September 14, 2006

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LONGSHOTS: A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
by Dave Long

I played on a basketball team in college that was free of the bickering that bogs some teams down. There werenít hard feelings over playing time, even though, as anyone can tell you, it stinks to sit on the bench. Ditto for who took what shots, who got their ďtouches,Ē and there was no finger-pointing when things went bad.

Much of it had to do with all of us knowing who our best player was. And subsequently we wanted Billy Haubrich to have the ball when it counted. Like the Celtics and Larry Bird. There was no question having the rock in his hands in the big moments was our best chance to win. Everything fed off that, as roles were just taken down the line naturally. Being part of that unified group is my best memory from those days long ago.

Itís why I love the Patriots. Itís not that they win. Itís that all the pieces just seem to fit. Roles are understood and accepted, even as players come and go. They always seem to do it right, even when they lose. And it doesnít even matter when teammates whoíve earned a big payday, like Deion Branch, donít get it here. Guess they know if you want to stay an elite team, NFL economics doesnít let every deserving player be rewarded at home.

The only team Iíve seen that compares was the Willis Reed-led New York Knicks. Like Tom Brady, Reed was the unquestioned leader on a team with five other hall of fame players, not to mention a future US Senator in Bill Bradley and a journeyman named Phil Jackson. Their catch phrase was ďhit the open manĒ and they did it better than any team Iíve seen, and were easily the most influential for me as an athlete. And while they didnít become a dynasty as the Celtics were with the great Bill Russell, they are the unshaken piece in my athletic DNA that reminds me at the core I am a New Yorker, even as I am also a New Englander who loves the Pats and Celtics.

I bring this up as 9-11 and NYC dominate the news this week. On that horrible morning five years ago, I was working at home. Didnít have the radio or TV on, and I wasnít connected to the internet either. So I didnít learn about it until another guy from that Plymouth team, Michael Moffett, called around 3:00. Like everyone, I couldnít believe it.

That day, of course, touched us all differently. Like for the Monarchs, whose colleague and friend Ace Bailey was on one the planes flown into the World Trade Center. Or Felix Rivera, a gentle giant as basketball player at NHC in the í80s. He worked at the very gate Mohammed Atta walked through at Logan Airport to begin the deadly mission, though, after calling in sick, he wasnít there that day.

For me it hit close to home, though not quite like for my brother, who watched one of the towers come down in person from across the river in Brooklyn. In varying degrees I knew five people who did not make it out of the towers. One I played CYO baseball with growing up. Another, I met two weeks earlier at the golf club of a friend of mine. He worked at Morgan Stanley, which had an office in the WTC. And then there was the father of my friend Phil Hayes. A retired fireman who worked at the World Trade Center. When the planes hit he cleared children from the day care centers, thenóin his mid-60sóheroically charged up the stairs to help out some more.

Even with all that, what stands out most about the horror of that day is the vision I have from standing at the base of that building and looking up two weeks to the day before it happened. My head reverted to it each time the news showed people leaping from those buildings. After knowing just how incredibly high they reached into the sky, it is unfathomable to me anyone would elect to jump from that height to escape the fate they faced on the upper floors. But I guess it was the best option and itís the impression that will always be with me of the carnage wrought by the savages behind the attack.

What followed next was truly surprising. And Iím afraid I have yet to hear even one person mention it. As the shock of the sucker punch subsided what I so clearly remember is the feeling of unity that swept over the country. There were no democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals shamelessly bickering over some congressional vote or election, as it seems they always now do. No John Kerry second guessing on Iraq, even though he voted to authorize deadly force. Posturing for another run for President? I donĎt know. But, I know itís being done to gain political points as the mid-term elections draw near. Just as the president has used terrorism as a prop, as he did landing on ship in the middle of the ocean to declare the war in Iraq was over.

I didnít see any of that in the months after the attack. I saw a great leader in Rudy Gulliani hold a devastated city together. I saw the finest moments of George Bushís presidency. I saw an everyday mom like Lisa Beemer, whose husband died in a vacant Pennsylvania field, act with strength and dignity before an entire nation at a time of unmistakable grief. And I saw a compassionate country comfort all those whose lives were changed by a barbaric terrorist act that killed innocent people for no reason other than they were Americans. And then sadly, it slowly receded back into the black hole politics has become, where the mantra is if you donít agree with me you are the enemy.

While it seems trite to make this comparison, it was like we all were on the kind of team I admire so much. Selfless, unified, integrated and watching each otherís back. In my opinion thatís what weíll gain the most from in remembering the tragic deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent souls on September 11, 2001. As in its aftermath, for once, we were the united, not the divided states.

A time when Iíve never felt more like an American and have never, ever, been more proud to be one.

Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM


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