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Wisch: Thoughts On Bin Laden, 9/11 And Sports In America

By Dave Wischnowsky--

CHICAGO (CBS) I love sports.

But, sometimes, they're just not that important.

Like on Sunday night, for example, when word of Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of a team of Navy SEALs transformed the Mets-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park from a sporting event into a patriotic rally when fans began chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" once they caught wind of the momentous news during the ninth inning.

"I heard the chants and they were great," Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey said after New York beat Philadelphia 2-1 in 14 innings. "It was a pretty neat thing. It was emotional. Hopefully this brings some closure but it's still not over."

For many people, 9/11 will never really be over. But, as Dickey said, it's true that Sunday's unexpected news about bin Laden did provide a measure of closure to our nation. And it's wonderful to think that come this September when our nation recognizes the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., we'll actually be able to do so while feeling a measure of satisfaction rather than only a heap of sadness.

On Monday, I didn't write anything about sports for this blog, because I just didn't feel it was the right time to do so. Instead, I spent the morning absorbing the news reports about bin Laden's death and the afternoon reflecting on my own memories of Sept. 11, 2001.

For me, that tragic day actually carried a heavy sports-related theme – one that put the games we watch and play in perspective like never before – and I thought that today I'd share with you my recollections. So, let's flash back a decade…

On the night of Sept. 10, 2001, I was sitting with a pair of college buddies and one of their girlfriends in the bleachers at Wrigley Field as we watched the Cubs take on the Cincinnati Reds. The four of us had a great time that evening, both because of the balmy late-summer weather, and the fact that the North Siders rolled to an easy 8-2 victory.

After the game, I said goodbye to my friends and hopped in my car for the 90-minute drive back to Ottawa, Ill., where I was then living and working as a 25-year-old sports reporter. And while cruising down Interstates 55 and 80 to Ottawa beneath a canvas of stars and with our national pastime on my mind, the calendar rolled over to Sept. 11 and all seemed pretty much right with the world.

Then, of course, the next morning, it all went wrong.

About 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, I strolled in to the office of the Daily Times in Ottawa, still a bit bleary-eyed from the late game in Chicago the night before. Flipping on my work computer, I began to sort through the local stories that I would use to fill out that day's sports section, while also keeping an eye on the Associated Press wires for breaking news.

Things were perfectly routine that Tuesday morning until about 20 minutes later when an "URGENT" alert came across the AP national wire, reporting that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.

With no television set in the newsroom, I didn't think much of the incident, initially assuming like many people that it was just an odd accident. Within minutes, however, that assumption crumbed as the AP wire's floodgates opened and startling alerts began to spill out at a dizzying pace.

Planes had been hijacked, the reports said. Both Trade Towers were ablaze. The Pentagon was smoldering, and another plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

Our nation was under attack, and Americans were dead. A lot of them.

And there I was, trying to design a sports page featuring a story about whether Michael Jordan would really come out of retirement and join the Washington Wizards. Never did MJ, basketball – or any sports, for that matter – seem less significant.

Over the next couple of hours, I counted as the AP filed 80 consecutive stories and alerts focusing solely on the terrorist attacks.

None of the alerts struck me with more force than the one that read, both simply and inconceivably: "World Trade Center South Tower has collapsed."

I'll spare you the rest, as the remainder of that day – and week – was rough for all Americans, including, I'm sure, yourself. But I do recall finding my first measure of peace that week on the Friday evening after 9/11 when I covered a high school football game in the tiny north central Illinois town of LaMoille. On that night, LaMoille felt like Smallville, U.S.A., and a million miles away from the chaos of the week.

On 9/11, sports couldn't have mattered less. A few days later, there was nothing that felt more American.

On Sunday evening, sports couldn't have mattered less. But on Monday, as Jim Cornelison sang the national anthem during Game 1 of the Bulls-Hawks opener, nothing felt more American.

Like I said, I love sports.

And sometimes, they're just that important.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

Jeff Pearl
Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago's North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at

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