The Heisman through the Lens of 9/11

Each year on this day we are reminded that there are more important things than sports. We are reminded that nothing should be taken for granted, that the freedom we are blessed with does not come without a cost. Eleven years ago today the worst foreign attack on American soil was perpetrated by terrorists bent on destroying our country.

Looking back on that day, I distinctly remember thinking that the world I lived in had changed forever. Our sense of domestic security was threatened that day in a way it had never been before. We felt vulnerable as a nation. I felt vulnerable as 10th grader in rural New Hampshire.

Sports didn’t matter that day. The Red Sox had just finished a three game series with the Yankees, but the morning of September 11th neither team existed in my world. Two things mattered, my grandparents who flew out of Boston that day and my two older brothers who were in the military at the time. My grandparents ended up being safe and while one of my brothers ended up in Iraq, the both finished their military service unharmed.

September 12th felt much the same as the previous day with one exception, instead of thinking solely about the horrors of the previous day, we collectively began to think of how to return to normal or at least accept a new normal. By the weekend the decision had been made to cancel all sporting events (remember, airports were barely beginning to re-open in the Northeast). The decision was necessary, sports were still irrelevant when compared to the tragedy we had just suffered, but sports would eventually return and would have to find a place in the new normal.

When all sports seasons resumed the following week the teams and sports took on a different meaning. First, it helped with the healing of the nation. The displays of patriotism and remembrance each team performed as they returned to the field for the first time united the country in a sort of vigil for those who lost their lives in the September 11th attacks. Second it marked the first time many Americans were able to turn off their over worked brains and enjoy something again. Sports began to help us form the new normal.

The Heisman would be awarded in December of 2001 to quarterback Eric Crouch of Nebraska just three months after the attacks. Unfortunately the ceremony would be affected by the events of September 11th.

The Downtown Athletic Club was located just a half mile from the World Trade center and while it did not suffer any damage, the building was forced to be evacuated and closed for an extended amount of time. Because of the forced closure the Downtown Athletic Club had to declare bankruptcy and was closed.

Seventeen Heisman winners collected their trophy in that building, and then went on to serve in the military to preserve the freedoms the terrorists sought to destroy eleven years ago. A majority of those men responded to a similar attack that changed their lives, the attack on Pearl Harbor.

HP and I travel to New York every year to attend the Heisman ceremony and we normally stay in the financial district just blocks away from Ground Zero. This year on an off day we walked down to the WTC memorial, passing by the closed Downtown Athletic Club. HP, a Navy veteran, and I talked about how our lives had been changed by the event and how the world we lived in was drastically different.  We didn’t talk about sports.

We didn’t need to. Sports are part of the new normal.

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