Trying my hardest to refrain from heading down the path of every other amateur writer in the city and waste word count on Ohio State’s remorseful appearance on Saturday against Oregon. Rather, I’d like to tell a story that took place while tailgating before Saturday’s unraveling.
For the majority of our generation, 9/11 will always be our Pearl Harbor. It goes without being said almost everyone can tell you where they were and more specifically what they were doing when news started coming across that “planes were being flown into buildings”. That’s exactly how it was told to me in real-time. I was a junior in college, pitchers had just finished their Tuesday morning workout routine, and we ran outside the locker room to see specifically what buildings were being “flown into.”
As confused as we were, it was only a matter of minutes before the reality of the situation was described in enough detail that we knew to get showered and get to the closest television. On a college campus twenty years ago and too far from anyone’s dorm, that meant the library or a computer lab. So a handful of us made it to the Karpen Hall computer lab on UNCA’s campus in time to see still frames in action of the first tower coming down. At the time, live television through a computer was not a thing. But the live visual of the situation in NYC was forever burned into our minds.
We spent the rest of the day checking into classes only to be told nothing was expected of us, and that we could go home. After an afternoon bullpen workout, I remember filling up my gas tank on the way to my apartment, loading up on Wendy’s, and buying a newspaper being sold in the intersection for $0.35, headlines screaming terror attack. A handful of us sat in front of the TV for at least the next five to six hours, speechless for the most part. Life had changed.
Because of that, I spend just about every 9/11 anniversary tuning into any one of the large news TV stations to watch the events play out in real-time, to relive the complete confusion that was unfolding amid unthinkable tragedy. It may sound a bit morose, but it’s essentially my way of making sure I don’t forget, and to properly appreciate, the heroism that took place that Tuesday morning.
Fast forward to last Saturday at the Horseshoe and I’m standing in the northwest stadium parking lot where some of the best tailgating can be found on game day. Donning a Buckeye t-shirt but sporting my ‘Merica brand hat that simply says USA on the front panel, a gentle and appropriate nod to the 20-year anniversary.
As many expected, and given this was the first game with fans at the ‘Shoe in two years, there we many Oregon fans in attendance. A small group stumbled upon “our” tailgate, we presumed looking for a few free beers, but in all honestly ended up being just the guys from the opposing team we didn’t mind spending the next hour or so with before kickoff.
The livelier and moderately more tipsy Oregon fan of the group says, “Hey man, great hat, that’s my hat.”
“Oh yeah, I do love this hat, it’s my nod to 9/11,” at first just assuming we were on the same page about what day it was.
“Oh, sorry, good point. Kinda sobering, but I made that hat. That’s my company.”
“I’m not following,” I tell him, looking around to see if anyone else is confused.
“Look at the tag on the inside and tell me if it says, ‘You Know’,” he insists.
Sure enough. “How’d you know that?”
“Um, well let’s see…do you recognize your own children?”
Fine, point taken. It was his company, he was damn proud of it, and proceeded to perform the same song and dance for three other guys at our tailgate until we all agreed to believe that You Know was in fact his company.
But while this is going on, another gentleman also hanging out with the same crowd who I haven’t met yet says to me, “Good for you for wearing that hat. I’m from Manhattan, born and raised, and this is my first 9/11 I have not been in the city.” He also reiterates that he was back in the city from his parents’ Connecticut home last September having fled Manhattan at the height of mass quarantine. I spent the next 15 minutes enjoying a vastly different perspective from someone who was actually there twenty years ago. Taken back to reality.
College football is great, and we no doubt need the normalcy right now; sports will always have the power to serve as that united or uniting common ground among us. No time more than when Mike Piazza homered for the Mets in baseball’s first game after 9/11, beating the Braves and sending old Shea Stadium into a frenzy. I can also tell you where I was and what I was doing when that ball landed over the CF fence. Sports was back.
While Saturday to me was not about sports, it was obviously the reason I was tailgating, which led to the conversations I had with two folks from exact opposite ends of the country. For the next fifteen minutes, we didn’t talk about football. We didn’t need to. However, on or around a few minutes to kickoff, we flipped the switch back into game mode. Having gone our separate ways, and four hours later, my Oregon guy got more than he bargained for, and the rest of us went home shaking our heads.
That flyover, though? If you were in Columbus on Saturday and saw or felt that stealth bomber fly overhead after the national anthem, then, well, “you know.”