The National Football League is celebrating the Golden Anniversary of it’s biggest event on Sunday, February 7th as Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers take on Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Over the next few days, The Shadow League will be sharing some of our most memorable reflections from the game that has become much bigger than football, morphing into an essential piece of the tapestry that defines who we are as an American society.
25 years ago, Whitney Houston gave us one of the most memorable televised moments in the history of American sports and entertainment. We were a few days into the Persian Gulf conflict as the beautiful songstress dripping with vocal elegance stood on the field at Tampa Stadium to perform the Star- Spangled Banner prior to kickoff.
Hardcore football fans remember the game as the first Super Bowl appearance for the Buffalo Bills and their explosive no-huddle offense, which faced off against a ferocious New York Giants defense featuring linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Pepper Johnson that allowed a league-low in points during that 1991 season.
The casual observer that tuned in has surely forgotten about the Giants dominating the time of possession, this being the first Super Bowl to feature teams from the same state, Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s missed field goal attempt at the end of the game which secured a 20-19 New York victory or running back Ottis Anderson being named MVP.
But anyone who watched the game has surely never forgotten the musical miracle of Houston’s National Anthem, especially at a time when our soldiers had just been sent into war as the patriotic rhetoric was at a fever pitch.
“If you were there, you could feel the intensity,” Houston once said when reflecting upon her performance. “You know, we were in the Gulf War at the time. It was an intense time for a country. A lot of our daughters and sons were overseas fighting. I could see, in the stadium, I could see the fear, the hope, the intensity, the prayers going up, you know, and I just felt like this is the moment. And it was hope, we needed hope, you know, to bring our babies home and that’s what it was about for me, that what I felt when I sang that song, and the overwhelming love coming out of the stands was incredible.”
The overwhelming love and intensity that flowed out her lungs and vocal chords was equally incredible.
Super Bowl XXV was the first Super Bowl that was broadcast globally and the entire world got to witness perhaps the greatest rendition of the song, other than Marvin Gaye’s NBA All-Star Game version in 1983, that has ever come across the threshold of our ear canals.
“Needless to say, Houstons version wasnt just a revolution in music; it was a revolution in meaning,” wrote The New Yorker’s Cinque Henderson in yesterday’s fantastic piece, Anthem of Freedom. “Black Americans have long felt ambivalent about The Star-Spangled Banner. In 1904, the N.A.A.C.P. dubbed James Weldon Johnsons poem Lift Every Voice and Sing the Negro National Anthem, partly as a reflection of this ambivalence; black people still stand when its played. When there has been need for a patriotic song, black leaders have more often turned to My Country, Tis of Thee or America the Beautiful. Martin Luther King, Jr., drew on the first at the March on Washington; Ray Charles memorably remade the second. As for The Star-Spangled Banner, the machinery of state violence has too often been used against black people for a song about bombs and rockets to hold much appeal. But Houston inaugurated a change.”