The Day the (Sports)World Stopped
The objectives of Motion Sports Network is to cover the sports world while avoiding the politics that get thrust in it by other networks. However today I might veer slightly into that lane. Today is September 11th 2021. Twenty years since the worst terrorist attack on American soil. That day, 20 years ago our country basically stopped, and with that the sports world stopped as well.
With the trauma and pain that our country was going through that day it was hard for anyone to imagine playing a baseball game as scheduled that night. So they didn’t. I along with everyone was glued to a TV watching news coverage. There was no other programming on TV for a few days. If you turned on the History Channel or the Food Network or TNT or MTV or Nickelodeon or even ESPN there was no programming on. Just a screen showing a card with something to the effect of ‘Due to the tragic events we are not broadcasting, please tune into the news stations’.
Before I get to deep in this article I want to say that I’m trying to keep this simply to the sports world. But as I sat at watched that day, the true heroism of the FDNY, NYPD, all who responded to the Pentagon, and the brave men and women aboard Flight 93 cannot ever be measured and appreciated because how many among us would run straight toward almost certain death in an effort to save just 1 life? And to all who lost someone that day, or in years after due to illnesses, and our fearless military who took the fight to those cowards to prevent this ever happening in our country again, my greatest sympathies and thanks are with you.
Now I want to bring the focus back to sports on September 11, 2001. Week 1 of the new NFL season had just wrapped up the previous night with the Broncos beating the Giants 31-20. MLB had a full docket of games scheduled that day as the season’s pennant races were coming down the stretch. The New York Yankees, the AL representative in that years World Series, were running away in the East. And the Arizona Diamondbacks, who would go to the World Series out of the NL were still in a dog fight leading the San Francisco Giants by only 1.5 games. The college football season had already played a couple of games with the University of Miami and the Florida Gators sitting #1 and #2 in the AP rankings. And believe it or not the NHL’s preseason was starting as well.
As with most other accounts of the morning of September 11th the sporting scene just seemed just normal. It was just there day in and day out. We all awoke that morning talking about Monday night’s NFL game, and in New York, that 2001 Yankees team was simply amazing, and they were preparing for a nice long playoff run.
Then at 8:46 AM we all started to become aware of tragedy that began to play out. Then at 9:03 we all watched the second plane crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Sadly, as Americans began to realize, things were going to get worse. 9:37 the Pentagon is attacked. 10:03 hero passengers on Flight 93 sacrifice themselves.
How does anything in sports relate to this terrible and tragic day? It’s gonna take a little bit of a stretch but here goes. Normal ended. All we could see was tragedy. All we could imagine was pain for the 2996 who would die that day. I personally hoped all I could that soon stories of survival would emerge and the country could take solace in some of those survivors. Anything to do with sports was so far gone out of everyone’s minds. I can’t remember the exact time or how the information began to get out to the public, and I don’t even want to research it because the exact time is trivial, but eventually and expectedly I guess we were told that MLB games were cancelled that night and the next weekends college and NFL football games were as well.
The country had no desire to cheer on their gridiron heroes. New heroes emerged before us that day. They wore badges or rode on firetrucks and ambulances. So we all paused the MLB and NFL seasons. And as Tuesday became Wednesday and the rest of the week and the weekend came without ANY kind of sports the country simple mourned. 10 days would pass before sports would make a return.
Then how fitting was it that the first game would be at Shea Stadium with an amazing tribute to the NYPD, FDNY, New York City, and the entire United States, and then the New York Mets to it win in dramatic fashion. For a night at least everyone was rooting for the Mets and as catcher Mike Piazza said “People just wanted to cheer about something”.
Sports in the weeks after September 11th became some what of the escape we needed in the wake of tragedy. With the NFL returning Sunday the 23rd after they seemed to be the league all the others looked to for guidance. It was only after the NFL decided to resume their games, push the season back a whole week, and reschedule their week 2 to the back end of the season that everyone else decided they could follow suit.
I was a season ticket holder for the Washington Capitals. They actually had a preseason game scheduled for September 15th. That game got moved to the 18th(as I previously stated with the Mets-Braves was the first game played, in 2001 preseason hockey only meant anything to the 8000 or so fans who would go to those games). I went to that game. There were local TV stations there because that was the first large gathering since the terrorist attacks and one of the reporters asked my if I was comfortable being in a large group. I wish I could remember my exact response but I can’t. It was something along the lines of not letting us be afraid or letting the bad guys win. I was sort of glad to be a part of a return to normal. Funny thing about that game also was that while the National Anthem was being sung there was a problem with the sound system. The singer began cutting out so those of us in the crowd took over and belted out one hell of a rendition.
In the World Series matchup that fall between the Diamondbacks and the Yankees it seemed as if the Yankees were destined to win. The poor Diamondbacks had the misfortune of being their opponents and played their hearts out to take the series in 7 games.
When it came time for the Super Bowl in 2002 the St. Louis Rams faced off with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a classic matchup would see Brady and the Pats win the first of their dynasty championships. But for me the best part of that game was the halftime show. I’m not a guy who is into Super Bowl halftime shows but leave it to Irish rockers U2 to give an amazing tribute to the September 11th attacks. 4 months of many, many tributes from leagues and teams from across the sports world all came to a head with a tribute to the fallen on the worlds biggest TV stage. Enjoy any Bruno Mars or The Weeknd you like but the U2 halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI will to me, stand at a place that can never be equaled.
20 years have now past. Some small measure of healing has happened and sports has been there to help us get past the pain of that day. We will never live another day like September 10th. Life and sports will never be like that Broncos-Giants game, but if you need an escape from the pain or memories the sporting world will be there to try to provide us with a bit of an escape