Super Bowl Peaked in 1991 with Giants-Bills and Whitney Houston

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As Super Bowl LIV arrives, it’s time to reflect on the best of all the big games. In the early 1990s, the Buffalo Bills went to four straight Super Bowls and lost all four, but man did they help to provide one of the best Super Bowls of all time. Like Tom Petty said, “even the losers- get lucky sometimes.”

Obviously, they never did, in the end, but sometimes history is better when it’s written from the point of view of the losers. It wasn’t just the Buffalo Bills who made that Super Bowl so special.

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You also had the New York Giants, the American cultural landscape at that time, the political climate of January 1991, the NFL still residing in its pre-degradation period, the Super Bowl being a less hyper-corporatized entity in a not quite as crassly over-marketed state.

All these factors combined to make Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, Florida the peak of the Super Bowl experience.

We have had other great Super Bowl games since then. We’ll have others in the future. The football element is still there. But who will be a more interesting character in the human drama of the gridiron than former Buffalo Bills placekicker Scott Norwood?

The main villain in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” named Ray Finkle, is obviously based on Norwood’s missed kick. Not based on Norwood mind you, but the actual missed FGA.

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Finkle’s miss even came from the same exact distance- 47 yards!

Who will ever sing the SB national anthem better than Whitney Houston? In a moment in which the Star Spangled Banner had so much cultural and political gravity?

Yes, I may sound like a senior citizen telling you kids to get the hell off my lawn, but that Super Bowl 29 years ago is the best we’ve had and might be the best one that we ever have.

Here’s an excerpt from ESPN PR’s shill from their 2016 Super Bowl issue of ESPN the Magazine. It sounds like they seem to agree with me.

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Culture Shift: Whitney Houston’s National Anthem

Whitney Houston’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” unintentionally changed the entire culture of the Super Bowl. In a piece marking the 25th anniversary of that performance, the development of the anthem is retraced, from its unorthodox arrangement and its unexpected success on the charts to, of course, her red, white and blue tracksuit. 

SB 25 began with what is still considered the best rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” in sports history. Watch it again below, and get chills like we all did back then. Watch the 30 for 30 (reviewed here) and you’ll see Thurman Thomas agreeing with you about this anthem being the most memorable part of the game:

Houston hits all the notes, and doesn’t add any added extra notes. It was the best rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner in my lifetime.

That was until six days ago, when Lady Gaga sang the national anthem on the U.S. Capitol steps on Inauguration Day (more on that, and the two anthems here).

Houston’s rendition was also the first anthem to popularize the fighter jet flyover, as this standard procedure today was extremely novel at the time. This Super Bowl occurred just days after the first Iraq invasion began and both sides in the game have colors are literally red, white and blue. Jingoism and patriotism were at sky high levels during this one.

Kenneth Davis even has an interesting theory about how an Apache helicopter (present due to the political climate of the game) might have affected Norwood’s kick.

Make no mistake, Norwood did not choke, as he never previously made a kick that long outdoors at any point in his career. Still I’m not sure I’m ready to buy Davis’ theory just yet.

The Buffalo Bills and New York Giants got together in January 1991 to take the Super Bowl franchise up a notch. When this game was played, it was the first interesting Super Bowl (other than ’88, Bengals-Niners maybe) in a very very long time.

Up until then, the Super Bowl had a reputation as a snore fest in which the NFC POUNDED the AFC into submission every year.

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It wasn’t as popular then as it is today. It was still the biggest sporting event of the year, but it was not the biggest mainstream pop culture event of the year like it is these days.

Yes, the Super Bowl was extremely commercialized at the time, but it was still nowhere near the level of corporate dominance that it is these days.

Back then, the game had plenty of media hype, but it wasn’t like today’s STFU already kind of saturation coverage. In the era of Super Bowl XXV, it was the NFL championship, and a special Sunday for sports fans. Unlike today, where it’s competing with Halloween to replace New Year’s Eve as first-string amateur night.

The Super Bowl was huge in the 1990s, but its presence wasn’t oppressive like it is today. No entertainment product should ever become inescapable; like Justin Bieber’s terrible music has become.

Maybe that’s why we’ll never have a SB as good as 25. The franchise reached its peak then, and it’s not coming back to that level. It’s too mainstream now, and the reason it’s a stream is because streams are so shallow.

It’s just too bad that Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills never won one, just one Super Bowl. They really deserved to.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of  “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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