News of NFL draft takes a backseat to news of bin Laden's death
Thoughts on the past 10 years, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America
Observations on the draft, including the Patriots ignoring a huge need
Quotes of the Week, Stats of the Week, 10 Things I Think I Think and more
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The NFL can wait. Osama bin Laden is dead.
Amazing sitting here in the early hours of this morning, after hearing President Obama announce the death of al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden, the man we've been trying to find for almost 10 years, ever since the plot to fly planes into buildings changed our way of life on Sept. 11, 2001. Ten years. And what an eerie end. While the world was following the Royal Wedding in England on Friday, Obama was giving the orders to have Navy Seals swoop into the bin Laden compound and take out bin Laden at all costs. The attack, on Sunday, took 44 minutes from start to finish, CNN reported, and ended with the Seals carrying bin Laden's body out with them.
It was fascinating to be up all night and to see and feel the upshot of it. Reporter Jim Forman of KING5-TV in Seattle was on a Delta flight with TV and Internet and sent this tweet at 11:18 p.m.: "9/11 widow on my flight. In tears. Comforted by entire cabin. Life altering event to see.'' College campuses and city streets erupted in celebration; a photo from Penn State showed thousands in downtown State College. The front page of this morning's Chicago Sun-Times floated around Twitter, a close-up of bin Laden's face, with the word "DEAD'' across the bottom.
Smarter people than I will write today about what it means. I don't have anything deep on that, other than this: We kept our word. We said we were going after bin Laden and wouldn't stop until we found him. It took a decade, but we did it, and I'm so proud of the men and women who have done their part to defend our country and find bin Laden.
It's really been a remarkable 10 years, years that changed our lives. I don't just mean by how much of a pain air travel's become either. I mean, and not to be corny, we've gained (I think) more of an appreciation for living in this country. I was living in New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001, 15 miles from Ground Zero, when the first Twin Tower went down. I got in the car and sped to the New Jersey Blood Center in West Orange, 10 minutes from my house. There was a line a city-block long winding out of the building already to give blood that, alas, was never needed. Talk about getting goose bumps.
A few days later, my daughter Mary Beth, a sophomore on the Montclair High field hockey team, and I went in search of American flag patches to put on all frosh, JV and varsity field hockey jerseys. None in Jersey. But we found a dank, tiny sewing shop in Chinatown, in Manhattan, and picked up 150 flags patches for the uniforms. On the way back to the car, for no reason and for every reason, Mary Beth said, "I love America.'' Talk about getting goose bumps.
Mayor Giuliani was asking citizens to please support the restaurants of the city, because people were afraid to come into the city, fearful of another attack. So my wife and I organized a party of 16 to come into the city 10 days after the attack for dinner at Carmine's in midtown. At the table next to us were 15 Buffalo firefighters, all taking vacation time to work at Ground Zero. When they rose to leave -- they paid for nothing that night -- one person at our table started clapping. Then we all did. Then we stood. Then the entire restaurant stood, clapping and whistling and slapping the firefighters on the back. A few of them dabbed at their eyes. Talk about getting goose bumps.
In 2005, on my training-camp trip through the Midwest, I met Mike McGuire, the Army first sergeant, at a baseball game in St. Louis. We just happened to be sitting next to each other, struck up a conversation, and I learned he was home on leave from finding and disarming improvised explosive devices in Iraq. Whoa.
"Aren't you scared?'' I asked.
He said he tried not to think of that. He had 30 men to be mother-hen to in his platoon. Amazing guy. We watched the game, marveled at Pujols, exchanged contact information, and said goodbye. Two days later, I opened the paper and read about 14 Marines dying in an IED explosion in Iraq. I called McGuire and asked about the 14 dead Marines; when he reads things like that, is he scared for his safety?
"Mostly I read about how it happened and try to learn something about how to stop it,'' he said. "If I think about the victims, well, that doesn't help me do my job.''
Goose bumps, again.
In 2008, I accompanied a USO group of players to Afghanistan. I'll never forget flying from Kyrgyzstan, north of the country, over the northeastern area of Afghanistan into Kabul. Seventy, eighty, a hundred miles of mountainous, treacherous, untouched, snowy terrain. On and on we flew. "Do you think Osama's down there, somewhere, hiding?'' I wondered. One of the pilots said he might be, so they had to keep looking. And then meeting the Army Ranger snipers late one night in some barracks in Kandahar, staying up very late hearing the story of their most recent sortie. When Mike Rucker and Luis Castillo went back to their room, they lay in their bunks and talked excitedly about the night.
"The way they're excited to talk to us is the way we're excited to talk to them,'' said Rucker. "I wish I could do what they're doing, but I can't. I'm like a fan around those guys.''
"You see how intrigued they were by us?'' said Castillo. "How cool is that? The way they talk about being in a gunfight and just doing their jobs without panicking ... amazing.''
"If I didn't play football, I always knew the military was an option,'' said Rucker. "Now I know how much I would have loved it. Ask the guys on my team -- every time they do a flyover before the game, you can see how emotional I get.''
"Priceless,'' Castillo said in the dark, before drifting off to sleep. "That was a priceless night.''
It's been a decade none of us will forget. This morning doesn't bring a happy ending, exactly. It brings some new world that we can't be sure of yet, because clearly al Qaeda will be furious over bin Laden's death and we'll have to deal with renewed threats. But we did what we said we'd do, and that's always a good thing. I hope the families of the 9/11 victims in Manhattan and elsewhere have a better day today than they've had in years.
In case you missed it, there's been a draft ...
I've got a great story for you to lead the draft weekend column:
When Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan was taking a tour through his new business home -- the New Orleans Saints practice facility in Metairie, La. --on Saturday, his cell phone rang.
"Hi,'' said the voice on the other end. "Jordan? This is the Cleveland Browns ... '' The call was for some biographical information.
"Uh, yeah, this is Cameron Jordan,'' he said. "But the Saints already picked me.''
There was an awkward pause, and Cameron Jordan said: "I think you mean Jordan Cameron, you're looking for Jordan Cameron. That's not me.''
Cameron Jordan, the 24th pick in the draft, then hung up the phone. The Browns actually picked the right person -- USC tight end Jordan Cameron and had phoned him to tell him the good news -- and this was the call back to get biographical information from him.
Well, they do have something in common: They're both from the Pac-10.
Crazy weekend. Let's get on with it.
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