Do you remember the debate? The World Trade Center was still burning. They were still digging into the rubble at the Pentagon and wondering how the passengers took another plane down in a field in Pennsylvania before it could strike its target.
Should the schedule continue? Should we play ball that weekend, so close to the attacks? Could we possibly conduct games within sight of the smoke plumes in New York? Would it be respectful, wise or even safe to fill our NFL stadiums with people?
For the only time I can remember in my life, football was silenced. Not by a strike, mismanagement, or weather, but by violence beyond a point that civilians in America had ever experienced. Well beyond what most of considered possible.
The following week the commissioner decided to go ahead with the rest of the season. The Jets came to New England to play our Patriots. Joe Andruzzi’s brothers, firefighters who worked at ground zero, were coming to open the game.
The rivalry was put aside; this was about football for sure, but it was also about getting our lives back to normal. It was about honoring the team from New York who lost so many friends and neighbors. It was about mourning those we lost and honoring those who risked their lives to save others. It was about expressing gratitude for those who survived and supporting those who faced the difficult job of survival. It was about just doing what Americans are supposed to do on a Sunday afternoon.
If you’ll remember that day, the Jets beat the Patriots. I don’t remember caring one way or the other. It was the game that Drew Bledsoe nearly lost his life on the field. It was the game in which Tom Brady made a rather humble entrance to his Hall of Fame caliber career.
I remember not caring one way or the other about the Pats' loss; unusual for an obsessed fan like me, but I still had friends and family in harm’s way, people we hadn’t accounted for, and friends we knew who had lost loved ones. I remember being concerned for Bledsoe’s health as the early reports started to reveal the severity of his injury. I remember just a spark of wondering if this kid Brady had shown a little something rare and special, or if he had just risen a little on the tide of emotion.
For one day anyway, this wasn’t New York versus New England. This was the neighborhood and our neighbors had just been punched in the heart.
From that moment on we were kicked into the most improbable, amazing season in Patriots history. Those of us who really know the game and really loved the Pats could feel it building, probably from the San Diego game on. Brady wasn’t a fluke; he really did have some intangible something special and it was growing more tangible by the quarter.
Bruschi and the defense all stepped up and showed that hearts trump all other suits. Adam Vinatieri showed the league that every man who steps on that field is a football player as he put the foot back in football. Bill Belichick proved that an NFL team is made up of 53 players, not a handful of stars.
Finally we had Super Bowl XXXVI. Was it destiny? It’s easy to see destiny once it’s history. It’s easy to write poetry once the deed is done. These Patriots were a scrappy bunch of guys we could all identify with that gave us something solid to focus on and something positive to believe in when our world was upside down.
Destiny? They definitely they picked the right moment to transform the Patsies into real Patriots. It didn’t hurt that they wore red, white and blue when the country was still feeling black and blue. I don’t know about destiny, but I’m thankful it all came together at the right time. We needed it. I needed it!
Now we’re seven years removed from the attacks on 9/11. It’s the second week of the season and the Pats are playing the Jets with an untried quarterback. We’re again concerned for our franchise player, but this time we know he’ll be back. We’re still fighting a dangerous enemy, but we can all be reasonably sure we’ll be safe this weekend thanks to a lot of hard work and sacrifice by people who don’t often get any recognition or glory.
I, for one, am going to enjoy this week’s game; and I’m grateful.
To everyone who serves in uniform, military and civilian:
Thank you for your service to our nation, our community and our world!