Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why This Sunday Matters To Me

It's something that you can't avoid. The question. And right now it is coming up constantly.

"Where were you?"

I didn't want this. I never wanted a "JFK" moment. Ask anyone who was alive and old enough to be cognizant of who they were / are where they were when they heard about JFK's assassination and they can tell you. No hesitation. I could have lived a happy life without having my own JFK moment. But I was not given a choice.

I know where I was. I might not remember the exact address, but I know. I was working for the Children's Theater Association in Baltimore. The office at that time was on 22nd Street, about a block in from Howard Street. The cast was rehearsing and I was in my office. Jen poked her head in my office and told me about the first plane. I stopped working and turned on the radio. I heard about the second plane as it happened. And I knew. I walked out of the office, went downstairs and outside, sat on the curb, and lit a cigarette. When one of the methadone clinic patients walked past me to get his pop, he bummed a smoke off of me. When he looked up I was crying. He asked what was wrong. I told him we were at war. He didn't care.

I suppose my memories aren't all that different than most everyone else's. More than anything I was concerned for my father and my uncle, who were both TDY (on business trips) for the government when it all happened. I worked for Dollar Car Rental company part time at the time, and I remember BWI being shut down, so I didn't go in or call (I found out later that the computers were all down, but that the Powers That Be decided to rent cars to people who didn't want to wait in the airport by hand writing contracts. I also found out that all of the car rental companies were doing the same thing, and they were doing some serious price gouging too. It is safe to say that I did not mind losing that job for being no call / no show once they got back on their feet.

But what about sports? This is a sports blog, right? Well, I have some pretty vivid memories of that too.

The Ravens were Super Bowl Champions. I had been alive for the Colts' Super Bowl win, and I remember well the Stars and Stallions and their championship victories. But the Ravens win in SB XXXV was the legitimizer for a generation of fans who had been starving for NFL respect. The attacks happened the Tuesday after Week 1, and Paul Tagliabue wisely cancelled Week 2's games. So it wasn't until September 23rd that I was on my way to Greg Hall's house (as I did most every week that season) to watch the game. I was living in Pasadena at the time, Greg lived in Perry Hall. So it was a trek around the Beltway for me. What I didn't know was that a number of motorcycle riders had planned a ride around the Beltway for that Sunday morning (going the opposite direction from me, so I wasn't in their way. I spent almost the entire ride  around I-695 with my left fist out of my window, in the air, in a sign of solidarity with and a show of respect for the guys riding on the other loop. I think I remember seeing others doing what I was doing, but I'm not 100% sure. I don't remember talking about it when I got to Greg's house, but I might have. But really, that doesn't matter.

So, where does all of that leave us?

I am not going to get into the politics of the immediate and long range aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. This is not the forum for it. I do remember watching the country rally around the NFL and MLB, feeling a nation not knowing what they are supposed to do turn to the familiar, watching men trapped by archetype and societal roles allow themselves to finally respond to the emotions of the moment while listening to someone sing the National Anthem, or even during a moment of silence before a game. Fans used the rituals of fandom to find a way to at least start feeling normal again, like things could one day be normal again.

I have not heard much from the masses about this, but I have heard a few rumblings that there should be no football or baseball games this Sunday. I disagree. And it has nothing to do with not "letting the terrorists win" or any kind of jingoistic claptrap. Because it isn't about letting the terrorists win any more than it is about letting the Rams win. It is about being who we are. And to be honest, Sunday afternoon is one of the few times that you will really see people looking more at the color of their jersey than the color of their skin.

One of my all time favorite memories is of what happened AFTER the Ravens beat the Giants in Tampa Bay. I had stayed home to watch the game instead of going to any number of friends' houses or to my favorite bar (a long story for another blog). But pretty much as soon as the game was over I headed out and started walking down to Fells Point. I don't remember having any reason to do it, other than wanting to be around people who were celebrating. As soon as I walked out of my house in Patterson Park, I heard cheering and laughter and car horns was a city wide party. There was no rioting, just elation. People were high fiving and hugging each other. Random strangers were handing you cold beers and inviting you to come join them for a celebratory shot, right there on the sidewalk in front of their house. The police were making sure that no one was going to hurt themselves or each other, but the open container rule was rescinded for one evening. I finally got down to Fells and started seeing friends in the street. I really don't know if I ever made it into the bar, but I know plenty of cold beverages made their way into my hands. I am pretty sure I was on at least one local news broadcast. But through it all, there was no black and white, no Jew and Muslim, no Catholic and Protestant. Everyone was a Ravens fan, and that is all that mattered to anyone out there. For one glorious moment we had achieved The Dream. And the really amazing thing is, I do not think I am being hyperbolic when I say that. I don't think that Dr. King had the Super Bowl in mind, but I do think that if he could have seen what was happening that night he would have approved. And he may have bought us all a round. And THAT is why they play the game, and THAT  is why we watch.

And that is what tomorrow means to me. A chance to get back to the one thing that terrorists and bigots and  closed minded idiots cannot stand: joy and togetherness in our shared experience.

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