Eighteen years ago, when I became the head Sports Information Director at The University of Texas, I used to travel each Tuesday during football season to Houston to attend a media luncheon.
I would jump in my car about 10:15 a.m., pull into the parking lot at Robert Mueller Airport in Austin for a flight that left at 10:30 a.m. I'd arrive at Houston Hobby Airport an hour later, grab a cab and get to the buffet line at a local restaurant at five minutes before noon.
We'd have lunch and each of us public relations types would hand out our weekly release and say a few words about the upcoming game. I paid the cabby who brought me to the restaurant extra to be waiting at 1:10 p.m. A 20 minute ride back to the airport allowed me to catch a 1:40 p.m. flight and I was back in my office by three.
I have thought of those trips many times over the past few days as we all watched the horror of Sept. 11 and the subsequent security changes at the airports and other places.
On Sunday night after the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I listened as a man whose opinion I had respected discussed the impending tightened security measures as a "loss of our freedom."
That's not what we lost on Sept. 11. A lot of people and a lot of things died that day, but freedom was not one of them.
Innocence? Yes, we lost our innocence. Longhorns quarterback Chris Simms grew up in New Jersey across the Hudson River from New York City. Almost every day of his life, before he came to Texas, he woke up to the sight of the shining buildings of the Word Trade Center towering over the city. A week after the attack, Chris had learned that people he knew in his neighborhood who worked in the area were safe.
"But I have some friends who are still looking for their parents," he said.
Looking for their parents. Let that one sit with you for awhile.
The good people of Oklahoma know better than anyone how New Yorkers feel right now. Those who have walked down Broadway, all those blocks from the security of the theater district, say nothing television has shown can possibly do justice to the horror of the actual ground zero zone.
I felt the same way when I saw first hand the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.
There is no question that those of us in the United States struggle with the reality that, for a long time, other nations have had to live with such senseless deaths inflicted in the name of one misguided cause or another. Not since the War of 1812 had the continental United States been attacked in an act of foreign aggression.
We lost our serenity. As almost 200,000 people gather on the Texas State Fairgrounds for the fair and the Texas-Oklahoma game, and as we fly on airplanes now guarded by soldiers and marshals with guns, we are a nation trying really hard not to be afraid.
Psychologists will tell us that fear can be defined as "false expectations appearing real." When those towers went down in New York and our nation's capital was attacked, that was real. We have replaced carefree with caution, trust with suspicion, and most of all, oblivious with vigilance.
When a television crew asked UT head coach Mack Brown last week if the game of football seemed less important in the grand scheme of things, he had an interesting answer.
"I hope it hasn't lost its importance because it has its own value and that's the reason we play," Brown said. "The game should be about everything America stands for. It should be about courage, discipline and it should be about sportsmanship. There shouldn't be fighting or cheap shots or cheap talk. It should be appreciated for what it is, a game."
The young people who will play in this game are in a place where no American has been for 60 years. Those of us who remember Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm have seen wars on other soils. For a very long time, we have had a vacation from war. There was a time during some of those conflicts when we wondered what we were fighting for.
There is no guessing this time. Ask the people in New York or Washington. If our new war really is against terrorism of all kinds, ask the people in Oklahoma City.
Reality is a strong traveling companion and reality for athletes in the Big 12 Conference today is very real. Two years ago, 12 young people died at Texas A&M when a spirit bonfire collapsed. Last year, Oklahoma State lost 10 members of its basketball traveling party in a plane crash. At Texas, defensive tackle Cole Pittman died in an auto accident just before the start of spring drills.
The minister at his funeral asked "how many Saturdays do you have left?" Each person began to count until he said, "the answer is you don't know. Last Saturday may have been your last." That's a pretty strong message about how you ought to live your life.
Brown said something else about the importance of the game. It isn't about winning and losing, it is about the values you learn as a teammate and competitor. He was talking about the four athletes who were aboard the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
A former high school quarterback, a rugby player, a third baseman and a judo champ learned that their plane was probably a guided missile headed for Washington to cause more death and destruction. So they determined they would fight. They banded together against the odds and became national heroes, even in death.
We lost a lot of things on Sept. 11.
Today, as we enter stadiums and fairgrounds and board airplanes, our lives are completely different. Security checks, long lines and inspections and other innovations are changing our behavioral patterns.
However, we haven't lost our freedom. We may take a little longer to accomplish our trip, walk a little further and have to plan our time better, but what we have lost is only convenience.
Freedom is what the guys on the plane fought for and it is, after all, why there can be a game today.