HOUSTON – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t hesitate when someone asked him to share his favorite Super Bowl memory, and it didn’t involve a nail-biting ending or a sensational play.
“My favorite moment was during the Gulf War,” Goodell said during a small, exclusive get-together on Friday morning.
Super Bowl 25 was played in Tampa January 1991 amid Gulf War tension, when Operation Desert Shield was segueing into Operation Desert Storm. CNN’s Baghdad coverage in particular brought the conflict into television viewers’ homes, providing a steady stream of information – and anxiety.
A recent ESPN Magazine piece captured the tenor of the time:
“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.”
Whitney Houston stepped up to the microphone and with her powerful voice, lifted a war-wearing nation jittery about conflicts abroad and potential trouble at home. A military flyover followed her performance and the stadium was a red, white and blue sea of flag-waving fans.
Houston’s memorable performance was played endlessly at the time of her 2012 death and remains a signature moment in Super Bowl history.
“I was standing about 20 feet away,” Goodell recalled, calling the performance one of the most remarkable ever.
He joined Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year finalists Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald and Greg Olsen and about 100 diehard fans at the private party at Houston’s House of Blues. Fans – not reporters – got to ask all the questions. (One lady asked the commissioner flat-out if he happened to have a couple of extra tickets for Sunday; points for being direct.)
Other questions had to do with player discipline, the length of the season, the potential for international expansion and how players decide which charities to champion.
The fan who asked the panel to share a favorite Super Bowl memory elicited one of the more heartfelt responses.
“Our country just really came together,” Goodell recalled. “You just felt so proud of our country.”
Here it is: