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Ten Years Later

Sep 11, 2011, 9:45 AM EDT

Sept. 11, 2001, is forever etched in our memories. A day to our generation what Dec. 7, 1941, and Nov. 22, 1963, were to those before us. None of us will ever forget where we were or who we were with when we heard the tragic news about the terrorist attacks on our country.

Ten years ago today, I sat in Miss Tusa’s seventh grade English class at Ballston Spa Middle School, first hearing the news, but still unaware of the magnitude of what happened earlier that morning. On the same day that nearly 3,000 innocent civilians lost their lives, part of our innocence also died for my classmates and I. As 12- and 13-year-olds, the words “terrorism” and “al-Qaeda” were not yet on our radar, but that quickly changed, as our eyes became fixated on the television while listening to the reports from Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings for several days.

Whether or not we knew someone in New York, Washington or Pennsylvania, each of us was affected. For the next few days, weeks or months, many began to recognize the fragility of life, the sobering reality that what we have can be taken from us in an instant. We heard stories of people who were supposed to be in the World Trade Center or on those fateful flights, but for one reason or another had changed their plans on what began as a typical Tuesday morning. We learned about those who had gotten out just in time, or who sadly, were unable to escape before the towers crumbled.

Here at Notre Dame, the morning began like any other. A Tuesday in September meant that Irish football was in the air and classes were in full swing. Everything changed when the second plane hit the World Trade Center and it became apparent that the first was not just an unfortunate accident.

“It was surreal. Everything just came to a screeching halt. We were glued to the television. Nobody got much work done that day,” recalled senior associate athletic director John Heisler. “Nothing else seemed very important, given the circumstances.”

At 3:00 pm, an estimated 7,000 students, faculty and staff gathered on South Quad for a memorial Mass for the victims of the morning’s attacks. (Note: To mark the 10-year anniversary, the University will hold a Mass on Sunday evening at 7:30 p.m. on the quad outside of Hesburgh Library. University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. will be the presiding celebrant and President Emeritus Rev. Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C. will speak.)

As the day went on and people around the country began to understand the severity of what had happened, classes, meetings and practices were cancelled and games were postponed.

Within 24 hours, just about every team had moved its game. Notre Dame was scheduled to visit West Lafayette where it would play Purdue on Sept. 15. On Wednesday afternoon, one day before all Division I games were officially postponed, Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke announced that the Irish and Boilermakers would be rescheduled for Dec. 1.

“I think everyone was trying to figure out how to acknowledge what had taken place,” Heisler said. “Athletics, and football in particular, just weren’t important.”

For the Irish, their first game back was at home against Michigan State on Sept. 22. The South Bend Tribune distributed 80,000 paper American flags, the Hammes Bookstore collected $60,000 from patriotic Notre Dame t-shirts and an in-game collection raised more than $270,000 for relief of families of NYC police and firefighters.

The first game back from the attacks was also the first Irish home game of the season, certainly creating a different environment than the usual game weekend mood on Notre Dame’s campus. “It was definitely a somber thing. After having gone through the previous weekend without football, you saw everyone was still dealing with tragedy from the loss of life.

You were hearing personal stories. It was different,” Heisler said. “It was getting back to business, in terms of having the football game, but what had happened was still part of our consciousness.”

After the attacks, one of the most significant changes to our daily life was increased security throughout the country. Today, we cannot imagine having friends and family waiting for us right outside the gate or not taking our shoes off before boarding the plane, but there once was a time when that was the norm. Among many other safety precautions, the game against Michigan State saw an amplified security presence with the beginning of bags being checked when entering Notre Dame Stadium.

During NBC’s broadcast, they aired the Glee Club singing “America the Beautiful,” the Band of the Fighting Irish performing the “Star Spangled Banner,” Fr. Malloy’s prayer before the game, and both university bands joining together at halftime for a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Today, the band performs the national anthem before the Irish come running out of the tunnel, but for quite some time after Sept. 11, teams started lining up on the field for the anthem prior to the game.

Nothing can, nor ever will, erase the memories of Sept. 11, 2001. But it was sports, especially baseball and football, that helped divert our minds from the painful images. Jack Buck’s patriotic poem in St. Louis when baseball returned on Sept. 17, Mike Piazza’s go-ahead home run in the first professional sporting event in New York City since the attacks, President Bush’s first pitch in the World Series at Yankee Stadium and countless athletes, such as the New England Patriots’ Joe Andruzzi, the brother of three NYC firefighters, running on to the field, waving Old Glory in hand, provided some of the inspiring moments and powerful images.

In my 22 years on this earth, there have been few things in life that I’ve enjoyed more than athletics. From the history and pageantry of the traditions to the drama and excitement of competition, in my mind, sports are the “total package.” Others have often said, however, that sports are “just a game.” Yes, they are just games.

But it is sports’ ability to bring family, friends and strangers together, their power to be much more than “just a game,” that makes them special, worth playing and watching. Baseball creates special lifelong bonds between fathers and sons, football teaches teamwork and reunites classmates and generations of families on weekends in the fall, and basketball builds friendly, yet intense rivalries, strengthening relationships between siblings. These, just a few examples among many others, of the blessings that sports may give us.

When sports resumed after Sept. 11, the images we saw in ballparks and stadiums across the country, those same flashbacks we will probably see this weekend, became reminders of their healing nature and the ability of athletics to connect people of different upbringings together as one. Youthful or elderly, wealthy or working class, and across ethnic and racial backgrounds, sports can be a unifying force. These contests that are “just a game” can provide us with much more than entertainment and exercise, and that has perhaps never been exhibited more clearly than it was in the days and weeks following Sept. 11, 2001.

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