‘We are all Patriots’: American sports following 9/11 attacks

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On a gorgeous 75-degree Monday night in Denver, the lights of the newly opened Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium shined brightly on the eve of the darkest day in American history.

The date was Sept. 10, 2001.

It was a Monday Night Football broadcast of a game between the hometown Denver Broncos and defending NFC Champions, the New York Giants.

Fresh off a 35-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV roughly eight months prior, the Giants struggled to stop Broncos’ offense, particularly quarterback Brian Griese who threw three touchdowns.

The early 31-20 loss for the Giants’ season would prove to be a catalyst for the usual mass hysteria in the New York sports media, with tabloids and back pages jumping on the Giants’ season following the Week 1 loss.

After the game, the team landed at Newark Liberty International Airport and immediately begin preparing for their Week 2 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.

An hour later, United Airlines Flight 93 departed from the same airport.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, New York City residents made their way to work.

They picked up copies of the New York Post and The Daily News and read about Michael Jordan’s potential return to basketball, Barry Bonds’ record setting home-run pace, the Giants’ loss the night before and the changes coming to the New York Jets’ defense that would inadvertently shape the entire outlook of the NFL for the next 17 years.

The rained out Yankee game from the night before in which Roger Clemens was supposed to play for his 20th win of the season was another headline.

However, in the opening hours of their work days, their glances would shift from their newspapers’ text, to the top floors of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

At 8:46 that fateful morning, the United States endured the most catastrophic event in its history.

A plane hijacked by members of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center Complex.

The next 24 hours would change the course of the nation — and the world, in unimaginable ways.

Two thousand nine hundred and ninety six American lives were lost on that day, and over the coming years many more first responders would succumb to diseases acquired from putting their lives on the line that day.

However, the spirit of the American people would not be shattered. Unity among the American people, New Yorkers in general, was unlike ever before. American pride came first — everything else, including sports, was an afterthought. 

The wake of the disaster left the following seasons for major sports leagues in jeopardy.  NFL action was supposed to take place that following Sunday.

However, Jets’ players, led by Vinny Testaverde, unanimously agreed to not play the following Sunday.

The NFL would push all games from the weekend of Sept. 16 to the end of the regular season, pushing the Super Bowl to February for the first time ever.

The Jets' next game would ultimately change the landscape of the NFL forever.

On Sept. 23, the Jets traveled to the now demolished Foxboro Stadium to face off against the New England Patriots. Late in the fourth quarter, linebacker Mo Lewis knocked Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe out of the game.

Replacing Bledsoe for the remainder of the game was the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, former University of Michigan quarterback Tom Brady. The Jets would win the bout 10-3, but Brady would eventually lead the “Cinderella” Patriots to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The Patriots’ appearance in the Super Bowl was perfectly ironic. Offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi’s three brothers were firefighters who survived responding to the towers. U2’s halftime show featured a wall of the victim’s names scrolling as they played the anthemic “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

The game’s logo featured a map of the United States in the colors of the flag. It was fitting that the most patriotic Super Bowl of all time featured the Patriots.

The Patriots sent a message beyond football that night. Though they lost their starting quarterback two weeks into the season, the team was resilient and proved that nothing could hold them back from glory.

The same held true for the American people. Though the terrorist attacks may have shaken us, we came back stronger and more unified than ever before.

We would not let it break us.

Brady’s late game heroics, capped off by Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard game-winning field goal, would spark a dynasty. Patriots owner Robert Kraft took the podium to accept the Lombardi Trophy, and exclaimed five of the most cathartic words in sports history:

“We are all Patriots.”

The MLB pushed all of the scheduled action from that week to the end of the season. Following a three-game slate in Pittsburgh, the New York Mets returned to New York to play the first baseball game in New York following the tragedy.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza stepped up to the plate to deliver one of the most iconic moments in the history of New York sports.

Piazza took Atlanta Braves’ pitcher Steve Karsay deep into left center field of Shea Stadium for the most memorable home-run of his career. Shea Stadium erupted in cheers — and tears — as Piazza delivered a signature moment for New York sports.

The Yankees, on the other hand, wore FDNY and NYPD caps at their next games in the Bronx. They would go on to win their fifth AL pennant in six years, and would face off against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series. Game 3 of the World Series was the first one to be held in New York.

President George W. Bush, donned in an FDNY jacket, threw out a perfect first pitch in front of a raucous and emotional Yankee fan base.

The Yankees lost the World Series in seven games, but this moment would stand out as a pivotal moment for sports post-9/11.

Sports were necessary for recovery. According to Don LaGreca of the Michael Kay Show, while he felt reporting and talking sports was “trivial” compared to what everyone was doing, first responders would call the show and ask for them to continue, as the distraction helped with the healing and recovery process.

Sports cannot reverse what happened on Sept. 11. However, they can help us to find a distraction to help with our recovery. They allow us to forget about those trying to kill us and focus on balls and strikes or whether or not a controversial play was an incompletion or a fumble.

They allow us to heal.

SportsAndrew MarzulloComment