The Voice: Tragedy of 9/11 brought out the best in sports

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgOn September 11, 2001, it was such a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, and there was a gentle breeze. It was the type of day that showcases the beauty of this city.

On the local sports scene, there was some concern about the Badgers football team, which had just dropped its second-straight game, losing the previous Saturday to Fresno State, 32-20.

The season began with a victory against Virginia in a game featuring a lightning delay. The following week the Badgers played well but Oregon, led by quarterback Joey Harrington, slipped past Wisconsin, 31-28.

Next up on the schedule was Western Kentucky. I remember being in my living room, completing my spotter's chart on the Hilltoppers. My wife and I had the radio on in the background. The team's 1-2 record aside, life was pretty good, and we were ready to begin our day.

Then everything changed. The usual laughter on the morning radio show stopped. One of the hosts announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Perhaps like any number of people, the magnitude of what was occurring did not completely hit home with us.

We turned on NBC's "Today" show, right about the time the second plane struck the other tower. Like everyone else, we were stunned. Suddenly, the thought of my wife going to work, or the thought of me studying Western Kentucky's roster became irrelevant.

There are certain events when it is natural to remember where you were and what you were doing. Those who are old enough remember where they were on Dec. 7, 1941. Others can recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Sept. 11, 2001 became the latest tragic date on that list.

Americans went through all the emotions, from stunned disbelief, to profound sadness, to extreme anger. After a few days, we just wanted to get our lives back to "normal," however we could define that word.

For many of us, we discovered that sports can help the healing process. For a time, the stadiums were silent. When the seasons resumed, the world of fun and games became a way to escape the pain and the fear of what had happened to our country.  

For the Badgers, their first game after 9/11 was at Penn State. When we arrived at the team hotel the evening before the game, there was a moment when I started to believe that life as I knew it was about to resume.  

In 2001, Joey Boese was a senior defensive back. His father, Leo, was a regular at the games, both home and away. Almost without fail, I would see Leo on a road trip, standing outside the team hotel, unlit cigar in hand, waiting for the team to arrive.

In State College on Sept. 21, 2001, as the buses pulled into the hotel parking lot, there was Leo and his cigar. I could not help but smile and let out a sigh of relief.  With the horrible events still so fresh in everyone's mind, seeing Mr. Boese with his stogie was a sign that it was time to move forward.

I don't know about you, but at times I am brutally guilty of sweating the small stuff. In the days after 9/11, what seemed annoying the day before no longer mattered. What mattered were the simple things, like being with friends and family.  

This is where sport can be at its best. Let's face it, going to a Badger football game is a social event. Sure, fans will cheer for their team, and there is reason to be excited about the possibilities for a terrific season, but hopefully we can all enjoy the simple things.

I arrive at Camp Randall about three hours prior to kickoff. Already the tailgate parties are going. The smell of brats on the grills, and the sea of Badger fans making their way to the stadium. To me, it is one of the best parts of a game day. People are happy to be together, and they are enjoying everything that goes into a football Saturday.  

As we approach Sept. 11, 2011, I hope everyone attending a game this weekend can appreciate all the little things that make a sporting event so special.  

So go ahead and high-five a fan you have never met. Sing "Sweet Caroline" like you never have before. Jump Around like you really mean it.     

Embrace all the simple things. Perhaps that is as good a way as any to reflect on what happened 10 years ago. 
ON WISCONSIN