GRIZ GRIT: Sports and Tragedy

By Beacon Staff

We all have significant dates in our lives that forever will cause us to reflect on where we were when a life-changing event occurred.

In my case sports has always played a significant role in those memories.

On the day of the assassination of John F. Kennedy I had played in a significant football game – a loss to the Navy Hospital as I remember – hours before I was put on alert and the military base where I was stationed was shut down.

The day my father suddenly passed away, I was getting my first start behind the plate in the second game of a double header in Seattle against the University of Washington.

When Mount St. Helens blew, I was bowling in a tournament in Tacoma and was to be en route to the national tournament in Louisville.

Instead, I snuck across the northern Cascades through barricaded roads to return to Spokane to eventually catch a delayed flight to Chicago, above the plume of ash, followed by a long overnight drive to Kentucky.

And then came Sept 11, 2001.

Like many of you, I never dreamed there would come a day when there would be an attack of such magnitude on American soil. (The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 preceded my birth by less than three years and since my dad joined the Army shortly after I learned early in my life of its significance.)

But it happened and completely changed our lives forever.

And sports, our nation’s diversion if you will, also played a role in the aftermath and it surely did in mine.

You’ll remember those games – including the University of Montana home football matchup with the University of Idaho – were cancelled as we struggled with what might come next and pondered the safety of putting so many people in vulnerable situations.

But after a short hiatus, baseball and other sports returned and days later, we gathered in stadiums across the country to pay our respects to those who died and tried to restore a sense of normalcy to our lives.

Grizzly football had opened the 2001 season at San Luis Obispo – with a win over Cal Poly, this week’s Sept. 10 home opponent.

After the players returned to Missoula, we headed to the University of Hawaii followed by a legion of fans.

After a 30-7 loss to the Tommy Chang-led Warriors, the only blemish on that national championship season, the Grizzlies returned home on a non-stop flight to Missoula, ahead of many of their families and fans.

When the planes hit the towers, the Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania, some of those fans were in the air, others in airports stateside, still others waiting to board a flight somewhere on the islands.

And while those of us who had landed safely in Missoula and scrambled with our jobs – in my case as a Missoulian news staffer working on an immediate special section, one of two to hit the street that afternoon – most of Griz Nation who attended the Saturday game were left to rebook canceled flights.

Of course there were no flights for several days, few available rental cars or alternative transportation and the days following Sept. 11 were filled with confusion and uncertainty.

But I submit, that like other trying circumstances in this nation’s history, it was sports and football in particular that returned us to some form of sanity.

And now 10 years later sports continue to fill that key cog in continued times of uncertainty.