Looking back on September 10, 2001, the Denver Broncos hosted the New York Giants in a giant Monday Night Football game. To conclude week one of the regular season, the Broncos ran away with a 31-20 victory over the Giants. However, they also took a huge hit when wide receiver Ed McCaffrey broke his leg making a great catch, and was lost for the season.
That hit was nothing compared to the hit the New York Giants and the rest of their city took the next day, September 11, 2001.
Exactly 10 years after the catastrophic attacks, a very different Giants team will take the field to take on the Washington Redskins, a team from another city that was just as effected by the event that put the United States of America on high alert. The Sunday night game features the Giants’ brother team, the New York Jets, hosting the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are not America’s Team on this day. The Giants, Jets, Redskins, and Steelers clearly are.
As teams across the league honor the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, flags will fly high, flyovers will fly even higher, and players will be allowed to wear red, white, and blue shoes and gloves without being fined.
In the NFL, we mark yards, we mark touchdowns, and we mark milestones. Tomorrow the NFL and its fans will mark a decade gone by since national external chaos turned into internal sadness. We mark a decade where victims are missed everyday, and families are honored for their loved ones’ courage. We honor our service men and women, those who have died in battle and those who are currently fighting our in the war, and those that have returned to U.S. territory. The time period is branded by our strength as a country and our ability to rebuild. However, don’t mistake that for fully recovering.
It seems that when athletes are ready and willing to lay it all out on the line, they want the moment to count deeply. They want people to understand the magnitude of meaning behind the effort.
In running races, you see excerpts from people’s lives, slices of their hearts, often the essence of their existence printed, taped, or scrawled on the backs of their t-shirts. You read mottos, scripture verses, slogans, quotes, and tributes. As NFL players step out onto the field in America’s colors today and on Monday night, that is their way of showing meaning behind their effort.
Behind every hard hit, behind every gazelle-like touchdown run, every aired out pass, and every punted football there’s an offering of strength and endurance in exchange for any weakness or sadness we feel 10 years later.
As American life was putting its pieces back together after the attacks in the fall of 2001, we used sports not only as a distraction, but as a way to connect with our country. Athletes were trying to “do something” when there seemed nothing useful to do.
Playing for America and its fans made players less willing to give up or give in, and more able to understand pain and fatigue knowing that someone else was drawing power and happiness from their effort.
Mortality can be motivating or morbid, it can be liberating or immobilizing. As we remember 9/11, its military personnel, its firefighters, its police departments, its heros, its survivors, its victims, its U.S. citizens, let’s not forget to do the things that we love to do every day.
Today marks a past calamity and validates an ongoing journey. The journey may never lead us to the ideal destination where 9/11 never even happened, but remembering the day itself is endlessly healing.
Same time, next year, the 11th day of September.