Lead singer Bono walked onto the field with a slow swagger, singing the group's recent hit, "Beautiful Day," as he climbed onto the point of a pink, heart-shaped catwalk that surrounded the stage.
As the first song wound down, a giant screen scrolled the names of victims in the attacks, and the group broke into the 1980s hit, "Where the Streets Have No Name."
The names reflected in overlapping patterns across the stands, which were dark save for countless camera flashes.
Unlike glitzy halftime shows of the past, the effects were limited to standard strobe lights. But all attention was on Bono anyway, who pulled back his lapel to reveal an American flag to the roars of the crowd.
Sunday's pregame lineup opened with the Boston Pops. Wearing white coats and black bow ties, the musicians drew enthusiastic applause when they finished their first session with "Stars and Stripes Forever."
The pregame lineup also featured Paul McCartney, Barry Manilow, Marc Anthony, Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle, James Ingram, Wynonna, Yolanda Adams and Mariah Carey.
Carey, wearing a long, royal blue dress, performed the national anthem for the first time, and her renowned high vocal range peppered several verses. As she sang with the stadium lights down, fans in the Superdome's three levels held red, white and blue glow sticks. A giant American flag in the shape of the United States was unfurled on the field.
Producers said most of the musical performers prerecorded their sound tracks to reduce the possibility of technical problems. U2 played live.
The pregame show also included a video of current and former star players reading the Declaration of Independence. In another video, former presidents Carter, Clinton, Ford and Bush joined Nancy Reagan in quoting Abraham Lincoln. The videos concluded with fans chanting "U-S-A!"
McCartney, who was in New York when the hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center, sang his Sept. 11-inspired song, "Freedom."
McCartney took the stage, acoustic guitar in hand, as cheerleaders with silver, glittering pompoms spelled out "freedom" across the field. Others marched with dozens of flags from foreign nations.
"I'm proud to be here and stand up with America," McCartney said in a TV interview shortly before halftime ended.
Earlier, LaBelle, Ingram, Wynonna and Adams joined Manilow in singing "Let Freedom Ring," a song Manilow wrote years ago to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
As the group sang, servicemen marched around the perimeter of the field with American flags while women wearing red, white or blue statue-of-liberty outfits marched in front of the stage.
The song concluded with a young boy in a camouflage military uniform ringing a replica of the Liberty Bell.
Anthony and Blige then sang "America he Beautiful," accompanied by the Pops and flanked by flag-bearing law officers.
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