When I woke up this morning to the usual sounds of my phone alarm, I had a startling realization when I saw the date: September 11. It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years since the events that changed us as a nation so dramatically. I remember the day like it was yesterday; the horrific images of burning buildings are ingrained in my head forever.
It was, as former President George Bush said, a day that would live in infamy. It left us all feeling shocked, scared, angry, and yearning for some sort of normalcy; I imagine it’s how most people felt when John F. Kennedy was shot.
But beyond the disbelief, what I remember most about 9/11 is the resolve expressed by so many people; the need to keep living our lives, no matter how strange it felt. That we weren’t going to let this keep us down.
One of those people was my sister Meg, who was set to get married that weekend on an Army base near Washington, DC. I expected her to be panicked about the possible change of venue, but instead, she calmly said that if the base is closed, we’ll come up with a backup plan. I was amazed — not just because she was able to stay centered when faced with the prospect of a last-minute change of venue, but because she so confidently knew that she was still getting married that Saturday (even if it was in my parents’ backyard with only family present). She knew in her heart it was the right thing to do.
What I also remember so vividly about the days following September 11 is that there were no sporting events for several days. Major League Baseball waited until the following Monday (six days after the attacks) to resume its schedule, and the National Football League cancelled its games for that weekend.
When the New York area teams did resume play, the pregame ceremonies were as emotional as you might expect. I still recall hearing Diana Ross sing “God Bless America” at the first Mets home game following the attacks, and watching players from rival teams shake hands and hug after the national anthem was played. When the Mets won on a two-run homerun by Mike Piazza, a player who was heavily involved in 9/11 recovery efforts, fans were crying. It was amazing, and it was just what the city needed.
Similarly, when the NFL resumed play, it was evident that fans were ready to cheer for something. After the pregame ceremonies, where teams from all over the league showed their support for New York, players turned back into rivals and things went back to normal — at least for a few hours.
That’s the way it should’ve been. But in 1963, things happened in a different way. Just two days after Kennedy was assassinated, football games were played. After consulting with Kennedy press secretary Pierre Salinger, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle decided the NFL should play on.
When asked about his experience playing in the game, legendary quarterback Fran Tarkenton recalled an “eerie atmosphere. I never played a game like that in my life because it was just so silent. No loud screaming. It was like a ghost town.”
And indeed, Rozelle said years later that the decision to hold the games was his biggest regret in a 29-year career. At the time, he no doubt thought it was the right thing to do — no one ever thinks, “Gosh, I wonder if this decision will end up haunting me for my entire career.”
But maybe we should. Maybe when we’re faced with an extremely significant decision, one that could have serious implications for years to come, we should stop first and say, “Will I regret this years from now? Is this the right thing to do?”
If you’re not sure, consult with others. Do you due diligence, and then decide whether it’s appropriate to play on.