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In My Tribe
TERRY MCDONELL
November 28, 2011
Our sports have become more and more about money and marketing. But to most of us they're still about the stories we tell one another, the transcendent moments that lift us—the very way we define ourselves
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November 28, 2011

In My Tribe

Our sports have become more and more about money and marketing. But to most of us they're still about the stories we tell one another, the transcendent moments that lift us—the very way we define ourselves

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For SI senior writer Tom Verducci the sharpest memories were of covering Games 3, 4 and 5. Fires still smoldered at ground zero, and there was an eeriness about Yankee Stadium those nights that went beyond the metal detectors, the bomb-sniffing dogs, the Secret Service agent dressed as an umpire and the snipers on the roof. It was suddenly baseball in wartime, and you weren't sure if you were in the most dangerous place in the world or the most secure.

Those games were the first large-scale public gatherings after the attacks, and Yankee Stadium was, as Verducci wrote, "exactly the right place to symbolically begin American recovery." President George W. Bush marched to the pitcher's mound with his chin up and chest out (protected by a bulletproof vest) and threw a strike. The crowd belted out God Bless America with their hearts in it. And the baseball that evening and the next two was sublime: a gem by Roger Clemens followed by two games in which the Yankees got last-at-bat hits to avoid defeat. After Game 4, Yankees were "gathering in the players' parking lot like kids at Dairy Queen after a Little League game," Verducci recalls. "They wanted to hold on to the moment." That was the night of this sign at Yankee Stadium: MYSTIQUE & AURA APPEARING NIGHTLY.

THE ARMY-NAVY FOOTBALL GAME that December was, even more than other years, a game of ultimate emotional importance and disposability at the same time. It was everything, and as soon as it was over (Army won 26--17) it was meaningless, put into perspective by what would happen next to the players: They would win Purple Hearts and Silver Stars alongside other young men they had played against. Two of the Midshipmen would be killed in action. The idea of playing to exhaustion, giving your all against a rival you've been taught to disdain for four years—and then setting aside all that intensity and fighting together with that rival against a common enemy, for something larger than yourself—is so powerful, so deeply ... us. It's the North and South becoming one nation again after the Civil War. It's the Marshall Plan rebuilding Germany, MacArthur in Japan. It's e pluribus unum and all that: Meuse-Argonne, Omaha Beach, Guadalcanal, Inchon, Khe Sanh.

9/11.

THINK MONTAGE, MUSIC OVER. Bach and Levitical choirs punched up by loyal sons marching onward to vic-tor-y. Pageantry ... team colors and regalia ... the ritual of pregame introductions ... responsive cheering ... even the cathartic grieving on talk radio after a tough loss. I remember a scolding aunt disparaging my interest in the 49ers by suggesting that sports were "the new religion." New? Over the last half century sports became sacred, serving up the faith, emotion and solace once received in places of worship. "Old stadiums and ballparks are our cathedrals," says Jimmy Buffett, who has played in all the classic old yards, starting with Fenway and Wrigley. To be at Wrigley in the summer of 2005 listening to Buffett and the Coral Reefers cover Steve Goodman's City of New Orleans just days after Hurricane Katrina came ashore at Tammany Parish is to understand exactly what he is talking about.

Now kill the music.

On Sept. 17, 1993, the Expos were hosting the Phillies in the first game of a crucial late-season series. Philly was leading 7--4 late in the game when Montreal manager Felipe Alou sent up Curtis Pride to pinch-hit. Though born 95% deaf, Pride had played on the U.S. men's under-18 national soccer team and been the point guard for William & Mary before spending eight seasons in the minors. In the second at bat of his major league career, he hit a two-run double, which was enough to make anyone's throat catch. The jet-engine roar of the crowd was juxtaposed with the image of Pride stoically standing on second—deaf, literally, to the cacophony. Only after the third base coach called timeout and walked the 90 feet down to Pride and asked him to tip his helmet did he understand that the stadium shook, shook for him.

Game 1 of the 1988 World Series between the Dodgers and the A's was the night that Kirk Gibson hobbled out of the dugout and hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run off Dennis Eckersley. Then came Vin Scully's "laydown." Nothing stamps a moment as history quite like an announcer—in this case, the greatest who ever lived—going silent. "To this day," Scully once told SI's Hoffer, "what I've always tried to do is call the play as quickly as I can and then shut up, not only for the benefit of the listener but for my own joy of hearing the crowd roar."

That roar is echoed quietly in the buzz of an arena just before a heavyweight championship fight and in the ticking silence of an 80,000-seat Olympic stadium before the gun goes off for the men's 100 meters. The connection SI senior writer Michael Farber builds between these two events is that they are the most primal in all of sport. They have the fewest constructs (no power plays, no free throws, no first downs), and they date to our standing upright for the first time on the savanna.

Very fast-forward to the Olympic 100 meters, Seoul, 1988, Ben Johnson versus Carl Lewis. The rivalry had been festering for more than a year, ever since Johnson had won the world championship in Rome. Sprinters are the prima ballerinas of sport, of course, and there was a lot of Black Swan going on between the Canadian and the American.

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