Two words that have been repeated over and over the last week have been "never forget." It has become the mantra of the attacks on America that took place now, believe it or not, more than 10 years ago.
But here's the thing: That's not a danger. None of us could ever forget where we were or what we were doing when we heard the news. Over this weekend, along with watching the Brewers, Badgers and NFL games, I watched a lot of the Sept. 11 coverage.
For the firefighters of Engine 1 in Manhattan, Sept. 11 seems like it was yesterday. If that is the case, for the rest of us it seems like it was maybe last week. How a full decade has passed is almost beyond as much comprehension as the attacks themselves.
For me, I was living and working in Chicago at Sporting News Radio. I had anchored the night before and was quite groggy when a friend called and told me to turn on the television. I remember asking what channel I should turn on. "Any channel. All of them," was the response.
That's when you knew this was something major. I turned CNN on at exactly 8:58 a.m., just in time to watch the south tower collapse. For the next several hours I watched the horror unfold, but kept pacing out to my 14th floor balcony, praying that I would not see anything out of the ordinary.
When I lived in Chicago, I had a clear view of both the Sears Tower and O'Hare International Airport. You have to understand that in the fog of war, there are so many erroneous reports. One of the reports was that the terrorists were targeting all of the symbols of the United States.
The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Capitol, the White House and the Sears Tower were all thought to be targets. Was I about to witness part of this horrific history, myself? What if the plane had veered off course, or as was the case in Flight 93, a passenger revolt steered it away from the Sears Tower and right into my building?
At the time, two of Sporting News Radio's top local stations were WWZN in Boston and WSNR in New York City. My last national sports update aired on both of those stations at 5:40 a.m. that morning. What is the likelihood that someone killed that day was listening to one of my sports updates to start what we had all assumed was going to be just another, routine day?
It sounds narcissistic to say things like that today, but these are the things you think of in times when you cannot comprehend reason.
Working at a sports radio network, we had to decide how to best serve our audience. We decided that the only way to do that was to give our listeners what they wanted – and for the first several days, it was not sports. I came in and co-hosted "The Rick Ballou Show" the rest of the week because I had a news journalism background.
At other times, we would partner with MSNBC to get our listeners information that we otherwise could not have gotten ourselves. This went on through the weekend.
But just as President Bush and New York Mayor Giuliani implored us to do, we eventually had to get on with our business. And our business was sports.
For a time, it was thought that playing games that first weekend would provide a much-needed diversion to the non-stop coverage of terror coming into our living rooms since that Tuesday morning. But rightfully so, there was a respectful weekend of reflection before trying to get back to business as usual. Plus, Shea Stadium was used as a makeshift triage for weary firefighters and Yankee Stadium was commandeered for a multi-cultural, multi-denominational citywide day of prayer.
At the time, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said, "I had only one criteria, a framework of reference, call it whatever you want, and that is: What should we do? What's the appropriate time? I talked to people at all levels. In the end, you have to do what you think is right. It's six days later (since the attack) and I hope that at least we can play a positive role in helping people do the right thing."
"It came down to the loss of life and the need for our players to absorb what we've all been through," then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said after canceling games the first weekend after the attacks. "We felt it was right to take a week to reflect and to help our friends, families, and people in the community who needed our support."
As a society, as the initial shock began to subside, we needed sports then more than ever before. Whether it was New York Mets players carrying clean clothes, food and water to the heroic rescue workers, or giving those workers a temporary thrill by allowing them to watch batting practice from the cage, sports helped heal.
The great St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Joe Buck, himself dying from multiple illnesses, delivered a poem that first Monday back before the Cardinals played the Brewers. At home plate, he sent shivers up and down everyone's spine that night at Busch Stadium:
Since this nation was founded under
God, more than 200 years ago,
We've been the bastion of
The light which keeps the free world
We do not covet the possessions of
Others, we are blessed with the
Bounty we share.
We have rushed to help other
War is just not our nature...we
Won't start, but we will end the fight.
If we are involved we shall be
Resolved to protect what we know is
We've been challenged by a
Cowardly foe, who strikes and then
Hides from our view.
With one voice we say there's no
Choice today, there is only one
Thing to do.
Everyone is saying the same thing
And praying that we end these
Senseless moments we are living.
As our fathers did before, we shall
Win this unwanted war.
And our children will enjoy the
Future, we'll be giving.
One of baseball history's wisest men, only months away from his own death, helping bring us together with the knowledge that while we were wounded as a country – we were still united and strong.
When the Yankees advanced to the World Series, just weeks after a hiding coward attacked us from a cave in Afghanistan; the sight of President Bush out in the open for all to see was another strong symbol that we would recover.
As Bush fired a strike to Yankees backup catcher Todd Greene to open up Game 3 less than 10 miles from where the attacks took place, the roar of the crowd signaled that at least for now we weren't Republicans or Democrats – we were Americans moving forward with an American institution.
The entire NFL season was played with the tragedy in everyone's minds. Whether it was the show of strength of pre-game flyovers that are commonplace at many stadiums (including Lambeau Field) still today, or the poignant reminder of those lost when U2 sang "Where the Streets Have No Name" at Super Bowl XXXVI as the names of those killed months earlier rose to the heavens on scrolls. Also, the fact that U2 was an Irish band performing at a uniquely American contest helped signal that we had the rest of the civilized world behind us, as well.
Prior to the first game of their NHL season, members of the New York City police and fire department hockey teams skated with the Rangers in a pre-game ceremony that brought the great Mark Messier to tears. Messier, the only player not wearing a helmet at the time was given a firefighter's helmet instead. The Rangers entire season was dedicated to those lost or wounded in the attacks.
Sports gave all of us something to cheer about. There was a sense of normalcy in rooting for something again. No one forgot that we were wounded as a country, but as hard as it was for all of us, life had to go on. Sports was hardly the most important thing on anyone's mind in the days, weeks, and even months that lie ahead, but the sense of community that perhaps we had been lacking prior to the attacks was felt more than ever.
Sports have always bonded communities. Rich and poor; black and white; liberal or conservative – after the kickoff, we all pull in the same direction and for the same team.
Two years ago, I visited the World Trade Center site. I've never used the term "Ground Zero" to describe that plot of land in lower Manhattan because it makes it seem like a helpless, hopeless pile of dirt. While it is the place where our worst attack on civilian life has ever occurred, today there is a sense of renewal there.
There will be life in the form of trees and an open space where the public can gather. There are also permanent reminders of that horrible Tuesday morning where our lives all changed – and so many ended. No one will try to tell you that Mike Piazza's home run against the Braves the Monday after the attacks erased what happened.
But if for just one brief moment, it gave us all something to signal that we as a nation could survive what happened.
Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at OnMilwaukee.com.
Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.
Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.
Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.