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IMPACT FELT IN EMPTY STADIUMS.

Americans needed something to cheer. But there were no home runs, no goals and no winners.

Americans needed somewhere to gather - to hug, to cry or to stand shoulder to shoulder in silence. But our ballparks were closed.

Americans needed to know that life goes on. That we don't give in to terrorism. But the heartbeat of a nation in love with games was interrupted. There were no first pitches, no first serves and no kickoffs.

The bad guys landed a blow to the chin of the United States on Tuesday. They murdered. They destroyed. They frightened.

The bad guys also landed a punch to the nation's gut. They took away our sports.

The cancellation or postponement of virtually every scheduled sports event, from Major League Baseball to high school water polo, was more than a footnote to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

It was a further measure of the explosive impact of those hijacked airliners.

Think of all the calamities through which sports have persevered over the decades. Then consider the magnitude of an event that empties stadiums, locks up gymnasiums, darkens racetracks and sobers sports-talk radio.

Now you feel the enormity of this event.

Japan attacked the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, a Sunday. The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears were playing a division tiebreaker game that afternoon. News of the raid reached Wrigley Field at halftime.

The game went on. The Bears won. Two weeks later they defeated the New York Giants for the NFL championship.

Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II. Sports were curtailed during the war. The Indianapolis 500 and major golf tournaments were canceled. The 1942 Rose Bowl game was moved to Durham, N.C. West Coast thoroughbred racing went into a three-year hibernation. Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia was turned into temporary housing for Japanese-Americans awaiting relocation to internment camps, forcing American citizens to bed down in quarters intended for horses.

Baseball, though, went on. President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded it, recognizing the game's importance as a symbol and diversion.

``I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,'' FDR wrote in a January 1942 letter to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. ``There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work ...''

President Kennedy was shot to death on Nov. 22, 1963, a Friday. The next day's college football games were called off. The USC-UCLA game at the Coliseum was pushed back a week. USC won.

The NFL went ahead with its Sunday games, a decision that would forever be considered a smudge on Commissioner Pete Rozelle's biography.

The Rams played the Baltimore Colts at the Coliseum. Pregame and halftime festivities were muted. The Rams won. A crowd of 48,555 watched - about as many as normal.

The United States began the Gulf War against Iraq on Jan. 17, 1990. Fears of terrorism on American soil, and qualms about throwing a national party while its boys were fighting, suggested to many that Super Bowl XXV in Tampa 10 days later should be called off.

The Super Bowl went on amid much flag-waving. The Giants beat the Buffalo Bills. Attendance was 73,813 - barely an empty seat.

Through earthquakes, through riots, sports always went on.

I was in Louisville, Ky., a few days before the May 1992 Kentucky Derby, when the television set in my hotel room showed city streets full of smoke and violence. Beirut, I thought.

It took five minutes for me to realize it was Los Angeles, in the grip of riots following the acquittal of four police officers charged in the Rodney King beating.

I thought about that Tuesday morning. The clock radio went on at 8 a.m. and the CBS Radio announcer began, ``A nation in shock,'' before he summarized the wave of terrorism on the East Coast. It wasn't until he mentioned the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that I realized that nation was the United States.

This is only the fourth time that an entire slate of Major League Baseball games has been postponed, a span of 78 years. Calling off games, matches and races was the right move. It's a display of respect and caution. It's a body shot, all the same.

We might take weeks to get over this. We might need that long before sitting among 60,000 people in an open football stadium - ordinarily one of the happiest settings in America - feels safe again.

Sports will bounce back. They always do. So will America. Don't underestimate how the two go hand in hand.

The bad guys won a round, a hole, a set, that's all.

REACTION TO HISTORY

Aug. 2, 1923

President Warren G. Harding died; all baseball games canceled.

June 6, 1944

D-Day invasion of France; all baseball games canceled.

April 14, 1945

Two days after death of President Roosevelt, all exhibition baseball games canceled.

Nov. 22, 1963

President Kennedy's assassination on Friday. NFL played that Sunday, college football games not played on Saturday.

Sept. 5, 1972

Munich Olympics suspended for 34 hours after 11 Israeli athletes slain during a Palestinian terrorist raid. Games then continue.

March 31, 1981

Assassination attempt on President Reagan; NCAA championship basketball game between North Carolina and Indiana was played.

Oct. 17, 1989

San Francisco earthquake; Games 3 and 4 of the World Series postponed until Oct. 27.

Jan. 27, 1991

Super Bowl played amid tightened security during Gulf War.

July 27, 1996

Centennial Park bombing at Atlanta Olympics; Games go on as scheduled.

Sept. 11, 2001

Terrorist attacks in New York and Washington; all baseball games postponed.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

From Sinatra Park in Hoboken, N.J., people look across the Hudson River at smoke-covered Lower Manhattan on Tuesday.

Stuart Ramson/Associated Press

Box: REACTION TO HISTORY (see text)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 12, 2001
Words:1011
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