I’ve been a Buffalo Bills fan since 1986. I’ve taken the Bills with me all around the world, using them as my connection back to my roots. Sundays have always been set aside for watching them, even when I was overseas and had to get up at midnight or 2 a.m. to watch whatever game the Armed Force Network had on, just to see updates on Buffalo. And I’ve always written stories, since the ripe age of 14, even during my twenty years of military service. Stories were my escape, my happy place.
Fifteen years ago today, just before the second week of the 2001 NFL season, I was on active duty with the US Air Force, stationed at Schriever AFB, outside Colorado Springs, CO. I was the NCO in charge of the Intelligence Division there, and we’d just finished our morning intel briefing to the commander and his staff when CNN came on, showing one of the world trade center towers burning. They said it was an accident, that a “small plane” had crashed into the building, but that seemed wrong, somehow. A few minutes later, I watched live as a plane struck the other tower, and I knew in a heartbeat we were under attack.
My first call went to our security personnel, to warn them of the situation. The second was to my wife, to have her get all our kids out of school and home immediately. The rest of that day is a blur. I remember snippets. Comforting a frightened security forces troop outside out building. Watching the first tower fall. Seeing a seasoned federal agent in tears. I finally got home to my family the next morning, after twenty-four hours on shift. I held them all, reveling in what I had, grateful they were all OK when so many other parents had lost so much.
At the time, I feared how the attacks would fundamentally change our nation, how they’d make us less of what we were. I thought for sure that the attackers had caused a wound that would never heal. The next weekend, I didn’t get to watch my team, the Buffalo Bills, something I did every Sunday, with few exceptions. And I didn’t care. Football seemed unimportant, like it might never be important to me again. I didn’t have time to write that week, either. Or the one after. Writing seemed unimportant at the time, a luxury I could no longer afford.
Now, fifteen years later, I look back and realize just how badly the attackers failed.
I got back to writing that month, though a lot of my effort went into journaling about my emotions at the time. Writing is a natural catharsis, a drug that dulls the pains we carry with us through a kind of emotional blood-letting. And sure enough, the more I did it, the less I hurt, and the more I got back to writing fiction instead of journals.
And I got back to watching football, too. The attackers hit me close to home, as a native New Yorker, and the Bills were still my connection to that heritage. In fact, a month after the attacks I watched the Bills again, and I haven’t stopped since.
Now, fifteen years after those attacks, I’m retired from active duty, but I’m still sitting down on my couch to watch the Bills. I’ll grill wings, drink beer, and yell at the TV like I did all those years before the attacks, and all the years since. This will be a tougher-than-normal year, with games happening right ON 9-11, but I’ll watch and I’ll cheer. And probably I’ll cry. The memorials will be going on, and I’m sure they’ll show them throughout the game. And they’ll make me remember.
But they’ll also remind me that we continue on. We’ve changed, and we’ve suffered, and we’ve lost a lot. But we’re still watching football on Sunday. Writers still write, and readers still read. Players still play, and fans still cheer. And cry. But mostly cheer. Because they failed—we’re still here.
I was driving my delivery truck and listening to the radio that day. I knew one thing, I was going to listen to Alistair Cooke’s “Letter From America” that weekend. It didn’t disappoint. He was excellent and incisive.