Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s been two decades since 9/11. We won’t have any NFL games during the day this year. However, we can’t forget that 9/11 had a drastic impact on the NFL at that time. We will now flip the clock back to 2001 and revisit the timeline of the days before, day off, and days after this tragic day, and how the NFL was impacted.
September 9th and 10th, 2001
It was kickoff to the 82nd season of the NFL. Herm Edwards was making his debut as the new head coach of the New York Jets. Peyton Manning led the Colts to a victory in New York 45-24. Meanwhile in Denver on September 10th, it was a Monday Night Football matchup between the Giants and the Broncos. The Broncos took the game 31-20 and the Giants jumped on the redeye to return home for a normal week of practice, or so they thought.
The Morning of 9/11
The Giants returned to New Jersey and the players went home to get some sleep. Another plane remained getting ready to depart. Why do I mention that? Well, that plane was flight 93. At 9:00, the first plane hit the first tower. Three minutes later the second plane hit. At 9:37, another plane crashed into the Pentagon. Finally, the last plane crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania at 10:03. Coaches and players in New York were struck with instant fear and confusion. There was more concern being felt from New England. Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi’s brother was first responder in tower one. Jimmy Andruzzi just barely made it out alive as the building collapsed behind him.
It came time for the million dollar question, is it safe for the NFL to continue playing? There were mixed views and opinions on if play should continue. When JFK was assassinated, play was not cancelled or postponed. Two days after games were played as normal. After 9/11, most owners said that their teams were not prepared or willing to play. Some felt play should continue to act as a beacon of hope for the world.
Giants players were shaken that cars in the stadium parking lot, which was a commuter lot, remained in the same spots. They knew those cars belonged to people who did not make it home. On top of that, the Giants practice field overlooked the skyline which was a constant reminder of what had unfolded. Coach Edwards and the Jets were in a similar situation. Nobody was thinking about football, including him. The Jets as a team took a vote, and all but one voted against playing. If the league chose to proceed, the Jets would take a forfeit. Michael Strahan said the same during an NFL Players Association meeting with team representatives. They voted not to play, and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made it official after that.
What Came Next
The Giants returned to practice but it still didn’t feel right. That is until they heard a voicemail from Tony Sichenzio. He was supposed to be in the first tower on 9/11, but because he is Giants fan, he was in Denver for the season opener. Because he is a Giants fan, his life was saved that day. That was what the team needed to here to realized that this was bigger than football. They were playing for the people of New York. Back in New England, the Andruzzi brothers and their father who were current and former New York Firefighters, were honored and made honorary captains. Joe Andruzzi ran out of the Patriots tunnel holding two American flags.
The Giants and the Jets were both able to get a win for their city and everyone still hurting. Shaun Ellis, a linebacker for the Jets at that time delivered a monstrous hit on Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. A hit with so much strength, it felt like it came from the people of New York. Bledsoe had his sternum broken as result of the hit. Who came into replace him? A young second year quarterback. His name is Tom Brady. Brady and the Pats went on one of the most improbable runs in the history of sports and made it to the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl Itself
Over growing concerns of a repeat terrorist attack, the Department of Homeland Security designated the Super Bowl a national special security event. That meant the security effort would be lead by the secret service.It was a celebration of patriotism. U2 slid into the the halftime show spot and as part of the show, they incorporated a tribute to all of who their lives and the first responders. As if it were scripted, the red white and blue team beat the high powered St. Louis Rams.
Sports is a distraction to many people. To others, it serves as therapy. An escape, a way of life, or whatever it may be to you, it brings people together. However, we can’t ignore the bigger picture. While we will get a chance to sit down with our families and watch sports, others do not have that luxury. We can go to our jobs and return home to recover from the long week grind, but others can’t go home. Sometimes sports is more than just a game. Never take sports or the people you enjoy them with for granted. Most importantly, never forget what happened that day, and how we came out stronger for it.
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