Among the many memories I have of 9/11 is the debate we had whether to do SoundOFF the following Sunday. It was left primarily up to me, and I decided we would do it, but not like usual. We muted all colors and sounds, had no co-host (it was Round Guy in those days), and took no calls about sports. We asked for our viewers to sound off about that terrible day. It was so moving. I’ve never been involved with anything on TV, before or since, that was more important. Viewer after viewer spoke with raw emotion. I struggled to keep my composure several times, but Andy Fales—who was behind the scenes that night—kept helping me by saying just the right thing during breaks. A lot of people don’t know Andy has that side to him. We went way past an hour, and could have taken calls all night.
Another thing I remember about 9/11 is my disappointment that Iowa and Iowa State still wanted to play the football game that next Saturday. I spoke out strongly against it, and even debated the issue on air with my friend, Steve Deace. Supporters of playing gave the usual reasons that to not play means the terrorists win, and people need normalcy. I couldn’t have disagreed more. Worrying about the terrorists winning or losing never comes before respect for the fallen, who were still being pulled out of the rubble. Iowa and ISU—and everybody else—eventually did the right thing. I think the way people still felt that Saturday caught many by surprise. To Deace’s credit, he went on the air the following Monday and said he was wrong, that there was no way he could have felt like a football game mattered. He also knew all the post-game questions would not have been about football.
The irony is that although that dark time seemed to show us how little sport matters in the big picture, we all came to learn how much it does matter. Once enough time had passed, ballparks turned into makeshift churches and town meetings. It gave everyone a chance to show up in the same place, feel normal again, and heal.
If you haven’t been to the Healing Field in West Des Moines, I strongly recommend it. It’s a simple idea, but that part of what makes it so effective. As you drive, or walk, among the thousands of flags, your eye will catch just one, and you’ll think to yourself how that one flag represents not only a person who died that horrible day, but all the dreams that died with her or him.
You think of your family and friends and try to put yourself in the terrible position of losing a loved one, and it’s very emotional.
At the same time, the flag represents not just the one person, but all of us. The Healing Field will make you proud.
United 93 is now on DVD. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to try, unless you think it’s just too much. It’s an incredible work of art that will help show future generations the heroics on that doomed flight. It is a draining experience—I cried many times—but that’s as it should be. When the door to the plane closes, you know it’s a tomb.
Also, still in theaters, World Trade Center tells a much more uplifting story from 9/11. Don’t let Oliver Stone’s name scare you away. It’s not political, it’s American. It takes you inside those towers as they come down, and it’s simply amazing. This one ends with life, not death.