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FENWAY PARK on a warm, cloudless summer afternoon, the United States of America's 235th birthday. I'm in the grandstand, a paying customer, sitting next to my son. It is nearly game time when the stadium announcer informs the fans that we will be hearing a message from Bridget Lydon, a Navy petty officer from Quincy, Mass. Her family is gathered near the pitcher's mound as Lydon's image appears on the massive centerfield scoreboard, beamed from the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in the Persian Gulf. Lydon has not seen her family since being deployed in October, and now she speaks powerfully to them and to all of us inside the ballpark, concluding with "Happy Fourth of July!"
As she finishes—even a little before she finishes—a door opens in the famous green leftfield wall. A figure emerges, in dress whites. It is the 24-year-old Lydon, at first walking and then running toward her family, which races to meet her in shallow leftfield. They collide, literally and emotionally. Applause swells through the park, building to a steady roar. In the stands a woman dabs at her eyes. A man cups his hand to his mouth and swallows hard. The moment does not fail as theater. But it does not fail as reality, either. In the middle of the seventh inning, Army Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Garcia sings God Bless America, which is not an everyday occurrence here (only at Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium). There are tears again.
Yet during these moments I also see feet shuffling in the stands, gazes averted to the ground, a palpable eagerness to get on with the game. Ten years have passed since the attacks. Ten years since many Americans went to games to find a salve for their bewilderment and fear and to wrap themselves in familiarity. There was no ambiguity then; we were angry and hurt, and sports helped us find a path through the darkness. A decade later it's not quite so dark, and the relationship between our healing and our games is not nearly so clear.
THIS WAS on a Sunday morning, five days after the attacks. Behind the wheel, four lanes of southbound New Jersey Turnpike rising and falling in late-summer sunshine, nearly deserted instead of chaotic. Past the stadium and the swamp, past the oil tanks and the airport, past the gas stations and the superstores, like so many times before. This used to be my way home. Everything so familiar. Except there to the east where the towers should be, a smoldering plume of dark-gray smoke drifting into the blue sky, symbolizing what lay below.
Over the Goethals Bridge to Staten Island, where the Andruzzi boys were raised. Three firefighters and a football player. On their mother Mary Ann's kitchen table, a copy of the Sunday Staten Island Advance, a venerable broadsheet open to a page with nothing but head shots of firefighters and policemen lost. Then another page. And another. So many of them lived in this borough. Standing outside next to the concrete stoop with Joe, son number three, the football player, waiting for his brothers to arrive. He was once an undrafted free agent out of Southern Connecticut State who discovered that the guys from name schools weren't any bigger or stronger. Five months later, in February 2002, he will win a Super Bowl ring as a starting guard for the Patriots. Then he will win two more.
Joe was in a dentist's chair in Massachusetts when he heard of the attacks. For five hours he feared for his brothers' lives before he learned that they were all safe. Jimmy, the second oldest, escaped from the North Tower less than a minute before its collapse. It had always bothered Joe that he is paid so much to play a game and his brothers are paid so little to risk their lives. That feeling is intensified on this day. "The wage difference, it doesn't feel right for what they do," says Joe. "Athletes have short careers, but [firemen] run into burning buildings when other people are running out." Jimmy comes home and tells me his story, and that story is written. It is a harrowing and emotional story, not unlike many survivors' tales from that day. No more important. No less important. But it is his story. The brother of the football player.
There were no games that weekend. No NFL games. No college football games. No baseball games. On the night of Friday, Sept. 21, baseball resumed in New York City. At Shea Stadium, Mike Piazza hit a game-winning home run for the Mets, and the city celebrated more than a baseball game. "That particular moment," says Piazza now, 10 years later, "I can't describe it as anything more than divine intervention and my prayers being answered and God giving me that calmness and ability to execute in a time of stress." Piazza played four more years for the team and retired after the 2007 season, yet New Yorkers still approach and thank him for that night.
Two days later pro football, America's sport, resumed in full. The Patriots hosted the Jets in Foxborough, and all the Andruzzi boys, along with their father, Bill, a retired New York police detective, were honored in a pregame ceremony. "It's probably the last time you would ever see Patriots fans and Jets fans holding hands," says Andruzzi today. "But they weren't standing up for the Patriots or the Jets, you know? They were standing up for their country."