Picture it: January 1991
We were at war – for the first time in my lifetime since Vietnam. The Gulf War. Kuwait. Iraq. Saddam. Buzz words.
Arthur Kent – the Scud Stud. Poster boy for this thing.
This was a visual war. We saw it unfold right before our eyes. TV screens filled with the sights and sounds of an ominously-lit Baghdad. We watched it all through the green tint of universal night vision goggles
In the midst of all this came one of the world’s largest media spectacles – the Super Bowl. XXV. Buffalo Bills versus NY Giants. In my community. Tampa Bay.
And I had tickets.
My dad was on the planning committee and as a result, was able to procure some hot, hard-to-come-by seats for his nearest and dearest. I went with a galpal – the object of my affection at the time was a big weenie who apparently didn’t share my emotions, despite his actions to the contrary, and declined my invitation. Dumbass.
It was an interesting juxtaposition – the festivity and pomp of the most celebrated sporting event in the country placed against the gravity and uncertainty of a nation at war.
We got word before the event to “travel light” as security would be intense at the venue, Tampa Stadium, aka The Big Sombrero, dubbed thusly by ESPN’s Chris Berman. Intense didn’t cover the half of it. Screening and searching at check point after check point were time-absorbing obstacles as we made our way to our seats in the nosebleed section. There was the sense of anxiousness hanging in the air, mingling with the joie de vivre. And if you looked along the top of the stadium, you could see the FBI sharpshooters at the ready. Unsettlingly comforting.
The game itself was one for the ages: closest score in Super Bowl history – 20-19, with the Giants coming out victorious; the Bills losing thanks to a missed wide-right last second field goal. I saw grown men crying in the stands after the final seconds ticked down off the game clock – both tears of joy and frustration. Never let it be said that football is a game with no passion.
And while I’m ashamed to admit I remember little to nothing about the halftime show (apparently New Kids on the Block performed… ugh), the memory which has stayed with me for nearly 20 years is that of the performance of the National Anthem.
Whitney Houston, accompanied by the Florida Orchestra.
Perhaps her finest performance ever, it is evocative of the emotion and searching and anxious patriotism that permeated the country at the time. Still gives me chills.
On this eve of another Super Bowl being played in my community, I can’t help but think back on the game 18 years ago. So much has changed since then – yet so much is still the same. It’s a funny milestone to use – a football game. But it works somehow. Very American.
I'm watching from the comfort of my home this year... which is fine. Better access to bathrooms and food and the real star of the show -- the ads. Plus I'm curious to see how my community is portrayed to the rest of the world.
Oh yeah -- there's going to be a game tossed in there as well. Rooting for the Arizona Cardinals -- love me an underdog.
Let’s tee it up and kick it off.
And then let those commercials roll.