Sean Pendergast

Four Most Patriotic Moments in NFL History

July 4th is out of season for the NFL, but there have been plenty of in-season patriotic moments in league history.
July 4th is out of season for the NFL, but there have been plenty of in-season patriotic moments in league history. Photo by Eric Sauseda
First, let me wish a very Happy Independence Day to all of you! I am two days into a ten day trip across this fair country of ours, the fourth straight year my wife and I have done this. We just get in the truck, pick a direction (with somewhat of a plan), and drive, see ballparks, gaze at landmarks, and feel gratitude for living in this great country.

With that feeling of fondness in mind, let's combine my love of country with our love of the most popular sport in our nation, the National Football League. In an effort to maximize our patriotic feelings, while also serving a reminder that football training camp is just two weeks away, here are the four most patriotic moments in NFL history:

4. Super Bowl XV and the Iran Hostage Crisis
This Super Bowl was in January of 1981, and was noteworthy for a lot of reasons, most notably the Eagles' first Super Bowl berth in team history and the culmination of Jim Plunkett's remarkable career resurrection with the Raiders. Nationwide, though, the story that week was the return of several American hostages from Iran just five days before the game. I was in sixth grade when this Super Bowl happened, so I do remember feeling terrified of Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Anyway, in honor of the return of the American hostages, the teams wore a yellow piece of tape on their helmets and Superdome was decorated with a gigantic yellow ribbon .

3. Return to play after 9/11 in 2001
After the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (along with an aborted attack that crash landed in rural Pennsylvania), the NFL canceled their games the next weekend. Twelve days after the attacks, the league resumed their schedule to a wave of patriotism and spirit in the air. Every stadium hosting games that day had red, white, and blue banners on display in each end zone that read "United We Stand." As a bonus, I would throw in the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 in 2011, where games took place in both the New York metro area and Washington, D.C. that day, making the reflecting upon the events of a decade prior most significant and impactful.

2. Whitney Houston's national anthem at Super Bowl XXV
This was the Super Bowl in late January 1991, the first of the four Buffalo Bills' Super Bowl losses, and Bill Parcells' second Super Bowl win as head coach of the New York Giants. However, what this Super Bowl will always be remembered for was Whitney Houston's rendition of the national anthem prior to kickoff. This game took place ten days after the United States launched Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East, and the nation was on high safety alert. That particular Super Bowl had ungodly levels of security in and around the stadium. Houston's performance resonated so poignantly with Americans that it is still held today as the gold standard for national anthems at sporting events:
1. Anything Pat Tillman related
Pat Tillman's story is a remarkable one, that needs to be told over and over again, so future generations understand what real sacrifice looks like. Tillman was one of the best young safeties in the NFL, and decided to forego massive further fame and future fortune in pro football to instead defend our country in a war that was not without controversy. Sadly, Tillman was killed overseas by friendly fire. The NFL event that probably best embodies the patriotism surrounding Tillman's sacrifice would be the September 19, 2004, game between the Cardinals and Patriots at Sun Devil Stadium, where the entire league honored him and the Cardinals retired his jersey.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast