Amid the flags and worry, it was football as usual

MIKE LITTWIN

January 29, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

TAMPA, Fla. -- They played the game, and somewhere far away the bombs were dropping and people were dying as war was being waged. But this was the home front, and life went on.

They played the game, and it went as well as anyone could have hoped. The terrorists stayed away, and no one got hurt. There were extraordinary precautions, of course, including metal detectors and long lines and concrete barriers. No blimps flew overhead. No cameras, radios and other electronic equipment were allowed inside Tampa Stadium. Flags were OK, though. Flags were everywhere.

They played the game, and it was terror-free, but if there is going to be Iraqi-inspired terrorism at a Super Bowl, it is more likely to come five years from now or 10, at some point when our guard is down and this war is only a dimly recalled lesson for the next one. In the Middle East, they have demonstrably long memories, and grudges are held for a thousand years.

They played the game, and it was a surprisingly good one, especially as Super Bowls go. The teams were evenly matched. There were wild swings of emotion and momentum. There were great plays and relatively few mistakes. Some want to call it the best Super Bowl ever played. Certainly, it was the closest. But when the last Roman numeral was taken down and the airports were packed with sated fans, we went back to watching CNN and news of the oil spill and desalinization plants and pictures of dying cormorants.

They played the game, but not before turning it into a giant pep rally for the war. Did we really need Lee Greenwood's "Proud To Be an American" blaring over the loudspeakers or the fans chanting, "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A," or pictures of American soldiers in the desert flashing on the big screen as 73,000 people waved American flags handed out courtesy of the NFL?

They played the game, but in the pre-game and halftime shows, we might have guessed the war was some sporting contest and not a riot of scattered limbs and shattered bodies and death and carnage. As I watched the four jet fighters fly over the stadium, I wondered if it were possible to support our troops, and even the war, without cheerleaders. And what's it got to do with football, anyway?

They played the game, and it figured to be a surreal experience, a football game with war as a backdrop. But it wasn't. In the end, it was simply football, a riveting matchup that held our attention throughout. I don't think anyone was thinking about the war as Scott Norwood's last-second field-goal attempt floated wide to the right, making the underdog New York Giants 20-19 winners over Buffalo and NFL champions.

They played the game, and outside the stadium, hawkers stood in line to cash in on the Super Sunday patriots. They sold Desert Storm T-shirts and American flags and buttons and yelled to passers-by, "Support our troops." Yes, support our troops and ,, buy our wares. The flags cost five bucks and the buttons two.

They played the game, and every player in it was smart enough and sensitive enough not to use "distractions" as an excuse.

They played the game, and all around America people attended Super Bowl parties. By now, we all understand that what began as a mere football game has evolved into a night of national celebration, although what we're celebrating is not exactly clear. In any case, the game is a holiday, and that's why some people questioned whether it should have been played at all, given our national crisis. But they played it, and I don't hear anyone saying that it was the wrong thing to do.

They played the game, but not because it cheered the troops, as some suggested, or because it was 3 1/2 hours of respite for a nation weary (already?) from war, or because we have to show Saddam Hussein that we are not going to allow him to disrupt business as usual in America. They played the game because it was scheduled and because the commercials were sold and because there was no way not to play the game.

They'll play the game next year, Super Bowl XXVI, in Minneapolis, and if we're fortunate the war will be long since resolved, and the greatest concern any of us will face would be how to get to and from the Metrodome without freezing.

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