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How Sports Helped Heal Us After Sept 11th

Remembering 9-11, 17 years later, plus Don Zimmer recalls being at Ground Zero

Rich Herrera
September 11, 2018 - 12:57 pm

The Alan Jackson song, Where "Where were you when the world stopped turning" can instantly snap me back to my house in Redondo Beach California and being woken up by wife telling me to turn on the TV a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  Like my fellow Americans, it's our generations touchstone moment that unites us, like Pearl Harbor did for our grandparents and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon for our parents.  

I can remember that day so vividly, it was my first day of vacation at Fox Sports Radio.  I had gotten home late after working a shift until after midnight.  My son was turning one the next day and my mom and dad were bringing him back from their house up in Bakersfield that day.  I sat there slack-jawed watching the towers come down as if I was watching a movie on TV but knowing in my mind even if I couldn't believe it,  that what I was watching was indeed real. 

When the reports starting coming in that the Pentagon was under attack our windows shook with the sound of F-16 fight jets roaring over our rooftop.  We lived close to LAX and always saw planes filling the skies day and night, but what we saw that morning shook me to my core as the one bust sky was now replaced with fighter jets on patrol over American skies.  The National Guard started to roll trucks and tanks to protect LAX and it was becoming surreal.  My wife who worked in the hotel industry rushed out the door for she was going to be busy with all the canceled flights and displaced passengers who would be looking for rooms. 

I snapped back into reality and thought about what I am supposed to do, so I called the network and asked what do you need.  They told me that they didn't know what was going on in DC where our midday show came from and to get ready to jump on the air in case they couldn't get on the air.  I jumped in the shower with my heart racing and got ready for what was going to be a long day.  I thought what about my son, did I want him coming back to LA with all this going on and for the first time ever in my life, I thought of his and my families safety in a different scale, because of the attack on American Shores.  I got a callback and was told that the midday show was ok and but we were going to 24/7 news coverage from Fox News Channel and I wasn't needed.  I sat on the couch for the next 10 hours glued to the TV in tears for those we lost and worrying about those I didn't know if they were okay or not.  

My story isn't much different than anyone else's who wasn't in New York or DC that day.  We all watched in horror what happened at the Twin Towers and DC and soon learned of the heroic passengers on Flight 93.  We knew we had to go and couldn't give into to our attackers and to run and hide as not in our national creed.  We went to churches and hung American Flags everywhere we could, but we are in a trance, that was going to have to be shaken.  

The nation had to heal and get back to work, and it was sports that allowed us to breathe again as a people after 9/11.  The NFL canceled games after the attack and baseball followed suit.  It was so tough to get back to living and we felt guilty about doing anything else other than grieving after the attacks.  But it was time, and it was the NFL and MLB that was going to lead the way back.  I remember going to a baseball game at Dodger Stadium when baseball resumed and it was the last place I wanted to be, but I had to be there.  I don't remember who won or lost, heck I look it up that the Padres beat the Dodgers 6-4 with Hoffman getting the save.  The details didn't matter, what mattered is that we began to breath once again.  Later that week I went back on the air and did the very first show nationally on Fox Sports Radio when we returned to sports and I had no idea what I was going to say.  

One the calls we took that night was from a man in DC who lost his brother in the Pentagon.  He had been in bed all week, devastated at losing his brother and he finally got up and turned on the radio and decided to call in.  He and his brother were Redskins season ticket holders and we talked on the radio for a good 15 minutes about his brother and the team and what he was going to do to honor him when he went to his first game without him.  To this day 17 years later, I am still in tears remembering this moment that I will keep with me forever.  I am grateful sports brought us together that day and helped him begin to heal after losing his brother.  That's why sports are special.  

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A great example of how sports brought us back after was who the sports teams in New York rallied around the city in the aftermath.  Shea Stadium was a staging ground for rescue efforts, while Yankees, Mets, Jets, and Giants did what they could to help the men and women at Ground Zero.  Seven years ago on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I had a chance to do a show remembering that day and what happened sooner after with Don Zimmer who was the bench coach of the New York Yankees and who went down to help along with Joe Torre.  We sat down as part of a radio show I did that day talking with baseball folks who lived what happened first hand.  Zim was such a special man and I am grateful I got a chance to hear his story of that day. 

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