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National anthem good or bad before games?


Canadian singer Caroline Marcil joined the infamous list of national-anthem manglers when she forgot the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner'' before a hockey exhibition last week in Quebec.

She took two stabs at the words, missed twice, walked off the ice to get a copy of the song, then fell onto her back when she returned with the elusive lyrics finally in hand. At that point last Friday, with Marcil sprawled on the ice and the moment long since spoiled, the game began without a tribute to either country.

The only thing we cherish more than a classic rendition of the national anthem - recall Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game or Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV - is a classically awful one. Our chart-toppers involve crude gestures, cracked voices and a few "uh-ohs" by Carl Lewis. But in sorting out all the performances - and Marcil's place among them - one question frequently is forgotten. Why sing it in the first place at a public sporting event that otherwise has nothing to do with politics, patriotism or war?

"On the face of it, it always seems a bit odd that this is done," said Dick Crepeau, a history professor and sports historian at the University of Central Florida. "Yet, it's always been there during my lifetime, just something you would expect."

"Just looking at it without historical context, what really is the connection between a sporting event, especially a business proposition, and patriotism? That's puzzling."

Historically speaking, Americans embraced the tradition in the face of World War II. And once you start a thing like that, it's pretty hard to stop.