN is the story of a legendary performance.
You have to understand.
You have to remember.
This is 1991. Before six people died in the World Trade Center bombing. Before 168 died in Oklahoma City. This is before 111 individuals were injured by a bomb made of nails and screws at the Atlanta Olympics. Before backpacks stuffed with pressure cookers and ball bearings blew limbs from people at the Boston Marathon.
This is the tippy-top of ’91. Way before Connecticut elementary school classrooms in Newtown were strewn with bullets. Before a Colorado theater was tear-gassed and shot up as The Dark Knight Rises began. Before 18 people were shot in an Arizona parking lot, along with a congresswoman who took a bullet in the back of the head. You have to understand. This is before a young married couple in combat gear killed 14 at a holiday party in San Bernardino.
This is a generation ago. A full decade before the United States of America came to a brief but full stop — 2,977 people dead and more than 6,000 injured in three states. This was before three New York firefighters raised a star-spangled banner amid the sooty rubble of ground zero. In 1991, ground zero was just downtown Manhattan. If you were alive — if you were over the age of 5 — you must make yourself remember the time. In 1991, people are jittery, but no one stands in line in bare feet at airports. There are no fingerprint scanners at ballparks.
This is, like, pre-everything. There’s no Facebook — barely a decent chat room to flirt in. The Berlin Wall? Buzz-sawed, climbed over and kicked through. Mandela is free, and Margaret Thatcher is out. This is one-way pager, peak Gen X quarter-life crisis time — and it wasn’t called a quarter-life crisis back then. North and Saint West’s late grandfather had not yet read his friend’s letter to the world: “Don’t feel sorry for me,” attorney Robert Kardashian said to flashing bulbs. “Please think of the real O.J. [Simpson] and not this lost person.” This is the year Mae Jemison preps for the Endeavour, Michael Jordan is ascendant and In Living Colorand Twin Peaks stamp the kids who make prestige TV glow in 2016. Beyonce is in elementary school. Steph and Seth Curry are in a Charlotte playpen. Barack Obama is the first black president — of Harvard Law Review. The (pre)cursors are blinking.
“This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait,” President George H.W. Bush says in August 1990, and by the dawn’s early light of Jan. 17, 1991, a coalition of countries led by the United States drops real bombs on real people and real places in real time on four networks. This was the first Gulf War. There are no color-coded threat level advisory posters on airport walls, but the State Department and the Secret Service agree: The possibility of a terror attack is high, and Super Bowl XXV — the Giants vs. the Bills, scheduled just 10 days later — is a soft and glaring bull’s-eye.
The Goodyear blimp? Grounded. A Blackhawk patrols instead. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s annual Super Gala gala? Canceled. Concrete bunkers gird the parking lot of old Tampa Stadium, and a 6-foot-high chain-link rises quickly behind that. Canines sniff chassis, and ushers wave metal detectors. SWAT teams walk the stadium roof with machine guns. Alternate dates, due to a fear of mass casualties, are considered. For a Super Bowl.
“[It] was the shape of things to come,” former defensive back Everson Walls recalled in 2013 for USA Today. “The security was incredible. I think that’s the first time they checked bags and really were concerned about terrorist threats.”
It was tense. “Players were discussing privately if there would be a draft,” former Giants tight end Howard Cross said last year in the New York Post. “And whether our younger brothers might be drafted.”
There is a ghost game hovering too — the one played two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It is known as the NFL’s “mourning game” and opened with a lone bugler playing taps. Pete Rozelle was ravaged in the media for going through with it. He’d struggled with the decision, and it haunted him his whole career. But Commissioner Tagliabue will not have the regrets of his predecessor. Tagliabue — a Jersey City basketball-playing attorney who’d represented the league against the USFL — arrived at Super Bowl XXV in a flak jacket. And he had Whitney Elizabeth Houston.
But there are more than 1,700 security professionals on the grounds. And if it seems every person is waving a tiny U.S. flag, that’s because a tiny U.S. flag has been placed on every seat. The field is a kaleidoscope of honor guard uniforms and team uniforms and kids doing a red, white and blue card stunt. Central is the entire Florida Orchestra — standing in full dress, signaling serious and formal.
Then Whitney Houston steps onto a platform — it looks to be the size of a card table — in a loose white tracksuit with mild red and blue accents. She has on white Nike Cortezes with a red swoosh. No heels in which to step daintily, and definitely not a gown. Her hair is held back by a pretty but plain ivory bandanna — there are no wisps blowing onto her face. No visible earplugs to take away from the naturalness of the moment. Everything is arranged to convey casual confidence.
Here we begin. Snare drums so crisp. Bass drum so bold. Houston holds the mic stand for a moment but then clasps her hands behind her back — it reads as clearly as a military at-ease. Her stance says: We came to play. Says, in the parlance of the ‘hood, and on behalf of her country: Don’t start none, won’t be none. All we have to do is relax, and we’re all going to win.
Like the best heroes, Whitney — the black girl from Jersey who worked her way to global stardom, made history and died early from the weight of it — makes bravery look easy.
But one of the unique things about the Star Spangled Banner is that it ends with a question, the eternal question of America, “Does that Star Spangled Banner still wave over the home of the free and the brave?” It’s a question that every generation of American has been called on to answer, and so are we.
Enjoy the game, the food, the beer, and the camaraderie. Only happens once a year!