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In some way, we are all changed


This column was supposed to bear the dateline, "CHICAGO." It is America's greatest tragedy that it doesn't.

What sportswriter didn't feel insignificant last week? How do you go to work in the morning with the intention of gathering news about something as frivolous as football when an entire country, no, make that all of mankind, is consumed by grief, anger and fear?

These words come to you with humility. Maybe they should be accompanied by an apology and a request for forgiveness. After all, they come from the laptop of a football writer.

Their author is a 50-year-old man with a family, a home and a modest retirement plan that has been in steep decline for the past year. Sound familiar?

The author realized at some point last week that he has finally reached adult maturity. He knows that because he was consumed by worry. His stomach churned as a result of last week's events. It burned with concern for what the future will hold.

All of his life, the author had given his deepest thoughts to football, that frivolous game that, for some unexplained reason, had become his singular obsession. That happened a long time ago when, as a very young boy, he identified men in helmets and shoulder pads as his heroes.

The author experienced an epiphany of sorts last week. All of a sudden, he found new heroes.

He asked himself, "Would I have been courageous enough and strong enough to seize control of an airplane I couldn't fly? Would I have confronted a team of terrorists, armed with nothing more than the plastic knife I had been given to spread butter on my complimentary breakfast roll? Would I have done all of this to save others, at the cost of my own life?"

It's not as though the author hadn't witnessed tragedy previously. He was a boy of 12 when President Kennedy was assassinated; a seventh-grader in a Catholic school that marched its students immediately to the church when it was learned that Kennedy, the first Catholic president in United States history, had been killed.

Seven years later, the author was a freshman at Kent State, where, on a sunny spring day, the first warm day of the spring semester, he stood on the balcony of a dormitory and watched four students killed and several others wounded in a cold-blooded and unexplained assault.

In each case, the author thought he had understood the dynamics of the tragedy. They left marks on him, yes, but in each case he was assuaged by an undeniable trust in recovery. After all, this was America; nothing can stop us.

Of course, he was younger, then. He was consumed by that overwhelming feeling of invincibility that accompanies youth. Last week, he was not so young, not so invincible. He worried about what would follow. Recovery was no longer a given.

Mostly, the author was bothered last week by reflective thoughts, and he was soothed to hear Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin say, "I don't know that I've changed, but I've been extremely reflective."

The author considered himself and his life. To what had he dedicated each? What if he had been in one of those two buildings? Would he have been as brave? Would he have given his life for others, as New York's firemen and police did?

Maybe it's unfair to haunt himself with such questions, but maybe he had become spoiled by life in a country where those questions never previously existed. Maybe it's time we all need to be stronger, more appreciative, considerate and supportive.

Previously, football had always answered the author's deep questions. He had always regarded it to be a noble endeavor. Football was that exercise in human confrontation that could be applied to life. It had always worked that way previously, but what happened last week was something entirely different. He couldn't find his answers in football last week.

The events of last week will not pass. Just as the author has come to realize that Kennedy and Kent State never passed from his thoughts, he knows that Sept. 11, 2001, is a date that will have an affect, regardless of how major or minor, on every one of his thoughts and deeds through the rest of his life.

It is his subconscious. He is changed. All of us are.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.


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