This author came to a rather shocking realization the other day while talking to his kids about September 11th, 2001.  Sadly, my offspring and step-kids did not really know much about that day.  Sure, they knew something bad had happened, and that lots of people died.  They really did not know the details, though, like who carried out the attacks, where it all happened, and the other pertinent details.  I, of course, explained it all to them and in the course of it, we somehow came to the topic of the first post-9/11 Super Bowl.

In February 2002, a stunned and still emotionally shattered nation tried to carry on as before, and get back to a sense of some kind of normalcy.  What better way to do so than by tuning in to our yearly communal viewing of the Super Bowl?  It remains one of the few cultural touchstones that the great majority of Americans can still rally around as one unified nation.  Also, so soon after 9/11, it was especially important as a way for all of us to forget the horror of a few months prior, if even for just a few hours.

Not only were the New England Patriots taking part — fittingly — as a sort of stand-in for American patriotism in the days before they were repeat champions and football juggernauts.  U2 was also scheduled to play the halftime show, and the band no doubt knew that they had a herculean task ahead of them as they looked to entertain millions, provide catharsis to a wounded nation, and pay homage to the world’s down-but-not-out benevolent hegemon.

What followed that night, in addition to the Patriots’ victory over the St. Louis Rams, was a nearly pitch-perfect performance by U2 that rallied and inspired millions, as Bono and the band not only sang us their songs, but led us by the hand toward a sublime plateau of patriotism, healing, and determination to overcome the defeat we had suffered just a handful of months previously.

U2 had already performed once in the wake of September 11th, as part of the 9/11 Tribute Concert.  In that rousing rendition of “Walk On,” Bono and company gave us the prelude to their Super Bowl performance, lifting us up with a song about carrying on in the face of tragedy, and wrapped up at its conclusion with a round of “hallelujahs” that provided a fitting moment of poignant relief.

The band had released their now-classic album All that You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000, on which is also found “Walk On,” so that when they kicked off the halftime show with the album’s opening song “Beautiful Day,” the crowd knew the song well and responded instantly to its upbeat and uplifting message.  It was as if Bono was kicking off the halftime show by proclaiming to all of us that the worst was over and it was time to pick ourselves up, America.

U2 segued from “Beautiful Day” into the brief but powerful song “MLK” from their album The Unforgettable Fire.  As they played the slow and solemn number, a large screen behind the band began scrolling the names of all of those who died in the 9/11 attacks.  Name after name scrolled under the headings “FDNY,” “NYPD,” “American Airlines Flight 11,” “United Airlines Flight 175,” and the rest.

The crowd came to a hush as the names began to scroll and the band signaled to all of us that we were going to mourn together, but joyfully and defiantly.  When the Edge’s guitar began to ring out with the opening tones of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” flowing directly from “MLK,” the crowd began to well up in anticipation, and it was as if all of us realized that the band was going to lift us up in our sadness and embrace us as we grieved.