On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Connecticut and was starting one of my first days of elementary school. Beginning the second grade, the memories at this point are distant and hazy. But I remember a little bit. I remember being dismissed early and when I came home, watching two tall buildings blackened in smoke. I remember listening to my parents debate whether my father, a fireman in Westchester, should leave for New York.
Following the hurried and frantic pace of the grown-ups around me, I do remember just going up to my room that Tuesday morning, and turning on ESPN. I remember a lot of people in the aftermath of that day doing that.
Through the lense of a child, I was unaware of how unrecognizable the world became on Sept. 12. Flipping through the Connecticut Post and the New York Daily News, I knew something had happened, but didn’t know the difficult questions that needed to be answered following that day. As I did in my seven years of existence at that point, I flipped to the sports page.
At 21 years old, I still cannot fathom the aftermath following that day. When you could still see the mist of Ground Zero weep into the sky from old Giants Stadium, in New Jersey, the dawn must have been a little darker. It must have been exhausting, waking to a dark sunshine, and feeling like you lived in a world of disbelief, and the most haunting of dreams.
In a week, Sports Illustrated titled their magazine as,“The Week That Sports Stood Still” with the image of an American flag draped over a bleacher seat; in hindsight, I see the days following the tragedy of 9/11 as a time when sports took up the mantle to alleviate the pain that day brought.
You see, while an industry that seems vicious on the field, and even more barbarous in management, sports at their most basic level, are just games. No matter how competitive players and fans are, there is a mutually-respected community in all sports. “You like this game; I like this game; even though we may disagree, I respect you because of this love of game.” It’s simple. And at a time when it felt that the word “simple” had abandoned its place in the English lexicon, sports provided this simplicity.
In the wake of 9/11, with sports, you temporarily could relax, for within these lines of play, the world around you had not ended. And this community knew this, and sought to enhance this feeling of fellowship any way possible.
Sports typically provide the most goose-bumpy sensation you will ever feel, and at that time, I promise, you will never feel as in awe of a game following 9/11. For you see, there are not many times where you will hear the Fenway faithful bellow, “New York, New York.” Mike Piazza’s home run in the first game of New York baseball following the tragedy was a moonshot in the dead center of Shea Stadium, shining on a city who had been fastened in the dark.
In one of the greatest World Series, the New York Yankees had the Big Apple, who had felt soured, enraptured in a game. Up in Boston, the city seen as a beacon upon a hill and the birthplace of American liberty, would provided the NFL champion that year. Their name, the Patriots.
In the days following 9/11, when it felt that the country was teetering, the guided hand of mitts and gloves set it back in steadfast position. The occasions are still spine-tingling: Sammy Sosa sprinting across the warning track holding an American flag at Wrigley Field, the perfect strike from George Bush to begin Game 3 of the World Series and, of course, the lovely poem delivered by the legendary sports broadcaster, Jack Buck, is not to be forgotten.
Buck, who would pass away a year later from lung cancer, asked the St.Louis faithful, and seemingly all of America a question; their answer was as simple as the game that was about to be played on Sept.17. “The question has already been answered, should we be here?” Buck said. “Yes!”