September 27, 2001

Sports Triumphant in Our Nation's Capital

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Kristen Haunss, one of The Sun’s staff writers, is currently part of the Cornell-in-Washington program. Peridiocally this semester, she will write about the sports scene in the D.C. area

As the country attempts to regroup after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, professional sports returned to their regular schedule this past weekend and attempted to move on as well. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. In a city in which sports can often take a backseat to the political power of the small area, these teams have not been pushed aside. Rather, they have joined together to offer their support for the rescue attempt, the rescue workers and the victims’ families.

On Saturday following the tragedies, Baltimore Raven’s head coach, Brian Billick passed out the short story “A Message to Garcia” by Elbert Hubbard to his team. In the essay, Hubbard tells the story of Rowan sent to deliver a message from President McKinley to Garcia, the leader of the insurgents during the Spanish-American war. Despite the many obstacles that he faced, Rowan never gave up, and never questioned his task.

Billick wanted his team to believe that each individual member was Rowan; no matter how hard things were right then, each player would be able to continue on and face adversity as it came.

Kevin Byrne, the Vice President of Public Relations for the Ravens explained Billick’s mindset in handing out the famous short story.

“Brian said [to the team], you have had a crisis in your life, and you have to work through it and our charge right now is to work through this.”

As the country continues to mourn, the members of the team joined them, as they have felt the impact of the attacks personally.

“It’s had a dramatic effect,” explained Byrne. “I think everybody on our team has either had a direct contact with someone involved in the tragedies, or one step removed.”

One individual player, Rob Burnett, a defensive end for the Ravens, had three friends that worked in the World Trade Center that have not been heard from.

“[I’m] devastated, absolutely devastated. I’ll play if I have to, but that’s not my focus right now,” Burnett said.

Fortunately, the National Football League as well as the other American professional sports leagues canceled games for the week following the attack.

“Once the games were canceled last Thursday, we adjusted the schedule and gave the team time off for prayer and reflection,” explained Byrne. “We have a strong religious base on this team. We have a very popular team chaplain, Rod Hairston, and he has been very present since the tragedy.”

Across the Potomac, the Washington Capitals were also attempting to deal with the devastating news. Garnet “Ace” Bailey, the director of pro scouting for the Los Angeles Kings and a former Capital in his playing days was aboard United Airlines flight 175, one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. During his illustrious career, he also spent five years with the Boston Bruins and was a member of their Stanley Cup Championship teams during the 1969-1970 and 1971-72 seasons.

“It really struck close to home,” explained Mark Tamar, Director of Game Operations for the Capitals. “Because you have someone in the organization, there was an even more somber mood.”

The team first returned to the ice on the 18th to face off against the Philadelphia Flyers at home at the MCI Center. Although the team was out playing hockey, the past week’s events were still fresh in the player’s minds.

Said Tamar: “Obviously the mood of the players when it happened was extremely somber and it was hard for the players to keep their minds on hockey. They are still affected; they are still not in full game mode because of all of the things happening in the world.”

To honor the hard work of the firefighters and policemen and women of the area, the Capitals invited them to enjoy the game for free. During the first period fans were also able to recognize the guests’ heroic efforts with a standing ovation. In remembrance of the victims and their families, a moment of silence was observed. The team has also had collection boxes at its games, as well as at its offices. The money will be donated to the rescue effort and the families of the victims.

Camden Yards immediately saw the cancellation of its upcoming series, as Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig canceled all scheduled games through the following weekend. In what was to be Cal Ripken Jr.’s final home stand this past weekend, the Baltimore Orioles squared off against the New York Yankees in front of a packed crowd. Although the Iron Man was honored with a thunderous applaud, the heroes of the game were the members of several area fire, search and rescue teams. Included were the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department, Virginia Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Team and Maryland Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Team. These groups were among the first to reach the scene of the Pentagon after the plane crash.

Before Friday night’s game, the stadium observed a moment of silence with these rescue crews on the field alongside the players. Following the silence, a member of the United States Naval Academy Band delivered a heartfelt performance of Taps. During the 7th inning stretch, the crowd joined together to sing God Bless America and then instantaneously jumped into a strong chant of U.S.A.

As this country continues to mourn, the athletic teams across the country have joined in the effort to help America heal. This past weekend has seen some of the finer moments of professional athletics in America. President George W. Bush has urged the country to return to normal activities and this past week’s resumption of athletics was a step in the right direction.

Archived article by Kristen Haunss