The tears came to me when the little girl cried when she read her Daddy's name.
She was so brave, that child of a new era of America, as she stood on the site, on a bright sunny day when she should have said goodbye to her Dad and hurried off to school, even as she probably did two years ago.
With every age, there seems a moment we will always remember, and September 11, 2001, is one for this time. You know where you were when you heard, probably where you stood when you flipped on the TV. The bottles of fresh water you rushed to the store to buy.
Thousands of miles away, we gathered in shock, in indignation.
The word "hero" took on new meaning, and we carefully edited terms such as "battle" and "war" and "courage" from our sports vocabulary. And each of us had our memories.
They had only been there as part of the New York skyline, those twin towers of the World Trade Center, for 30 years. It seemed forever. Every movie set in the city is a reminder. Three years before, we had spent a lot of time in the shadow of those buildings. We hurried through the Marriott World Trade Center, down the long tunnel to the subway, and caught the train to Midtown.
Ricky Williams was winning the Heisman Trophy then, and the prestigious Downtown Athletic Club was all shined up for its annual presentation.
The 13thfloor is empty now, the once-rich red carpet covered in dust. If you stirred a shutter, they say you can still see the Statue of Liberty through the crack in the window. But the doors of 19 West Street on the banks where the Hudson River leans toward the Atlantic Ocean are closed.
They are, or soon will be, locked forever.
For 73 years, the building had housed the Downtown Athletic Club. Those of us in the sports world knew it as "The Home of the Heisman."
Each December, the college sports world made a pilgrimage to the shrine. And as sure as the Christmas tree glowed in the lobby, a new star would be presented. It was there that Ricky Williams went in 1998. Even then, the DAC was trying to decide what to do with its aging structure, which included not only the Heisman Room on the 13thfloor, but 38 stories of hotel rooms, gymnasiums, a swimming pool, and meeting rooms.
Two years ago, the upper floors were windowless and being remodeled. Two blocks away, the buildings fell. The fresh winds of war blew masses of debris into the open windows.
But the Downtown Athletic Club lost more than a building that day. Eleven of its members died in the World Trade Center. Before the building is finally closed forever, the members hope to stage one final basketball game in the gym where guys like John David Crow once were honored at the Heisman Awards Dinner. John David remembers the gym, but he also remembers the 13th floor, where a special dinner was held with former Heisman winners to welcome the new awardee to the select fraternity. In time, the big Awards dinner outgrew the gym, and moved to Midtown and the Marriott Marquis. But long after the thump of the pickup basketball games has faded, and even with the paint peeling from the ceiling where a pipe broke that day in 2001, the guys of the club want to play one more time.
They say they want to do it as a charity game, and give the money to the family of the eleven guys, some of whom may have even grabbed a quick workout in the club early that morning two years ago.
Even through our pain, we were lifted by the courage. We cheered when our President promised to "let them hear us." As we learned more and more of their bravery, we swelled with pride. From the image of the falling buildings, to the smoke from the Pentagon, we turned our attention to a field in Pennsylvania.
We never knew them; in fact, we may be hard-pressed to remember their names.
But we are told that four men who didn't even know each other became forever linked in American history with heroism.
What we know is, on that September day, four jumbo jets took off and became instruments of terror, guided missiles destined to destroy some of America's national landmarks and thousands of lives.
Even in the midst of the chaos, other tragedy was likely prevented. Quick thinking grounded other flights, but one more hijacked plane sped toward Washington, perhaps intended to destroy the nation's Capitol, or the White House. But on that plane, somewhere over western Pennsylvania, people who were being held captive had time to learn what was actually happening.
And the people fought back.
In the days since, and in the years that will follow, we will remember the story of Flight 93, and of Jeremy Glick, the judo champion, Tom Burnett, the former high school quarterback, Todd Beamer, once a college shortstop and third baseman and Mark Bingham, a rugby player.
They were four athletes who banded together as a team to fight against all odds. You learn that in sports. You learn the value of teamwork, the importance of leadership, and the defiant spirit of unbridled will in responding to a challenge.
We will never know what actually happened aboard that plane, and the names of other heroes who may have joined the fight will never be listed. But this much we do know: Because of their courage, even in the face of death, lives were saved.
The supreme lesson of sport is that it becomes second nature to the athlete to act, not for the glory of one, but for good of the whole. On that flight in Pennsylvania, terrorists who were willing to die to glorify themselves met Americans who chose to fight to live, and who were willing to die to save others.
Two years later, as we reflect on what happened that day, we realize that the terrorists challenged a lot of things in the fiber of America. They tested the spirit, which has not been broken. If their purpose was to challenge the might, they failed. If they wondered about our courage, that, too was answered.
As the media raises its negative voice, and the politicians wrangle for position, we realize that what really has been tested is not our might, courage, or spirit.
We are a people that expects microwave popcorn and fast food drive-throughs. What they are counting on failing is our resolve. They believe it will be too hard and too long, and, tiring of the fight, they believe we will quit.
Many of our Texas friends in the White House will tell you that The President has a picture hanging on the wall of the Oval Office, a tired and weary horseman in a lonesome prairie. The sign under the picture is from an old hymn. "A Charge To Keep I Have," it reads.
September 11 is a time for reflection, a time for prayer, and a time for remembering.
But for the little girl who cried, and all of those children like her, for the guys on the plane and the people like you and me, it is, most of all, a time for resolve.