The day the planes exploded into the World Trade Center Sterling Hitchcock, starting pitcher for the New York Yankees, was awakened in his apartment overlooking Manhattan by the ringing of the phone. A friend was calling, telling him the news. He drew back his blinds in time to watch the towers fall.

" heart imploded with them"

Bill Rose, limited partner in the New York Yankees, could see the smoke from his terrace. "I could see the smoke. I never even considered that the buildings might collapse. I thought the buildings were on fire, there'd be some damage, they'd put the fire out, and that would be it. When I saw the towers implode, my heart imploded with them."

All-Pro lineman for the New York Jets, Kevin Mawae drives by the train station and still sees cars
that have been there since September 11. He knows the owners of those cars are probably buried somewhere within the rubble of the towers, and feels the pain of the families left behind. "And then you see the place where the towers stood, and your heart falls."

From his Long Island residence, Scott Matheny, Chaplain for the New York Jets, could see the smoke from the burning towers. And when the wind shifted, he could smell it. "I could smell it. It was a smoky smell, an acrid smell."

Amanda Cromwell, defensive midfielder for the D.C. Freedom, and soccer coach at the University of Central Florida drove by the Pentagon every day. "It's just so hard to believe it actually happened."

But it did happen. Life changed that day. The foundation of an entire way of life and style of life was shaken. Perspective shifted.

And sports changed. At least it has for a season. And perhaps for as long as any of us will be around.

We have redefined the term hero. Heroes are no longer those who drive in the winning run, throw the winning touchdown pass, score the winning goal, or make the tackle at the one yard line in the Super Bowl.

"Heroes are now dressed in blue"

Heroes are no longer dressed in uniforms with swooshes, or with numbers on their back, or with teal colored emblems on their caps. Heroes are now dressed in blue. They drag hoses rather than would-be tacklers. They burrow into voids between twisted steel rather than bounce homers off the girders and posts supporting an upper deck. And they count their pay in the thousands rather than the millions.

Kevin Mawae explained the Jets decision not to play football the Sunday after the attack even if the NFL had chosen to carry out its schedule of games. "Playing wouldn't have been the right thing to do. Out of respect for the people of New York, we decided not to play. The country needed a breather."

"It was hard to think about playing a game when others, making union wages, were risking their lives trying to save others."

"The fans cheer the games, and the games cheer the fans"

But the games go on, albeit with a different focus, and with a different purpose. The world of sports in general and professional sports in particular, has seemingly taken on the role of cheerleader for the nation. It's an interesting shift. The fans cheer the teams – but the teams and the games themselves cheer the fans, serving as an entertaining diversion from the harsher realities of life since September 11.

Rex Hudler, first round draft choice of the New York Yankees in 1978 and former player for a number of major league teams and now a television announcer with the Anaheim Angels, talks about the role of sports in the aftermath of the terrorist bombings. "The attack on America puts sport back in perspective. The players have done a good job of putting themselves on the back burner and trying to lift up other people and encourage them. They see their value in entertaining."

"Athletes deserve a lot of credit"

Bill Rose says, "Athletes deserve a lot of credit. Sports is their job, and they're well paid, but they're also human beings. After something like we've been through, it's hard to care about getting a base hit. (The Yankees first game back was so emotional. They represent New York. They now have a mission to play for New York."

Sterling Hitchcock puts that sentiment into his own words. "We have to go out and play hard and represent not only the Yankees, but the people of New York. I know the fans will be there supporting us, and we'll be there supporting them as well."

"We need to rely on one another, love one another"

We have been reminded, again, that there is something larger than sports – and that's life – and the way it's lived. Rex Hudler offers this advice: "We need to rely on one another, love one another, lift one another up. We need to pick out individual things to be thankful for – every little thing – to go out at night after it's rained and see the moisture on the grass – to thank God for the new day and the gift He's given. Every little step along the way you can count your blessings and at the end of the day they add up to quite a few."

And, of course, there is even more than being thankful for the many, many blessings that remain. There is still hope. There is still faith. And there is still the promise of the presence of a loving God.

"It's time to reach deeper," says Amanda Cromwell, "it's time to stay strong together and live by faith."

That is a recurring theme among Christian athletes. Scott Matheny says "We have put our hope in so many different things – in materialism – in the dollar – in our economy – in our toys – in convenience – in a system of government – in technology. But there is only one thing that remains our hope in the end, and that's Christ."

Kevin Mawae looks at this as a time people will become aware of their own mortality and wonder if their life has meaning. "God can use tragedy to bring some good. That doesn't mean He caused the tragedy, but He can use it. He used my brother's death to bring me to Him.

"A Bible verse that meant a lot to me when my brother died has a lot to say about what our country is experiencing. It's John 16:22: ‘Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."

"God did step in...on a cross..."

As to the question of how God could allow such a tragedy to take place, or why He didn't step in, Bill Rose proclaims, "He did step in! He stepped in on a cross and in an empty tomb 2000 years ago when He gave His Son. That was the greatest gift of all. Could God have stopped the attacks? Of course, but not without taking away free will from all of us."

Yes, the games go on. And perhaps the day will come when we will again consider as heroes those who swing bats and make tackles and score goals and block shots. And perhaps the day will come when our topic of conversation will focus solely on the accomplishments of our favorite teams, and wins and losses will again assume their "life and death" role.

But for now, the American scene has changed, and American sports has changed with it. There are bigger issues than pennant races and instant replay. There is life, and faith, and, above all, hope.