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Our Flag Was Still There

On January 17, 1991, the United States Stealth Bombers, F-4’s and F-18’s breached Iraqi airspace as we launched Operation Desert Storm, an aerial bombing campaign against the country of Iraq to liberate Kuwait from the occupation of the Iraqi Republican Guard. It was one of the most intensive and expansive air bombardments in military history.


The United States was somewhat divided. The wounds from the Vietnam War were still raw. All during the 60’s and 70’s college campuses and cities were burned in protest of the war. Soldiers returning home from battle, wounded and traumatized, were treated with much hostility; spat upon, mocked and ridiculed for being drafted and doing their duty.


The Gulf War was the first real, full fledge war since Saigon fell 15 years prior, and America was not completely sure how to respond. Professional sports leagues questioned whether they should even be playing while the nation was embroiled in such a conflict. The NFL began considering a possible delay or cancellation of the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, after much deliberation made the decision and stated the games would go on as scheduled.


And then on January 27, 1991, prior to Super Bowl XXV, in front of 73,813 fans in Tampa Stadium, and hundreds of millions watching on television, Whitney Houston stepped to the microphone and performed one of the most powerful and meaningful renditions of the National Anthem that has ever been recorded. It was so memorable that after 9/11, this version was re-released as a single and became an immediate best-seller.


In that moment, the United States of America came together as one. The lingering feelings and injuries from the Vietnam War were forgotten and even healed. Her performance of that song unified the country behind a singular cause. No longer were soldiers going to be disrespected or demeaned based on political differences. Cities were not going to be destroyed. Buildings on college campuses were not going to be burned to the ground. Americans put country first, and politics second.


Here we are 30 years later unable to remember or learn the lesson of that moment. In recent years, professional sports and athletes have used and misused the moment of the National Anthem to divide not unite, to disrespect not to honor. So many opportunities missed, kicked away by misguided people, exploiting their power in a never-ending divide-to-conquer strategy.


The country is divided more and more every day because the people in power understand that the root of their power is through division. That is why we experienced 157 days of riots this summer. That’s why people continually attack the National Anthem and the United States flag because those are moments and symbols which call on all Americans to put down our differences and unite as a country. That is their tactic, their strategy; divide, divide, divide. Causes are not successful through division. They are successful only through unity. And these people want division. Their “cause” is a Trojan horse for their revolution. Revolutions are advanced through division, and this is what we are witnessing in our country, an anti-American revolution.


And as I think about the Super Bowl this year, I think back to that Super Bowl 30 years ago, I remember a time that feels alien to us these days, a time when all Americans came together, even during a dark and scary time. It was a moment when we dropped all of the pretenses that divided us, and clung to the one thing that united us, we are Americans. And for that moment, I want to thank Whitney Houston and her rendition of our National Anthem, and I hope that it and our need for unity does not fade into the background of history because we need it now more than ever.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind