For those who needed temporary relief from the countless hours of media coverage on the terrorist attacks last week, a common refuge might have been ESPN. However, since covering nothing but meaningless scores, repeated highlight reels and million dollar crybabies would produce nothing but an immense amount of guilt, the Total Sports Network was forced to cover something other than just sports.
Covering more than its share of personalized sports tragedies and potential cancellation controversies, ESPN produced one particular feature story that managed to catch my eye. Showcasing senior members of the Army football team discussing their feelings on going to real battle showed a sensitive side to the gridiron normally dominated by tough and unbreakable characters.
One minute, the Cadets were football players preparing for the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers, and the next they were soldiers preparing for invasion. My cousin, who is currently in the Air Force and could be called into duty, called my mother up one day this week and said it perfectly.
“For the first time, I have realized what my job actually is.”
ESPN captured the same emotion, taking a previously portrayed group of stoic, unwavering football players and casting them in their true form: scared and fearful young men on the fringe of war.
As the Cadets finish their final game on December 1, the players they call their opponents on that first December day will be their teammates four months later. Continuing college football’s greatest rivalry, Army and Navy do battle in the last week of the season, which for some will be a mere prelude to the combat they could face in the following months. Neither Florida-Tennessee, Michigan-Ohio State, nor Oklahoma- Nebraska can compare to the greatest rivalry in college football, and one of the biggest in sports. None match the intensity and emotion of Army-Navy. However, the Cadets and Midshipmen, legendary adversaries, will be fighting on the same side as they place their country ahead of their favorite game. These are more than just football players, and for those at West Point and Annapolis, football is more than just a game.
When was the last time the Big House in Michigan delivered a crowd of less than 100,000? When was the last time tailgating at a football game became an intricate process of search and seizure? When was the last time the Goodyear Blimp was not allowed to fly overhead at our nation’s most celebrated sporting events? The last time is too distant to recall, but the next time could be days away. The face of college football could look markedly different this Saturday due to last week’s terrorist attacks, placing age-old commonplace Saturday traditions under extreme caution and skepticism.
Backpacks, jackets, even the crazy naked guy who runs around the stadium in 40-degree weather waving his school’s flag will be searched. The hysteria created by last week’s terrorist attacks has left and indelible mark on the sports world, and it will be long before the so-called “return to normalcy” is witnessed at your average athletic event. Video cameras, costumes, women’s purses, all will make lines at every collegiate venue seem like the Department of Motor Vehicles, and for good reason. Every updated and additional security measure is both necessary and reassuring: fewer entrances in the parking lot and stadium, cars at least 50 yards away from the stadium, banning of all containers and backpacks. Yet all of this seems so frustrating when this immense amount of security must be enforced on what is supposed to be an amusing and relaxing event.
The FAA is providing assistance to many schools in making each stadium and its surrounding radius a no-fly zone. Several schools are trying to avoid flying whenever possible, opting for the more assuring two-day, 12-hour bus trip. South Carolina was the first to fly since the terrorist attack, in order to resume its season against Mississippi State Thursday night, and many of the players heading into the Wednesday departure were still uncertain about the concept of flying. These feelings are uniform throughout the country and will undoubtedly remain so for a long time.
Devoid of many marquee matchups, the nation focuses its attention to Pasadena, where the currently perfect Bruins of UCLA open their home schedule against Ohio State and new head coach Jim Tressel. Although not receiving the magnitude of praise of Fresno State, few teams are garnering as much attention as UCLA who, for the first time since the Cade McNown days, is thinking about a Pac-10 championship.
Despite losing stare wideout Freddie Mitchell to the NFL, the Bruins have an offensive attack diverse enough to put points on the board and digits in the win column. Led by Heisman candidate DeShaun Foster, who rushed for a career high 179 yards on 28 carries in UCLA’s 41-17 victory over Kansas, the Bruins have established a multi-faceted attack in which quarterback Cory Paus has already completed passes to eight different receivers.
It would be surprising to see Ohio State pull out a victory in coach Tressel’s first big test, especially after the Buckeyes were somewhat unimpressive in their 28-14 win over Akron.
For original article, see September 21, 2001 issue in the Marron-News Archive.