George H.W. Bush, the Buffalo Bills, the New York Giants, and Whitney Houston will always be linked by the events of January 1991. As Bush is laid to rest this week, we look back on the unusual circumstances surrounding Super Bowl XXV.
After a prolonged buildup of American forces in the Middle East from August 2, 1990 to the middle of January, 1991, labeled “Operation Desert Shield”, the United States entered the active combat phase of the Gulf War on January 17th, 1991, to expel Iraqi forces from their neighboring country, Kuwait. Known as “Operation Desert Storm”, the first targets were struck three days before the AFC Championship Game was going to be held in Buffalo.
Players have said when the footage of the war came across their television screens, they weren’t sure if the game was going to be cancelled or not. Ultimately, Buffalo hosted the Los Angeles Raiders a few days later, walloping them 51-3 to earn the right to attend Super Bowl XXV. Even the Super Bowl wasn’t a guarantee, though.
President Bush was asked about holding a massive sporting event like the Super Bowl in the midst of the military action, and his response was steadfast:
“Somebody asked me a while back about the Super Bowl. Do you think we ought to cancel the Super Bowl because of this situation? One, the war is a serious business and the Nation is focused on it. But two, life goes on. And I’d say one thing: The kids over there in the Gulf-somebody told me to stop saying ‘kids.’ They look like kids to me, frankly, but I say it with a great affection. I say it with affection. But the boys and men and women in the Gulf, they want to see this game go on, and they’re going to get great instant replays over there.”
“And so, life goes on. And this is priority, getting this war concluded properly. But we are not going to screech everything to a halt on terms of our domestic agenda. We’re not going to screech everything to a halt in terms of the recreational activities, and I cite the Super Bowl. And I am not going to screech my life to a halt out of some fear about Saddam Hussein. And I think that’s a good, clear signal for all Americans to send halfway around the world.”
As fans attending the game featuring the Bills and Giants - two teams sporting red, white, and blue uniforms - entered the stadium, they were all given small American flags to wave. Some brought their own full-size banners, as well. (Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had to defend the NFL from people saying his league was profiting for the was with the heavy patriotism.)
It was a sea of America’s colors when Whitney Houston stepped to the microphone to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s become an iconic version of the song, and was the first to appear on the Billboard music charts.
In an unprecedented move at halftime of the game, ABC News showed 15 full minutes of news updates on The Gulf War, tape-delaying the in-stadium performance by New Kids on the Block until after the game. The full news report, hosted by Peter Jennings, is embedded below:
The NFL has put the entire game on YouTube, as well, if you care to watch it. I can’t remember how it ends.
The war would end a few weeks later on February 28th following a massive ground victory, which forced Iraqi ground forces out of Kuwait.