OFF THE BOARD: Of football and 9/11

Off the Board/Opinion by

For many, the highlight of the TV viewing experience this weekend was the season premiere of The Simpsons or Family Guy on Fox. Both shows are usually funny, occasionally outlandish and once in a while insightful, but don’t ask me to comment on them because I didn’t watch either one. For others, it could have been ABC’s docudrama The Path to 9/11; the show that supposedly displays the Clinton Administration in a poor light because of-among other things-its alleged failure to capture Osama bin Laden. I say supposedly because, again, I didn’t watch it.

For me the highlight of the TV weekend occurred during the opening game of Sunday Night Football between the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts. It was near the beginning of NBC’s coverage, during one of the first screen appearances by Giants’ Head Coach Tom Coughlin. The cameraman focused in on Coughlin and perched on his head was a hat reading “FDNY.” Fire Department of New York. Tom Coughlin was wearing a hat that remains one of the most lasting emblems of the 9/11 attacks.

Tom Coughlin is not a New Yorker. He was not born in New York City; he didn’t go to university in New York City and he wasn’t in New York on 9/11. His only connection to the city is that he is now the head coach of one its football teams. He wasn’t in New York that day, but on Sunday night, Coughlin made a choice to stand up with the rest of the city on national television, making sure we never forget.

But for some, that’s not enough. In last week’s New York Times, writer Michael Brick outlined that in New York circa Sept. 11, 2006 there is a clear divide among New Yorkers regarding Sept. 11, 2001: Those who were there at the time-deemed Survivors-and those who weren’t-called Newcomers. For many of the Survivors, they see the post-9/11 New York as one the Newcomers couldn’t possibly understand. Survivors don’t see ground zero as a place of pilgrimage, but instead as a glaring reminder of what has been lost. Survivors see themselves as being defined by that day.

As someone who saw the attacks from his high school in Toronto-and would be considered a complete Newcomer-I find it difficult to accept these divisions. While the Survivors felt the attacks directly, countless others experienced 9/11 in their own way. Whether it was through their flight being rerouted to Halifax, calling a loved one in New York to check that they were alive or watching a UEFA Champions League soccer match just for a moment of normalcy, we all experienced it.

So to the Tom Coughlins of the world, I say wear your FDNY caps and sport those NYPD T-shirts. While we shall never take away from the feeling of loss suffered by Survivors, we must let them know that we are with them. On that day, we were all New Yorkers.