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3,519 days later: vindication. It was 9 years, 7 months, and 21 days ago when the world seemingly came to a halt. Smoke billowed into the sky, shielding our eyes from one of the greatest tragedies on American soil. 3,000 souls were lost. Men and women of different races, creeds, and backgrounds; fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, sisters and brothers all killed senselessly. The architect of this egregious act of terror was the founder of the jihadist organization al-Qaeda; Osama bin Laden.
The pain was felt throughout our country while American’s sat watching in disbelief as hijacked planes flew into the twin towers and the Pentagon. United Airlines Flight 93 went down in a field in Pennsylvania, presumably on it’s way to the White House.
It was a somber day where nothing mattered. Personal struggles and individual differences became frivolous. Our country, our loved ones, and our world had been shaken by an overwhelming hatred from one vile soul.
The events on 9/11 were bigger than us, and the attacks halted even one of the most treasured aspects of American culture: sports. The NFL postponed its games for Week 2 and Major League Baseball cancelled all games until September 17 so that players could mourn the tragedy with their families.
We were stunned. We were shaken. The same indignant feeling that we all had deep in the pits of our stomachs was shared by our own immortalized heroes. That anger toward those who attacked us and sadness for those we had lost was something that they too had to face. They were no longer iconic athletes, but just people; Americans, the same as all of us.
Together we searched for answers, but eventually we had to get back up. We could not allow the enemy to win. We could not hang our heads, despite the overwhelming destruction at our doorstep. We are Americans. We had to rise up and come together as a nation. We needed help from our brothers and sisters to overcome and continue on.
Our American family included those athletes. They took on the burden of helping to redeem a sense of normalcy in a time of utter confusion. The return of sports gave our nation something to cheer about, something to take us away from the agonizing reality of the destruction left in the wake of the attacks.
The sight of Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi taking the field with American flags held high in the air was one of the most powerful and impactful images in sports. Andruzzi’s three brothers, all NYC firefighters, survived the attacks. His brother Jimmy Andruzzi got up to the 27th floor before he was ordered to evacuate.
The NFL changed their Super Bowl logo to give it a more patriotic feel. With a flag depicted on the outline of our country, it would only be fitting that the New England PATRIOTS would win their first Super Bowl that year.
The emotional sight of the Andruzzi brothers together on the field was truly remarkable, but it may have been the words of Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck that moved the nation the most. His “For America” poem was presented on the night of September 17, 2001 when baseball resumed play. He wrote,
Since this nation was founded under
God, more than 200 years ago,
We’ve been the bastion of
The light which keeps the free world
We do not covet the possessions of
Others, we are blessed with the
Bounty we share.
We have rushed to help other
War is just not our nature…we
Won’t start, but we will end the fight.
If we are involved we shall be
Resolved.. to protect what we know is
We’ve been challenged by a
Cowardly foe, who strikes and then
Hides from our view.
With one voice we say there’s no
Choice today, there is only one
Thing to do.
Everyone is saying the same thing
And praying that we end these
Senseless moments we are living.
As our fathers did before, we shall
Win this unwanted war.
And our children will enjoy the
Future, we’ll be giving.
The words spoke to every American citizen. We were united. We were stronger. We had not been beaten. We had been strengthened under the unity of sports. Our athletes gave us reason to believe that we could move on. We would survive and although we would never forget, we were Americans and we were NOT beaten.
Now here we are, almost a decade removed from the catastrophe that was 9/11. America has kept its promise. Sunday May, 1 2011, the orchestrator of those ghastly attacks was brought to justice. Osama bin Laden was confirmed dead.
It was announced that President Barack Obama was going to address the country late that night, leaving Americans wondering what the news could possibly be. Rumblings of national security began to circulate and it wouldn’t be long until we found out that public enemy number 1 was dead and the body was in American custody.
Spontaneous celebrations broke out across our great nation. Americans were again united as a family and we showed the world that we will not be beaten.. Flags were raised across the country and waved as a representation of the fact that we will never quit. We will never back down and we will never hide from those who try to tear us down.
Sports again brought us a compelling depiction of the national pride and unity that makes America so mighty.
Our great American athletes would once again take a back seat. This time though, they weren’t backing off to grieve with the rest of us. Now, they would make way for a triumph.
Sitting in their dugouts in Philadelphia, the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies looked on as fans started hearing the news. More and more the stands began to rumble with fans checking their smartphones and other devices. It wouldn’t take long for the entire stadium to realize the historical moment.
Unaware of the news themselves as they were in the midst of a game, both teams looked and listened as chants of “U.S.A!” rang through Citizen’s Bank Park. Like on September 17, 2001 when Jack Buck so eloquently said “As our fathers did before, we shall win this unwanted war,” fans were united together no matter the uniform. The chants weren’t coming because they had to. The patriotism wasn’t out of despair. The unification wasn’t because Americans were trying to pick themselves up. Now, we were rejoicing that our faith in our country had been rewarded.
There were no lines in the dirt. Once again we were all nothing but proud Americans; fans and athletes alike.
A night later, again in the city of brotherly love, we’d watch another great moment. Rather than singing our national anthem, before the game we heard a wonderful rendition of God Bless America. While American players on both benches listened with great emotion, fans sung along. After the song we again heard “U.S.A! U.S.A!” echo through the arena.
The clearest and most telling example of fans, players, coaches, officials all being together as citizens of the United States came prior to the Celtics and Heat game on Tuesday night. Rather than have an individual recite our national anthem. Everyone, every person in the building, together sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford was overjoyed when he heard the news of the bin Laden killing:
“I was happy like everyone else, proud to be an American,” said Crawford. “They were showing CNN and people celebrating, I was wondering if that was going on around here somewhere, I was going to go out and celebrate too.”
Joe Andruzzi expressed how he felt on WEEI:
Andruzzi said, “Kind of like almost a sigh of relief for many people”
One of the most eloquent quotes came from Chris Ogbonnaya of the Houston Texans who thanked our heroic troops:
“Thank you to all of our troops. All gave some, some gave all, and some are still giving.”
Athletics and sport are a huge part of our lives in America. We lose ourselves in our favorite teams. We try to be a part of something that’s bigger than us, while at the same time we already are. We’re a part of the greatest country in the world. All of us are, from those of us who are just working the daily nine to five to those who put on a uniform and battle in sport on our behalf. No matter the game, no matter the team, no matter the player, they like the rest of us, are Americans and on May 1, 2011, we all have reason to say, “God Bless America.”
Follow Brian Moller on Twitter: @Brian_Moller