It’s twenty years later. It still is hard to put into words how I feel about September 11, 2001. 9/11 remains a sad and painful reminder for Americans. For New Yorkers, it stings. The horrifying images still fresh for most of us who were alive that day. One of the worst in our history.
I can recall driving on the Bayonne Bridge when Howard Stern announced that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers. At first, I didn’t believe it. But when I reached the part of the bridge where I could visibly see the black clouds of smoke to my right coming from the World Trade Center, it was horrifying. What a nightmare. The attacks on our city, the Pentagon and a plane crash in Pennsylvania had brought America to its knees. Nothing was ever the same.
If you worked close enough to NYC, then you know just how chaotic things were. I was headed for the 34th Street Light Rail park and ride to take the train into Jersey City. I worked for SportsTicker at Harborside Financial Center. It was directly across the Hudson from the Twin Towers. That job provided me with a unique opportunity to admire those towers on lunch breaks. The days afterwards when we finally returned felt empty. I’d look over and see nothing. Only leftover clouds of smoke from the rubble. It was mind numbing.
What hurts the most is knowing what happened on that tragic day in the aftermath. Both wings of the Twin Towers collapsed taking the lives of so many. All we could do is stand and watch in horror from a parking lot. The groans were all too real. How could something like this ever happen? I still try to search for the answer. It isn’t an easy question to answer. It’s a difficult topic.
My thoughts remain with every family affected. So many lost loved ones. The real heroes are the FDNY firefighters, NYPD cops and Emergency Medical Workers, who sacrificed for the cause. The same way they do now during another challenging time. If you have the chance today and see a police officer or firefighter or EMT, say hello and thank them. They lay it all on the line every day. Many of those heroes lost their lives too due to the terrorist attacks 20 years ago. It is humbling to think of it all.
Sports are a way for us to escape our daily lives. Whatever we do or deal with, the excitement of watching and rooting for our teams or enjoying an all-time great tennis player Novak Djokovic chasing history at the US Open gives us something to love. The way the New York teams came together to help out people who needed it following 9/11 was amazing. The Yankees visited Ground Zero and the Mets turned Shea Stadium into a place of hospitality of food and supplies for aid. The Giants and Jets were also involved. The way it was handled was all class. In the face of adversity, they went out of their way to make things better for people who needed it.
One of the first games I remember well was a preseason hockey game played between the Devils and Rangers at MSG on September 19, 2001. I’ll admit to being nervous about attending it with my family. That was the anxiety of not knowing. How many of us were scared? I was. But we were there as they honored the victims and heroes before the opening face-off. A game was played. That didn’t matter. I can’t remember a single detail from it other than seeing the Rangers and Devils come together next to each other with their sticks down in salute. That and an American flag are the only images that are vivid. It’s for good reason. Just the teams being back on the ice at a sporting event was significant. It helped us return.
I could say so much more. The Rangers would have their home opener of the ’01-02 season against the Sabres. Maybe that was fate. Another New York team was at The Garden for an emotional opening ceremony. Buffalo wore special jerseys with New York on the front. Mark Messier and Eric Lindros wore FDNY helmets to honor and support New York’s bravest. It was emotional and brought everyone together. Back then, we were closer together. The response was excellent. People were kinder. It would be refreshing if that returned. There isn’t much civil behavior or respect anymore. That must change.
Today is a day of reflection. It’s a time to think. Take a moment to do that. Every day we get is a blessing. Let’s remember that. Appreciate what you have. You never know. Twenty years ago today, nobody knew anything. It was panic. When the Mets and Yankees play later tonight at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens, they will pay tribute to 9/11. Mike Piazza will be on hand. The big Hall of Fame catcher whose dramatic go-ahead two-run home run gave the Mets a win over the Braves in their return following the tragic events. Piazza had a sweet swing. The ball jumped off his bat. That home run was symbolic.
On the back of winning three consecutive World Series titles, the Yankees made another special run that late Fall in 2001. That included the Derek Jeter flip play that is still the defining image for me after he went into Cooperstown on Wednesday. It helped turn the tide and allow the Yankees to come back from a 2-0 series deficit and win the American League Division Series over the Athletics in five games. They would go on to beat the great Mariners in five to again reach the World Series.
Although they fell short of a four-peat, nobody will forget those three middle games at Yankee Stadium. The dramatic tying home runs by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius. Jeter becoming Mr. November. Even in defeat with the Diamondbacks beating Mariano Rivera, those Yankees were winners. They gave NYC a run it needed. I still look back fondly on that team. What heart they had.
It definitely helped. We were better back then. More united. I feel we can be again. It’s been too long since that fateful day. In a horrible moment of tragedy, we were better people.