“Welcome back to the toy box of life!” screamed my broadcast partner on our first NFL pregame show of the season Sunday.
He was right, of course.
After dealing with the grown-up problems of the world five days a week on my morning radio program, it was invigorating to head outside for recess once again in an NFL stadium. Most of us in the sports industry feel this way, you know, even if few would publicly confess it.
Most of us know that we’re extraordinarily fortunate to work in a world where nothing really matters, even when everything seems to matter.
We head down to the stadium each Sunday and we hear from intense players hyping the “war” they’ll wage on their “battlefield” later that afternoon.
We stare in mild shock at the even more intense fans who, judging by their Braveheart-style face painting, think they’re actually at war with other medieval soldiers, too.
And then we get behind our laptops or our microphones and we clarify with authority the sort of life-and-death implications each game has on the futures of respective franchises and the psyches of collective fan bases.
Then, when we leave the gladiators’ arena in the quiet of our own chariots, er, cars, we catch up on the day’s real news. Naturally, we grab the scores of all the other mortal combats being waged across the land, but we’ll also hear of the latest murders in Baghdad and in Oakland. We’ll learn of who might be in the path of the newest hurricane’s latest trajectory, and we’ll get the details on the latest plane to empty on some runway because somebody tried to sneak a nail file past security.
Then, with our faces still stinging from the cold, hard slap of reality with which we’ve been hit, we’ll retreat to the toy box once again, looking for some new games to play.
That’s why today, five years removed from the most terrible day in our nation’s history, the games still matter.
I remember the first sports show I did after Sept. 11, 2001 and I remember the first column I wrote four days after that. And now, half a decade later, I still recall with startling clarity the opinions I offered, and those offered to me, about what the sports world should do in the wake of the horror of that day. I remember debating the appropriate time to resume the games and I can still hear the voices of those who objected, even after a substantial, respectful mourning period.
I said at that time that our nation needed to absorb the tragedy in its entirety, but that we also needed to be able to turn away when we had seen too much. We needed a place to go, I argued — a place to escape the pain of reality, even for a moment or two. We needed the games.
I know that for most of us, reliving the events of 9/11 will make for a very difficult 9/11/06. We will suffer through the same emotions we endured five years ago and when the day is over, we’ll wipe our eyes and we’ll look for something else, just like we did then.
You know, tonight is the first “Monday Night Football” game of the season. And when the emotions subside as the night draws near, we’re going to be grateful.
Because we’ll still have our toy box. We’ll still have our games.