Ten years ago this Sunday, our nation was challenged.
‘Challenged’ might not be the word of choice for most Americans, especially during those dire moments in 2001. Attacked, hurt, bleeding. In a moment that left a country lost for words, we simply sat and watched helplessly.
Football wasn’t the focus. Fans brought down their team flags and raised the ultimate team colors of red, white and blue. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue canceled the games that following Sunday because he said that football wouldn’t be appropriate. The cancelation wasn’t to give America time to heal, because after all, there was no possible way one week would heal a nation changed. Instead, that week allowed the nation to get back on its feet. We got back up. As we regained our balance, we turned back to football.
That first Sunday with football after 9/11 was a chance for Americans to come together, stand together, sing the National Anthem, and cheer on the most American pastime: football. Fans cheered for their country and their teams. We felt a level of comfort as we were back in our element–our everyday lives–where we knew what to expect. We tailgated, we walked through the turnstiles, we bought our beer and popcorn and then there was kickoff. Four quarters weren’t enough to erase the recent past, but it was just enough to make us feel like, well, us. We were a country again. We weren’t on our heels anymore. Instead, we were standing–and sometimes jumping–as our favorite players darted across a field that never looked so beautiful.
At that moment, you can say those events of September 11th challenged us. They suffocated us briefly, but we were able to come together and take a unified breath when football returned. Patriotism filled the stadiums as fans began to put up their team flags again, right next to Old Glory.
So with the opening Sunday of the season landing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I hope the NFL makes it special. I’m sure it will be considering how much the NFL meant to America ten years ago. And still today.