By Jason Keidel
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I’ll never forget the day I heard that Elvis died. The words scratching from the radio meant little to me, until I saw my father practically collapse in the car he was driving. We were on a fishing trip in the Florida Keys, one of many visits we made when I was a boy. Perhaps I was seven, too young to grasp death, but keenly aware of my pops’ pain.
I wasn’t really around for Elvis, but I remember Michael Jackson, my generation’s Elvis, all too well, as Thriller was the soundtrack to my adolescence. And a pall falls upon an entire region, if not a nation, when our icons die. Some deaths double as a time portal, to an earlier, if not better, time.
So it is with Whitney Houston. While no one would properly compare her to the aforementioned giants, she will be forever linked to the Giants.
How odd that Whitney Houston, known for many things but particularly for her flawless rendition of our national anthem on a sweaty night in Florida, to an overtly and overly patriotic nation at war with Saddam Hussein, could serve as a prologue and epilogue to a Super Bowl?
Who knew we’d fight Hussein again? Who knew Whitney Houston would die after another Giants championship? Death always has an eerie cadence and, sometimes, coincidence.
If there’s been a better rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, I’d like to hear it. Houston’s was a perfect preamble to one of our greatest Super Bowls, won by the Giants by one point over the Bills.
One needn’t parse her past to understand where it all leads with Ms. Houston. We know brilliant entertainers come with equal parts talent and torment. It doesn’t taint what their talents gave us. We all knew where we were, and with whom, when her glistening face roared while F-16s soared over her. It was one of the rare moments her sound was more profound than that of the four fighter jets.
I was 21 when she sang that day in 1991, delivered a delicious slice of Americana into my living room, maybe the lone moment in history when all Americans cheered in unison. I was still just a kid, entirely untouched by the darkness of death. It seems like a lifetime ago. It was a lifetime ago, particularly for Ms. Houston.
This isn’t meant to trivialize Houston’s death by recalling a football game. On the contrary, we rely on sports for context, like her music, bookmarks in our pockmarked lives. Times like these leave us to the familiar, to the family bond of sports, one of the few refuges we have left in life.
And because of Whitney Houston, all our lives were a little better for a few minutes in 1991, if not longer.
Was Houston’s national anthem the best ever? Remember the fallen icon below…