Rick Weinberg
Special to ESPN.com

Six days had passed since the horrific, unspeakable terrorist attack that took the lives of more than 3,500 people and destroyed extraordinary buildings in ugly clouds of black and gray dust and ash.

Only six days had passed, and the world was no longer the same. For certain, America was no longer the same. Hearts were heavy. There was still disbelief in the air. Sadness too. Fear and anger, as well.

But life, at some point, had to return to some kind of normalcy. The anger and sadness felt for the families of the victims, for all the heroes of 9/11, will never subside, ever, but life still had to go on. Family beckoned. Work and chores too. Living life as it should be, the way it's supposed to be.

The entertainment and sports world had to get back to work too. People had to start laughing again, even though it hurt a little, even made you feel a little guilty. Sports was needed, only if to take your mind off that unforgettable day of horror, despair and helplessness.

THE MOMENT
It's September 17, 2001. Baseball returns. In St. Louis, the Cardinals prepare to take the field against the Milwaukee Brewers. Sadness permeates the air. Broken hearts need mending.

Everyone in the stadium, all 32,563 fans, wave small American flags. Nearly 500 firefighters and police officers line the warning track from the left field line to first base, honoring the heroes who perished six days earlier. There are tears in their eyes, emptiness in their eyes.

Jack Buck
Hall of Famer Jack Buck delivered an emotional speech when baseball returned after September 11th.

As firefighters unfurl a huge American flag in center field, a video tribute plays on the scoreboard accompanied by the beautifully chilling Lee Greenwood song, "Proud to be an American."

Then longtime Cardinals Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck, wearing a bright red jacket with an American flag pin on his lapel, strolls to the microphone. There is total silence in the huge stadium. Buck is shaking because of his infirmities and the emotion of the night, the despondency of the moment. He looks out at the crowd, normally a sea of red but on this night it is a pulsating, patriotic sea of red, white, and blue.

Buck reaches into his pocket and pulls out a piece of paper. He leans forward, puts his lips to the microphone and begins reading a poem, a moving, spectacularly heartwarming and patriotic poem that he wrote.

"Since this nation was founded ... under God
More than 200 years ago
We have been the bastion of freedom
The light that keeps the free world aglow
We do not covet the possessions of others
We are blessed with the bounty we share.

We have rushed to help other nations
... anything ... anytime ... anywhere.

War is just not our nature
We won't start ... but we will end the fight
If we are involved we shall be resolved
To protect what we know is right.

We have been challenged by a cowardly foe
Who strikes and then hides from our view.

With one voice we say, "There is no choice today,
There is only one thing to do.

Everyone is saying -- the same thing -- and praying
That we end these senseless moments we are living.

As our fathers did before ... we shall win this unwanted war
And our children ... will enjoy the future ... we'll be giving."

His voice cracks as he utters the final words of the poem. His eyes are watery. So are the eyes of everyone in the stadium. Tears are shed. Then, following a poignant "21-gun" salute sprinkled with exploding fireworks above the stadium, the game begins with players wearing U.S. flags on their jerseys, helmets and caps.








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Best of 2001