September 18, 2001

What We Need

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He had just eaten breakfast there.

She left to get coffee.

He had visited only the day before.

She had planned to visit the day after.

He sprinted to catch his flight.

She missed hers.

He worked on the top floor.

She worked on the bottom.

A tragedy and its aftermath have shaken a country into silence. It simmers, it grieves and soon it will awaken with stories such as these — stories which steal and offer hope in the same breath. In such uneasy times, many have found comfort in the arms of neighbors, in the eyes of strangers and in the hearts of fathers and mothers.

The role of sports in such a tragedy remains cloudy. Watching all sports networks drop their programming to cover the crisis was somewhat of a surprise to all of us. On, a picture of Michael Jordan was replaced by a picture of a scarred New York. His Airness’s much-awaited press conference was pushed to the back seat. All NFL, college football and MLB previews and reviews were stopped in favor of coverage of the attacks. Such an event showed that as important as sports are to our society, they are not appropriate in every situation. Sports, the central figure in the entertainment business, rightly came to a halt.

Clearly, entertainment is not a chief concern of a country in mourning. But at some point, the mourning must fade. While the memories can never be forgotten, it is the role of entertainment to ease the nation back into “normal” life. Interestingly enough, for a week we couldn’t deal with sports, and now we can’t deal without them.

Sports has a healing power like no other. And so we look to the sports world to cure our heartaches of today. Can sports deliver? Certainly there will be ample opportunity, but if the following five scenarios play out, then the transition to normality will be much smoother.

5. Fresno State goes undefeated and wins a national championship.

We were raised to cheer for the underdog, and this year there is no bigger one than the Bulldogs. Led by senior standout quarterback David Carr, Fresno easily dispatches three big-name teams in Colorado, Wisconsin and Oregon State — Sports Illustrated’s pick to win the national championship. The beauty of this team lies not only in its quality wins, but the ease by which it obtains them. In the Wisconsin game, you could just feel a massive force building up behind Carr’s arm, ready to be unleashed at any moment — as if the team was destined to win.

What would make a Fresno-national championship all the sweeter, is that it would represent a triumph over the computer-ranking systems which would penalize them for being in a weaker conference. Fate would have defeated the Bowl Championship Series.

4. A competitive NFL season culminating in an East-West Super Bowl.

The past few seasons have been like no other in the history of the NFL. No longer are there three dominant teams who can book their places in the playoffs year after year. Now, every team (with the exception of the Cardinals, Browns and Cowboys) has a legitimate shot at the playoffs, and there is no clear Super Bowl favorite. This is exactly the kind of season we need again. When fans have a reason to be passionate about their teams, they no longer remain preoccupied with their troubles. Fans can confidently return to bars and rekindle the camaraderie amongst their fellow-fans and hated rivals alike.

Similarly, to have teams from each side of the country in the Super Bowl would be a huge benefit for the healing process. It would force the entire country to become involved and create a kind of buzz that isn’t easily forgotten. For example, last year’s Ravens-Giants Super Bowl inherently could not stir up excitement in the Midwest. However, the Broncos-Green Bay battle of 1998 was ballyhooed weeks before the actual contest. And it is this kind of ballyhooing that we need to return to normalcy.

3. A New York-Seattle Series.

Be it in a League Championship between the Yankees and the Mariners or a World Series between the Mets and Mariners, some how New York and Seattle must be involved in the baseball’s climax.

The presence of either New York team will help the city heal, and the presence of Seattle will help the rest of the nation heal. Seattle is quickly becoming America’s Team. In spite of, or perhaps because of, losing its superstars (Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson) it has become the most successful team in baseball. And like America, the team is quite diverse, holding a number of international players.

2. A smooth Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Winter Olympics will be the perfect opportunity for America to reunite and form stronger bonds with the rest of the world, both at a political, and more importantly, social level. The friendly competition should lighten any dark mood, and once again show the “triumph of human spirit.” It will be of utmost importance that this event avoid all mishaps, such as the one that occurred when the Olympic Torch last touched American soil, or else the calm illusion will quickly be shattered.

1. A successful Michael Jordan comeback

In the 1990s, you weren’t a fan of a basketball team, you were a fan of two letters, M and J. Perhaps the most recognizable initials ever, MJ brought together those from all walks of life to revel. And boy did we revel. It didn’t matter who he was playing, or playing with, we watched him with respect and wonder. I remember watching him cement his legacy one June night in a hotel lobby in ’98. As his final shot graced the net, I slapped a thoroughly frustrated Jazz fan on the back in pure joy. The guy turned and smiled, as tears welled in his eyes.

“Incredible,” was all he could whisper.

Jordan united Asians, Europeans, and Americans alike with game-winners, tongue wags, and The fadeaway jumper of all fadeaway jumpers. He single-handedly fueled their love of the game, forcing them to put aside their thoughts, their worries, and their burdens. And now, three years later, we look to him to do it again.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin