I've heard it all before. Those who don't understand our love of sports have asked me - "what's the appeal of watching other people chase a ball around, when you could go do it yourself?" My answer is simple; sports are so much more than "just a game." Sports and athletes at all skill levels bring communities together. From small town high school football teams, all the way to the upper echelon of professional sports in some of the biggest cities in the country like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, sports have a way of bringing communities together whether it be in victory or defeat.
Today, on the 19th anniversary (and in no particular order) I will be recapping some of the most moving moments in pro sports after the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
Sammy Sosa's American Flag Trot - September 27th, 2001
On September 27th, 2001 - just 16 days after the September 11th attacks - the Cubs hosted their first home game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. As the game got underway, Sosa took his position in right field. He sprinted around the outfield wall proudly waving an American flag to the fans. The crowd gave Sosa a standing ovation as they applauded and cheered the patriotic gesture.
Later in the first inning, Sosa hit a solo home-run to right-center field off Houston Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds. Sosa once again broke out the Ol' Stars and Stripes as he rounded the bases, and Wrigley Field jumped for joy.
Mark Messier Dons the Helmet of Fallen FDNY Firefighter, Raymond Downey - October 7th, 2001
At the time of the Rangers 2001 home opener at Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City, the citizens of New York were still grieving and mourning over the September 11th attacks. The Rangers always have and always will pride themselves on their work with the FDNY and NYPD, and that night was no different. The Rangers were set to open the season against the Buffalo Sabres, and during the pregame ceremony, the Rangers invited members of the FDNY out onto the ice. They gave the Garden Faithful a chance to show their appreciation for the first responders who witnessed the horrors of 9/11 first hand. As Messier skated out onto the ice, FDNY firefighter Larry McGee skated over to the captain, and placed the helmet of fallen firefighter, and 40-year FDNY veteran Ray Downey on Messier's head. What was captured next is one of the most iconic and powerful images ever taken of the post 9/11 New York sports landscape. "The Messiah" Mark Messier is considered to be one of the top 5 hockey players of all time, a 6x Stanley Cup Champion, a 25-year NHL vet, and THIS moment is one of the moments that he might be most remembered for. That might be able to help you gauge how powerful of a movement this was at the time. And that isn't my bias Rangers fan opinion coming out. Its the real deal.
President George Bush's Game 3 Ceremonial First Pitch at Yankee Stadium - October 30th, 2001
A New York team making it all the way to a championship just over a month after 9/11 seems like a fairy tale. But it's not, this actually happened and it couldn't have been a more fitting scenario. The 2001 World Series saw the National League Champions Arizona Diamondbacks taking on the defending World Series Champions of the American League, the New York Yankees. The Yankees were on a mission to win their fourth consecutive World Series title, and the Diamondbacks were on a quest of their own; to win their first World Series in franchise history. However, a little over a month prior, the MLB season was put on hold due to the 9/11 attacks. And perhaps no one took it harder than those who lost loved ones, and the citizens of New York. At the time, no one had World Series gold on their mind. All anyone in the city could do was grieve and mourn. As life in New York tried hard to get back to normal, the MLB season resumed. The Yankees made it all the way to the World Series, and the one man that we all looked to as a nation during this time of crisis arrived on his presidential helicopter, Marine One. Yankees long time legendary public address announcer Bob Sheppard, the roar of the crowd, and the "USA!" chant make this moment goosebumps worthy.
And Last But Certainly not Least: Mike Piazza's Post 9/11 Home-Run - September 21st, 2001
In perhaps the most iconic moment in sports post 9/11, we see the face of a franchise help the healing process of a city in mourning with one swing of the bat. The Mets hosted the first pro-sports game in the city of New York since the attacks. Friends and family members of fallen first responders were in the crowd that night, trying their hardest to hold back tears in order to cheer on their favorite team. The Mets - in the middle of a bitter pennant race - were clawing to get back to the postseason. Down 2-1 to the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the 8th at Shea Stadium, with a runner on first, future hall-of-famer and greatest home-run hitting catcher of all time, Mike Piazza, steps to the plate. Piazza drills the ball to deep center field, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. Shea Stadium goes nuts, fans break out into tears, and for the first time in almost two weeks, New Yorkers had something to smile about.
If you can take the time out of your busy schedule to watch this 4 minute and 31 second video, you will not regret it. This is truly one of the great moments in sports history. The story behind a clip that is played every single year on this day for the last 19 years.
Well, there it is folks. Moments in sports that helped a nation heal from the worst attack on U.S. soil in the history of this great country. If I accidentally left out any moments that you think should have been featured, please let me know in the comments. Today is about people coming together as a nation. I would love to hear some of your favorites.
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