Sept. 7, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
Ten years and a week or so ago, Michigan State sophomore Tyrell Dortch reflected wistfully on how he used to be able to see the World Trade Center from his home in Hoboken, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the twin towers Dortch had taken for granted were gone from his personal landscape, reduced to rubble by terrorist attacks. The Pentagon had also been hit and thanks to the heroic action of passengers, a fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field before it could do even more damage.
Dortch, like the rest of America, was still in a state of shock and disbelief. The Spartans' upcoming home game against Missouri was postponed along with sporting events nationwide.
Eventually, it was determined that a semblance of normalcy had to be resumed for the good of the country, and games needed to be played. Eleven days after the attack, MSU took part in a solemn pregame ceremony at Notre Dame before defeating the Fighting Irish, 17-10.
The healing process was underway and while still incomplete, continues this weekend with the observance of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, inextricably linked to football by virtue of timing, and the role sports played in the aftermath.
Today's Spartans were in elementary school when the 9/11 occurred.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Kirk Cousins was just getting settled in as the "new kid" after his family moved from Chicago to Holland, Mich. As with Dortch, Cousins experienced the tragic event on a more personal level than most. His mother MaryAnn is a flight attendant, and his father Don is a frequent business traveler.
"She was in the air when Sept. 11th happened, and she was friends with a few of the flight attendants who were killed by the terrorists, so it hit very close to home," Cousins said. "Both of my parents were in airports that day.
"I was a seventh-grader and remember the coaches coming into school and announcing football practice had been canceled and we could go home and be with our families. The sports world was put on pause for a few days."
Because of the nature of his mom's job, Cousins gets occasional reminders of how America was permanently changed by the attacks.
"She currently flies international so there have been more than a few times when she's been about to leave for a trip and there've been security alerts for different reasons," he said. "It's something you're always concerned about."
This weekend's games provide an opportunity to thank and honor those who responded to the attacks and work to keep America safe.
"Whether it be firefighters, police or military people, both here and abroad, we just want to communicate that we remember their sacrifice on Saturday," Cousins said.
Head coach Mark Dantonio was in the first year of a three-year stint as the Ohio State defensive coordinator.
"It's very vivid in my memory," Dantonio said. "I was working on (the next game against) San Diego State when it all came crashing down. More importantly, what I remember about 9/11 is going home that day and how crowded the streets were, and how everybody seemed to be letting everybody in, and nobody was rushing and everybody was working together.
"I think that's the message that was sent to all of us. From that day on, we worked together a little bit more as a nation."
Michigan State will distribute 40,000 newsprint flags and unfurl a giant American flag above the Spartan Stadium turf before playing Florida Atlantic on Saturday. In addition, the game programs will include a commemorative pin.
"I'm sure it causes everybody to pause, and we'll do that again," Dantonio said. "We will pause. I do think (football) healed us. It allowed us to come together a little bit when it was a difficult time for a lot of people."
Fifth-year senior guard Joel Foreman also was in seventh grade when the attacks occurred.
"Everyone remembers where they were," Foreman said. "It's kind of like how our grandparents remember where they were when Pearl Harbor happened. It's a special day, a day of remembrance and an acknowledgement of where we were and where we're going.
"It's an honor to be able to go out there. Some people are going to have a tough day on that day (but maybe they'll) be able to get away and watch a little bit of football, and see what they're thankful for. Obviously, we're thankful for the blessings to be able to play."
Sophomore linebacker Max Bullough was a fourth-grader when 9/11 took place.
"I went to a Catholic middle school and the whole school went out to the parking lot and our principal said a prayer," Bullough said. "I didn't even know what it was for at the time. I thought it was just a random service."
Bullough's perception of what went on that day and the days and weeks that followed has evolved into an opinion.
"They did what was right," he said. "We were just attacked by terrorists, and I think postponing the games, and honoring (the victims) the following week at games and being able to honor them again on games like Saturday, I think means a lot to the country."
Senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham conceded that football's role in the scheme of a world-changing event is very small, but important nonetheless.
"I like the fact that football can help," he said. "It's not going to take all the pain way, but maybe it will help ease it a little bit."