Star Spangled Banner: A Decade Later...

January 22, 2001
When Two Super Voices Inspired Giants

New York Times

OF the current Giants, only Howard Cross, their 33-year- old tight end, has a Super Bowl XXV ring. But when he was asked what he remembered about that 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Tampa, he shook his head. "Not much," he said. "I'm not a nostalgic person."

He was reminded that he caught 4 passes for 39 yards and three important first
downs. "I really don't remember any of that," he insisted.

But as he awaited Super Bowl XXXV against the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday in Tampa, did he remember Whitney Houston singing the national anthem there 10 years ago?

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I remember that."

So does everybody else who heard her sing the national anthem that Sunday the way nobody else ever has. Actually, as her voice boomed through the loudspeakers, she wasn't singing it so much as she was belting it out as if she were on a concert stage or in a recording studio.  "She had a great voice," Cross said.

Super Bowl XXV, you may remember, occurred shortly after the Gulf War began. United States jets were bombing Iraq. Scud missiles were buzzing over the desert at American troops. With security advisers wondering if terrorists would target the Super Bowl, ticket-holders had to pass through metal detectors and SWAT teams roamed the roof.

So when Whitney Houston belted out the national anthem with the nation at war, she reminded everybody that there was a much more important world out there beyond the Super Bowl, a much more important world beyond even the Giants' hold- your-breath triumph when Bills kicker Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal try sailed wide right.

As much as Giants followers remember how Jeff Hostetler was the first backup quarterback to win a Super Bowl, how Matt Bahr's 21-yard field goal made the difference, how Ottis Anderson rushed for 102 yards as the Giants controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes, they also remember Whitney Houston's national anthem.

If her rendition inspired the Giants, maybe it also inspired the Bills as both teams combined to produce one of the most competitive games in Super Bowl history.

Four years earlier, when the Giants won Super Bowl XXI for their first National Football League championship since 1956, another familiar voice inspired them.

At halftime, the Giants were trailing, 10-9, before 101,063 fans in the Rose Bowl. As the Denver Broncos hurried to their locker room that golden afternoon in Pasadena, Calif., they were serenaded on the loudspeakers by John Denver's recording of "Rocky Mountain High."

But as the Giants emerged for the second half, Frank Sinatra's recording of "New York, New York" was booming over the loudspeakers. Hearing it, Phil McConkey, the Giants' wide receiver and punt returner, was waving a big white towel as he sprinted toward the Giants' bench.

"I flew down the sideline, whirling my arms, waving my towel," McConkey has often said. "Between me and Sinatra, we got the crowd roaring."

And when all those Giants followers heard Sinatra's voice blaring, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere," they knew the Giants had made it in New York   decades earlier, but the Giants had yet to win a Super Bowl so now the Giants had to make it in the Super Bowl.  In the second half, they did.

Phil Simms, who completed 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards, found tight end Mark Bavaro for a quick 13-yard touchdown and a 16-10 lead — the first of 24 unanswered points that generated a 39-20 triumph.

Simms had thrown a 6-yard dart to tight end Zeke Mowatt for a touchdown in the first quarter and he flipped a 5-yard touchdown in the final quarter to McConkey, the towel- waver at halftime.

"But that halftime scene wouldn't have been the same," McConkey has said, "without
Sinatra singing, `New York, New York.' "

For all the winning football that the Giants played for Coach Bill Parcells in their two previous Super Bowl games, the uncommon denominator is an unforgettable voice booming over the loudspeakers — Frank Sinatra just before the second-half kickoff in Pasadena and Whitney Houston with the national anthem in Tampa.

And if you're looking for a Giants omen at Sunday's game, Ray Charles will be singing
"America the Beautiful." As only he can.




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