Two teams wearing red, white, and blue — the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants — a nation at war, and an iconic miss makes for an NFL game engrained in Americana folklore.
January 27th, 1991 was not the Buffalo Bills’ day — ending a magical season in defeat via a wide right kick capped by Al Michaels’ “no good” call is the last thing Bills Mafia wants to read, hear, or talk about. That’s fair. Luckily, though this article is about the same day, it’s not about what happened on the field.
Before the game was settled or started, Super Bowl XXV (25) — in Tampa Bay — became unforgettable. America, at that point, had just embarked in the Gulf War, in the Middle East. Just ten days before kickoff, Operation Desert Storm began the combat phase, which would be retaliated, at the misfortune of lost lives.
The start of war brought concerns as to whether or not that year’s Super Bowl would be canceled; in order to maintain comforting security at the nation’s biggest annual event. President George Bush opted to continue the playing of the great game, citing that life goes on, even with troops overseas fighting.
Life went on, the game was finished, and it was a classic; in large because of what happened when the game wasn’t in play. With the United States at war, one would expect a difference, and there was, starting with the National Anthem.
The late, great Whitney Houston started the festivities by signing the song of the country. She couldn’t have done it better. The international superstar was breath-taking; giving a bone-tingling performance; signing the anthem the way it is supposed to be sung. Beautifully, memorably, perfect. She brought grown men to tears, even coach Marv Levy, as Steve Tasker noted in the book Game of My Life – Memorable Stories of Bills Football:
When Whitney Houston hits the last note of the Anthem, I look over at Larry Nemmers who’s one of the officials and he’s crying his eyes out. Marv [Levy] is crying his eyes out. I turn around and look in the stands and everybody has a little American flag waving it with one hand and wiping their eyes with the other.
Houston’s performance set the tone, signifying that the Bills were not playing an ordinary game. If that wasn’t clear, it was moments after, when a helicopter, equipped with a gunman hanging over the side hovered low over the stadium, audience, and players. The flyover gave a sense of security and dared overseas opposition to try.
Little did spectators know then, that Super Bowl sparked the uptick in security at all big events; sports, concerts, festivals. Twenty-two agencies participated in the game, including Tampa PD, the FBI, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Metal detectors — then not widely used — were used heavily; policemen searched cars for bombs; gun-equipped SWAT members secured the area from above; recently-built perimeters bordered the stadium. Even today — in a post 9/11 world — the security set then is closer to that of a battle-tested base than of a football game.
A halftime show headlined by New Kids on the Block and American Boy Band didn’t play at halftime — to television viewers — until after the game. Instead of displaying the year’s most famous concert, ABC aired a news report anchored by Peter Jennings that kept viewers up-to-date on the war’s continually-evolving status.
Football is a special game that unifies strangers, friends, and family, but it wasn’t just fans that felt unification after witnessing the NFL’s 25th Super Bowl. The United States’s ramped up efforts to enjoy the game safely, despite a war, didn’t just work, it brought on a new sense of patriotism. With the entire nation watching, it was clear that the United States doesn’t just not mess around, they also protect their own to the best of their abilities.
Though that Bills versus Giants bout is long-gone by now, that very game leaves a lasting impression. With today’s calendar marking the Fourth of July, remember Whitney Houston signing The Star-Spangled-Banner, and the subsequent tears it let out — and play it. Remember that, today, no matter your political beliefs, is about celebration, for the very country the Bills, you, and I, have found a home in.
Also, remember to party responsibly, enjoy the fireworks, laud Josh Allen for his short-wearing abilities, and maybe break some tables in the process. Happy Fourth of July, Bills Mafia!