FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Where does one draw the line where a game is no longer just a game? Where a game symbolizes the collective feeling of not just a region, but an entire nation. Where the “heroes” that are celebrated on the field take a backseat to those heroes who gave their lives that allowed us to take joy in a game.
This Sunday a line will clearly be drawn as it notably marks the 10-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. The Jets will be playing host to the Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team”, in what will surely bring a mixed bag of emotions to those in attendance and watching at home. The excitement of opening the 2011 NFL season, after an off-season that left many in limbo, will be met with the somber memories of a day that is burned in to the memories of Americans across the country.
Rex Ryan said the game feels like it’s the most important game he’s been a part of – and that’s including a Super Bowl and three AFC Championship games. “[I feel a responsibility] for this whole region, this whole area. I know it’s football and we’re not talking about life or death or anything like that, but I don’t know, that’s kind of how I’m taking it. It’s my job,” he said.
Having a cousin, Matthew Russo, who served as a New York fire fighter during that time adds to him feel that sense of responsibility to represent a region that has a constant reminder of the carnage that occurred ten years ago.
“We were getting ready to practice and so I’m watching it, and right when I was watching, the other plane hit the second tower. I was like, “Oh my goodness.” So that’s what I remember, and I was thinking about my cousin who (was) a New York City fireman,” Ryan said.
Russo has since retired from the fire department, according to Ryan.
Of course, the ten-year anniversary is no more important than, say, the third or fifth or seventh, but it is important that every generation understands just how tragic of an event it was. For rookie Muhammad Wilkerson, he represents one of the younger age groups who could actually comprehend the severity of the issue.
“On that particular day I was in middle school — eighth grade, I believe. I was sitting in math class,” Wilkerson said. “My condolences go out to all the families that were effected by those events. On Sunday night we’re going to go out and show the country that we’re New York’s team.”
To give the team an idea of what they will be playing for and who they will be representing, Ryan took them to Ground Zero after the team’s annual luncheon at Ciprini on Wall Street. For some, like LaDanian Tomlinson, it was a humbling chance to see first-hand not only the damage, but the promise of a brighter future.
“When you go there, there’s a certain aura that you have when you stand there and you just imagine that day and just the chaos and everything that so many families and people went through. It just gave you that feeling you’re special. You’re lucky to be standing on that spot but at the same time you’re special because you get a chance to do something that a lot of people don’t get to. It was very humbling.”
Humbling was a reoccurring word to describe the experience for many of the Jets, who all have an understanding and deep appreciation for representing New York in a game that will be devoted to remembering the lives that were lost that day. Jamaal Westerman tweeted this: “Went down to the World Trade Center. Humbling”.
“Very humbling experience just walked out to see Ground Zero. A really heartfelt experience. God bless everyone,” Antonio Cromartie tweeted.
On a night that is usually reserved for giving praise to the players and their performances, Sunday will be a night where their performances will be dedicated to honoring those who gave their lives on that tragic night ten years ago.
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