Sept. 21, 2001.
One crack of the bat.
More than any other emotion or memorial service or silent gathering that had occurred all over my town in Westchester County during the previous 10 days, I remember a swing.
And I remember the call: "This one has a chance."
A chance? Come on, Howie Rose. Mike Piazza's bat hit that baseball with the force of all of the emotion that Shea Stadium held in its hearts that night. No. 31 put everything into that swing. It was out of the park the moment the bat touched it. And it has a chance?
That home run won the game for the Mets in New York's first sporting event since the attacks 10 days earlier, and it made me realize something about sports that we've seen since then, and that we'll see again Sunday night: It has this incredible, transcendent power to make things okay when things aren't.
"And Shea Stadium has something to smile about."
That swing, for even as little as one night, was able to get rid of the memories of ten days earlier. I was able to scream, and cheer and forget for a couple of seconds, about the acquaintance I passed in the hallway outside of the old gym ten days earlier, clutching onto the payphone, sobbing, "My uncle's in there!"
And forget about announcement after announcement after announcement of kids in my classes, kids sitting next to me, who were called to the office that day to go home early, because either their parents just wanted to be with them, or because they had bad news waiting for them. For a minute, I was able to forget about the unreasonable rage I had felt, an 11-year-old who had said all I wanted was to kill whoever had caused so many people so close to me much pain, and forget the sinking feeling I felt (and still feel) every time we drive over the bridge and see that gaping, giant, unfillable hole in the skyline.
Mike Piazza was able to do something seemingly insurmountable. He was able to make a stadium full of people who were grieving, who were angry and devastated and terrified, and, for the period of time it took that ball to leave the stadium, he was able to make them realize that it's okay to move on. He didn't just make them smile -- he made them realize it was okay to smile. And when the images of that day still permeate my mind, I go back and watch that swing. Because with one swing of a bat, it took a city of ruins, and it lifted it up.
Sept. 11, 2011
And now, ten years later, as every single channel in the country flashes to sad memories, as every single publication writes about that sunny Tuesday morning ten years ago, all of the things that happened on that day come rushing back to me: The announcements, the crying acquaintance in the hallway, the way my mom rushed to the school bus at the end of the day to meet my brother and I as we stepped off because she just "needed to see us."
On Sunday night, the Jets find themselves in a similar position to Piazza -- playing a game on a night where, although all of our lives have moved on and we don't always have to flinch at the references to any combination of the numbers 9 and 11, it's still a night where we can go back to 10 years ago and allow ourselves to be sad again. Piazza's home run came at a time when the mentality was we could be sad, but still look forward. And the Jets are playing 10 years later, where the mentality of this night is that we can move forward, but still be sad. It's okay to still hold tight to our memories.
Sports have a weird way of operating -- bad things happen and games still go on. People still cheer. The Jets have been through a lot in ten years. Six starting quarterbacks, three head coaches, six lost playoff games, and two AFC championship games later, they've moved on as a team, and New York has moved on as a city.
If you asked me last year what the biggest game the Jets have played in the past 10 years is, I would have said the victory in New England during last year's divisional playoff round. That win was the ultimate win, it encompassed years of agony of losing to the Patriots, it was for all the crap Bill Belichick put them through, and for all the hatred the two teams have for each other.
But if you ask me today, and any day from here forward, what the biggest game the Jets have played in the past 10 years is, I'll say this one on Sunday night. Because they're not playing to beat the Dallas Cowboys, they're playing to win as the New York Jets, emphasis on the New York.
Some of the seats at the New Meadowlands should have been filled by the loyal season-ticket holders that sat through losing season after losing season, heartbreak after heartbreak, and lost their lives 10 years ago today. This game is for them.
And it's for those who still cry every night, and for those who have moved forward; for those who stayed in New York afterwards, and for those who left because it was too much to bear; for those who were in the buildings, on the planes, downtown, midtown, uptown, in the boroughs, on Long Island, in Westchester, in Jersey, for those in the NYPD and the FDNY-- the Jets are playing this game for every single one of them. For the empty seat at the dining room table and for the communities with fallen neighbors, and for every single person in the New York area who has a memory of that day -- the Jets are playing this game for them.
Because yes, we've all moved on. This day is in part a tribute to that. But it's also a tribute to those who never had a chance to, and those who never really will. The Jets are playing for them now.
So if the Jets get to the Super Bowl this year, or next year, maybe people won't define tonight's game as the biggest one. But the most meaningful, emotional and important game the New York Jets will ever play? Let's just say, "This one has a chance."