Bill Little commentary: A window in the darkness
Sept. 10, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
The juxtaposition of the Texas Hill Country and New York City seemed a stretch, even for a young man who had lived a cosmopolitan life with a father who was a quarterback in the NFL. The bright Texas sunshine had matched the crystal clear day that had dawned where the giant buildings stood sentinel, a beacon of economic power in a world that was about to change forever.
Garrett Gilbert got the news at Bee Cave Elementary school from his favorite fifth grade teacher, Ms. Galloway. Something had happened. Something bad. They all needed to listen to the radio.
In an elementary school in Lubbock, Marquise Goodwin -- also a fifth grader -- remembers the shock and the tears. The teachers were crying, and then the students began to cry. They closed the school that day.
Mike Davis was nine years old. His lasting memory is of the fear. "My mom told me that the planes had hit the building. I thought they were coming after me. I wanted to just curl up in a ball." That was at Barbara Jordan Elementary in Dallas.
Tre' Newton was in the sixth grade at Fort Worth Christian Academy. His impression of the day was of the feeling of togetherness it brought.
"People came to church, and we were all pulling for each other," he said. "I remember the pride and patriotism everybody felt."
Saturday in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, those young football players will pause -- along with the crowd -- just as they will do in New York, in Lubbock, in Fort Worth and in Dallas.
All over America, a nation will look retrospectively at faith, family and fear. Television replays will remind us over and over again of our shock, our anger, our pain and our loss. We still mourn for those who died. We still are stunned that life as we knew it is forever changed.
Prior to the game, there will be a ceremony honoring first responders -- paying tribute to those police and firefighters who died rushing into harm's way, trying to save lives in buildings that were inconceivably doomed.
9/11. It is the only day in American history that doesn't need a footnote to explain. July 4 is the day our country declared its independence. 9/11 is the day that all of us were reminded that freedom isn't free, and that to achieve great peace, sometimes you have to fight for it.
The memories of grade school are blurred now. Nine years later, the surge of spirit that Tre' saw has been put back on the shelf -- waiting for the next crisis to bring us together again. The way we do business, from traveling to checking the mail, has changed with the winds of caution.
And we remember, on 9/11, that from crisis, you can either create chaos, or purpose. Now, the kids of yesterday are the hope of our future.
Etched in our history are two fundamental values that will never change: the first is the commitment President Lincoln articulated when he spoke of resolve "that these dead shall not have died in vain...." The second is that in our dividedness we always seem to find togetherness.
The world of sport teaches us about the power of one, and there was no greater reminder of that than the story of United Airlines Flight 93. On that September morning in 2001, four jumbo jets became instruments of terror -- destined to destroy some of America's national landmarks and thousands of lives. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Another slashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
One more hijacked airliner sped toward Washington, but on that plane, the hostages had time to learn what was happening, and they fought back.
In the years that have seen changes in our world, it is important to remember the story of that flight, and of Jeremy Glick, a judo champion; Tom Burnett, a former high school quarterback; Todd Beamer, once a college baseball infielder; and Mark Bingham, a rugby player.
These athletes banded together to fight against all odds. Sport had taught them the value of teamwork, the importance of leadership, the courage of decisive action, and the defiant spirit of determination in responding to a challenge. "Let's roll" became a national symbol of confronting our demons.
On that flight over a farm field in Pennsylvania, terrorists willing to die for their own cause met Americans willing to die to save others. The supreme lesson of sport is that it becomes second nature to the athlete to act, not for the glory of one, but for the good of the whole. The four athletes led a charge to the cockpit of the plane, and as the aircraft crashed during the battle for control, they changed the course of destiny in one shining final act of bravery and heroism.
The teacher who reminded Garrett to listen brought awareness; the tears surrounding Marquise were but a harbinger of those that would come; the mother who was there to assure Mike represented stability;and the religious resurgence that Tre' saw reminded us all of the strength, and the need for, a higher power.
There is one more piece to this story of this day and this 2010 Longhorns team. When the Longhorns enter the field, two who have been touched by the military will carry the American flag.
It was five o'clock in the morning in California when the planes hit the Towers. Two years before, Nate Boyer had graduated from high school. He was a young man caught in the lyrics from a John Lennon song: "Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans." That morning in 2001, his mother awakened him with the news. And that day, he decided to join the Army.
All of that is important because nine years later, on Saturday night in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, a freshman football player named Nate Boyer will proudly carry the flag of his country before 100,000 people, a national television audience, and those who are being honored as representatives of those first responders on Sept. 11, 2001.
That would be Staff Sgt. Nate Boyer, a Special Forces veteran who is entering his first year of college and is a walk-on defensive back for the Longhorns.
It is in that space that Texas Football, with its exposure, becomes part of the mosaic of days such as 9/11. Those are times that seek and demand heroes. And they come from all directions. The same television eyes that view tragedy also have a chance to see something positive.
The other day, I had a chance visit with one of the members of our Pom Squad. She was going to practice, and as we walked up the hill to the Moncrief Center, we talked about the images of The University. An athletics program is a university's window to the world, and on game days, all of those kids get a chance to open that window.
"I [had] never stepped foot in the state of Texas," the Californian Boyer said Thursday, "but when I decided to go to college, I knew that The University of Texas was where I wanted to be. The guys I served with loved Texas, and it just seemed right that I come here."
Nate Boyer is in the inactive reserve now and could be recalled at any time. His is a path familiar to Texas Football. Five years ago we learned the story of a U. S. Marine who was on a ship in the Persian Gulf when the planes hit the Towers. He decided then he wanted to come to Texas and get a degree and play football. His name, of course, was Ahmard Hall -- who incidentally was just named one of the captains of the Tennessee Titans.
People respect the Longhorns of 2010 such as Garrett, Marquise, Mike, Tre' and Nate. Kids grow up wanting to be like them. That's why the soldiers in the Middle East get up at three o'clock in the morning to cheer them on a television screen -- they are the connection to home.
The same is true for the band, the cheerleaders and the pom squad. They are Texas to the world.
What all of this says -- about all of us -- is that inside each of us there is a place where heroes wait and pride resides. Each of us views it differently -- that is, after all, part of the freedom for which Nate and Ahmard and all of our men and women fight.
That is the positive that comes from a negative moment like the tragedy in New York. They do that in the hope that one day, kids can grow up without fear, and that the only tears that come are those of pride -- pride in our country, and in who we are. It is a noble dream. But life is, after all, what happens when you are busy making other plans.