It has been fifteen years and it doesn’t get any easier.
This morning, as I have every year following the attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001 I paused and prayed at 8:46 and once again at 9:03. I also watched as MSNBC reran that morning’s Today Show that also turned into news coverage of the heart wrenching events that unfolded. Seeing not only my country, but my hometown being attacked brought it all back as if it was yesterday.
Our lives changed so much on that cloudless morning in the northeast. So many families that lost loved ones who simply went to work and boarded airplanes. Ordinary things that met with anything but ordinary. On a personal level that morning was as scary and stressful as it can ever get. I am the middle of three brothers, and the only one who relocated when I left the New York area for South Florida.
Both of my brothers spend time in Manhattan as part of their daily routines. I spent that morning frantically trying to find out about their whereabouts and safety. I knew my parents were safe in their home in New Jersey. I thank God that all I got that morning was a scare. Many people weren’t so lucky. I can never forget the anguished looks on the faces of those walking around the neighborhood that was beginning to be called Ground Zero. The fear of the worst, the finality that came. Sad beyond words.
I know that everyone who was old enough to understand what happened in New York, Washington, and Shanksville has a story to tell. But how does this all connect to a sports blog?
Let’s set the clock back to Sunday September 16, 2001. Baseball was still on hold, the NFL had postponed week 2 till the end of the season. Too soon for fun and games to continue, but one of American sports’ famous cathedrals was actually was used as one. The city of New York picked Yankee Stadium as the venue to begin healing. A massive memorial service was held at the House That Ruth Built. Six weeks later President Bush would bring the nation to its feet when he threw out the first ball at game 3 of the 2001 World Series from the pitcher’s mound of the Bronx landmark.
Across the East River in Queens, Shea Stadium would be the center of healing. On September 21, 2001 Major League Baseball was back in business in New York. The Braves would face the Mets (clad in NYPD and FDNY baseball caps) as New York attempted to return to some semblance of normalcy and fun. If Bobby Thompson’s epic walk off home run at the Polo Grounds in 1951 was the “shot heard round the world” then Mike Piazza’s walk off on that September night was the “shot heard round America”. The crowd at Shea exploded to a fever pitch not seen since Jesse Orosco finished off the Red Sox in 1986.
On September 20th the Rangers, one night removed from opening their preseason at Madison Square Garden headed to Philadelphia to face one of their fiercest rivals. What happened that night still gives me goosebumps. You see, President Bush addressed Congress that night with a status report on the events of September 11th. The Flyers decided to post the speech on the scoreboard at what is now known as the Wells Fargo Center. The Rangers and Flyers stopped the game. The NHL officiating crew stopped officiating. No brawling, no rivalry, everyone stopped and listened to the president. The game never resumed.
Anyone who knows the makeup of South Florida knows the distinct connection to the New York area. Like most of the country, time stood still on that awful day as residents had one eye on their loved ones up north. The typical South Floridian question among transplanted New Yorkers was “everyone OK?, Have you heard from everyone?”
On September 23rd the NFL resumed their schedule with what was supposed to be week 3. South Florida went into a collective cheer when Jay Fiedler crossed the goal line to finish a Miami Dolphins comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders. The eruption at the stadium now known as Hard Rock Stadium was deafening. Our community reacted with such a release with that win you would have thought the Dolphins just won the Super Bowl.
So as the NFL opens up in earnest this afternoon, the fifteenth anniversary of the worst attack on American soil still overshadows fun and games. Amid the pregame and halftime ceremonies that will go on around the league today, hearts will still be heavy. Despite it all games will go on in the NFL and Major League Baseball. Sports will once again be there for America. The sporting world will again be part of the healing process.
God Bless America!