Sunday, September 11, 2011

Paul Simon - The Sound of Silence 9/11 Ground Zero

Ten Years Later, It's a New Game

By-Matt Marino-Contributing Writer/Football Reporters Online/Pro Football NYC

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I’d go up to the roof every July 4th for the fireworks, look to the left and the Towers were the first thing in sight. I’d be on my way home from school, driving towards Manhattan and they were the first buildings to come into view. Exiting Giants stadium from the upper tier, they were the first buildings you saw as you looked back towards the East. And when you came up out of the subway anywhere in the city and lost your sense of direction for a couple of seconds, you could always look up, find the Twin Towers and know exactly where you were. Growing up here, they became a compass.
The City’s sports teams did their part in the aftermath of 9/11. Then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and MLB commissioner Bud Selig did the right thing and cancelled a weeks worth of games. But, it was also the right thing to do by resuming play a week later. The right thing because it was something people around New York City needed.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the city and the people of the city were shocked, hurt and exhausted. I remember listening to then New York Giants and New York Jets coaches, Jim Fassel and Herm Edwards, explaining that the scope of what happened did not set in until they drove by the commuter rail stations in New Jersey and Long Island respectively (where each team would practice) and see the same cars in the same parking spots and that’s when it hit them that those people were not coming back. It was also when they realized that their coaches and players needed do anything possible to help heal a city.
In the days after the attacks, athletes from the New York area teams began visiting the first responders at Ground Zero. Whether they handed out bottled water or just visited family members, who had lost loved ones, it was important they were there. They did not do it out of obligation to the team they played for, but because they were part of the community of New York City, representatives of the people of the city. Professional athletes that were playing for New York felt a new connection to the city, and its fans.
How we experience sporting events in this country changed that day. When you go to a stadium now, there is a good chance you will need to walk through a metal detector, there are mandatory bag checks, armed military personnel, and the Department of Homeland Security has trained teams on how to protect their stadiums against acts of terrorism. You will also see more American flags in stadiums displayed by fans than prior to the events of 9/11. There is now a seriousness to the national anthem and there certainly will be this Sunday. Video boards scan the fans, crowds cheer and chant USA as the camera locks on to a firefighter, police officer or a member of the Armed Forces - all things that were not a usual occurrence before 9/11.
Some people disagreed with the decision to resume professional sports after 9/11 but I recall the role the games that the New York sports teams played during that fall. Mike Piazza won the first game played in New York City after the attacks with a dramatic 8th inning home run. The Giants and Jets won their first games on the road, but were treated as the home teams with signs of love for New York visible across the stadiums in Kansas City and Foxborough. The Jets, being urged on by New York City Fireman Ed Anzalone, “fireman Ed”, were able to make the playoffs. The Giants played the first football game at home following the attacks and showed what a team and stadium of 80,000 people can do to brighten the spirits of a city.
And Even though the Yankees lost in the 7th game of the World Series, they gave New Yorkers three of the most dramatic nights in sports history with a first pitch from the President of the United States and back-to-back nights with game-tying ninth inning home runs and extra inning wins. All teams did this while showing their support by wearing the hats of the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD during their games.
The Jets and Giants were some of the first athletes to get to Ground Zero after the attacks and by doing so, demonstrated to others watching that, if these professional athletes are down there helping, maybe I can do something myself to help. It also gave the players an idea of what they meant to the fans of New York, and how much they were looked up to.
Those teams provided a place for people to gather and escape from what they were going through – if only for a few hours, it was still needed. Fans assembled in large numbers at stadiums around the city, all places that were deemed terrorist targets at the time. Sports gave complete strangers, who were in the same dilemma, a connection, and it helped keep memories alive of loved ones and acted as a form of therapy for others.
For the 10th anniversary of 9/11, with the NFL set to have its own pre-game ceremonies throughout the league, the Jets and Giants are involved in the largest tributes around the league. The Jets will don hats on the sideline with the FDNY insignia on them and will have the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD bagpipers perform Amazing Grace on the field. The stadium lights will be shut off at halftime for the start of another tribute created by 9/11 family members. The Giants will be playing in Washington – the site of the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11. And if Justin Tuck can play, I’m sure he will be wearing a New York Giants fireman helmet as he comes onto the field. The ceremonies commemorating 9/11 will be especially poignant for both teams. Although there are few players and coaches still associated with the Jets and Giants that were on the teams ten years ago, both teams still represent New York City. This Sunday will give everyone a sense of enjoyment, a coming together, something positive to share with one another for a couple of hours during a difficult time - the same thing that sports accomplished in the months following the attacks in 2001.
On this Sunday, we will be reminded of the significance of sports, not just as something to enjoy but also as a way to remember the past shared with family and friends. As my friend Mike Modafferi, the son of Rescue 5 Battalion Chief Louis Modafferi who died on 9/11, told me “Sports were something I could feel good about, it was a way of being close to him and keeping his memory alive because we both got so much enjoyment out of them. One of the reasons I love sports is because my father got me into them. When I go to games now, I think about being there with him.”