On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2011, in my Tallahassee, Florida apartment I was getting ready for work. As usual, ESPN was on in the background as I showered, ate breakfast and brushed my teeth before heading out the door.
The night before the Denver Broncos had defeated the New York Giants 31-20 on Monday Night Football. The Giants were the defending NFC champions and along with the St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles figured to factor heavily in the Bucs’ attempts to reach Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.
Two days earlier I had watched a classic performance of “Dungy Ball” as the Bucs slogged through a 10-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. The second game of the double-header available in Tallahassee was the Rams 20-17 overtime victory over the Eagles at the old Veterans Stadium.
This game was of importance to me because the Eagles were coming to Raymond James Stadium in just five days. The Eagles were rapidly becoming one of my least favorite teams following the beating they had administered on the Bucs in the previous year’s Wild Card game.
I had watched both Sunday games at the apartment of my good friend and co-worker Mark. Mark is a Pittsburgh Steeler fan unfortunately, but he had developed a fascination with the Buccaneers because the defensive intensity of the Bucs reminded him of his boyhood heroes, the famed “Steel Curtain” of Pittsburgh.
We watched all the Bucs games together with a few other co-workers. Needless to say we probably brought Mark close to eviction as we never watched Buccaneer games quietly.
I’m sure as I put the finishing touches on my Windsor knot I contemplated the upcoming Bucs-Eagles game that I’d be watching at Mark’s. Seeing the high quality of play displayed in the Eagles-Rams game probably filled me with a certain bit of trepidation as those two teams had stopped the Bucs cold in the previous two post-seasons.
No doubt there would be a few choice words uttered by our group should “Dungy Ball” fail to stop the Eagles. I probably would have been thinking of little else on the drive to work.
I say probably because my recollection of the hours between 7 am and 9 am EST that morning are overwhelmed by my memories of the televised nightmare I witnessed between 9 am and 9:30 am EST.
Coordinated attacks leveled the World Trade Center, severely damaged the Pentagon and, if not for a heroic group of passengers on United Flight 93, could have destroyed either the White House or U.S. Capitol Building.
I was at work training a new group of people how to be tellers when a breathless secretary came into our classroom to ask to turn on the television set. When the set came on we could see both towers burning and were stunned into silence. Moments later, NBC provided a replay of the second jet slamming into the south tower. Within 90 minutes both towers were gone and over 3,000 people were dead.
The Bucs and Eagles game, something that my co-worker Mark and I had been discussing over coffee just a half-hour earlier, was no longer in my thoughts at all. In fact, when it was announced later that week the NFL had postponed all Week Two games until January of 2002, I didn’t care at all.
Most of us viewed the rest of the 2001 season through a fog. The unreal images of September 11 were followed in rapid succession by an invasion of Afghanistan, Anthrax attacks, videos of a smug and temporarily successful Osama Bin Laden and the dreadful sensation of wondering when the next attack would happen.
It would be three weeks before the Buccaneers took the field again. By that time the invasion of Afghanistan was just days away. Watching the Bucs-Vikings game at my friend Mark’s apartment was a subdued experience. During every commercial break we’d switch to CNN for the latest updates.
The Bucs lost to the Vikings in the final moments but none of us yelled or screamed. We simply turned back to the news. The scene repeated itself the next week. The Bucs beat the Packers at Tampa Stadium in a game in which Shelton Quarles returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown.
That was a play that should have brought the walls of Mark’s apartment down around us from our yelling and screaming. But, that was one of the first days of the invasion and once again Mark and I kept flipping back and forth to CNN. That was the 2001 season in a nutshell.
A few minutes of football interrupting hours of war and terror news was our lot. It was a nice respite to watch the Bucs for a few hours, but none of us followed the team like we normally did. Our hearts just weren’t in it.
A decade has gone by and there have been numerous battles, attacks and deaths. Osama Bin Laden and many of the master minds behind September 11 are dead or imprisoned. Thousands of American and allied soldiers have been killed or severely wounded. One president has been replaced by another and numerous American leaders have come and gone but the war on terror is still not over and may not be in my lifetime.
This Sunday a full slate of NFL games will be played ten years to the day of one of my nation’s most horrific events. I feel awkward about this. It is easy to tell other people how to run their business when you don’t have to live with the consequences, but I can’t help but feel the NFL shouldn’t open the season on the tenth anniversary of September 11.
It is a national day of mourning and public service and somehow the bells and whistles that are part of opening day just don’t seem to fit.
However, I don’t feel so strongly about this that I feel the need to tut-tut anyone who wants to see the games played. In fact, I’ll be on the message boards with the rest of you trading cheers and jeers during the Bucs-Lions game. However, I will not forget what day of the year it is and the minute the game is over, I’ll go back to recognizing the significance of the day in my own personal way.
I’m glad I can share the Buccaneers with friends and family again. I am fully aware that my continuing obsession with this team is outside of the norm. I am also fully aware how blessed I am that I can make a Buccaneer game a focal point of my week.
While no one gives their life in service of their country to make a football game possible, I understand that if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of so many such an illogical past time wouldn’t be taking place.
So please take a moment during the Bucs-Lions game to ponder just how many things have had to go right in our shared history for a trivial event like a football game to be staged.