President Bush threw a strike when it mattered. The baseball players' union didn't.
The best moment of a great Super Bowl was the halftime show.
The Olympic torch turned out to be a perfect second act for the bunch that produced the "Miracle on Ice" the first time around.
People who wondered where sports would fit into the post-Sept. 11 landscape have those highlights to look back on. We'll leave the "worst-of" for another day. Most surprising, though, might be how familiar the games still seem. At least that's what it looked like in Chicago.
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A light drizzle raked Wrigley Field at game time, but it would be wrong to blame the weather for a half-empty ballpark. Ditto for the news the nation's terror alert was raised to "code orange," its second-highest level.
People around here know better.
"It's because the Cubs stink," said a vendor. This hardly seemed like a company secret, but for some reason the man insisted on being identified only as "Tom."
"We stink and we're playing the Expos in September," he said. "That's all there is to it."
Around Chicago, postseason dreams rarely last long. September traditionally belongs to the loyalists and out-of-towners.
"The alert didn't worry me," said Jerry Curran, a 25-year-old project manager with a downtown consulting firm. "I've been coming to Wrigley since I was 10. If anything, it made me want to come here more."
Curran paused while a warning not to bring coolers or backpacks into the ballpark blared over a nearby loudspeaker.
"Has anything changed? Yeah, it's a little more frustrating getting in here and everywhere else. So I guess the bad guys won something."
"But I'm here and I'd be here tomorrow, too," he added, "if I could afford to."
A full slate of games is scheduled for Wednesday, 16 in all, with the most emotionally charged site probably Yankee Stadium. At every ballpark, there will be tributes to the victims and those who tried to rescue them.
At 9:11 p.m. local time, the games will pause for a moment of silence. The words "We Shall Not Forget" will be etched into fields, outfield walls and T-shirts handed out to fans.
Security is more visible and most likely better, but few people will tell you they feel safer. There are more American flags, more red, white and blue on display everywhere, but whether it's proof of America's unity or just window dressing depends on whom you ask.
"There's definitely more patriotism," said Rich Nagengast, who drove in from suburban Arlington Heights with his wife Agnes, their three kids and a Spanish exchange student from Madrid.
"We didn't get to a game after Sept. 11 last season because we were like a lot of people. We sat around and watched too much TV. But I've been to six games this season and I think people get a little extra lift out of gathering together like this."
You couldn't tell that by the crowd at Wrigley.
For weeks after Sept. 11 last year, stirring renditions of "America The Beautiful" and "God Bless America" rang out during the seventh-inning stretch.
On this night, on the eve of a momentous anniversary, descendants of the Cubs' legendary double-play connection -- Tinkers to Evers to Chance -- sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and hardly anybody sang along.
But that's probably as it should be.
The way New York roared when Bush threw a perfect first-pitch strike to get Game 3 of the World Series rolling is an event that you experience only once.
Same for the heartache when banners with the names of the victims of Sept. 11 unfurled behind the band U2 as it played a short, inspiring set at halftime of the Super Bowl. Or the chills that surged when the 1980 U.S. gold medal-winning hockey team shared a podium again and lighted the Olympic flame to open the Winter Games at Salt Lake City.
Now, everybody is trying to move on.
Last year, Sammy Sosa his 59th homer the night the Cubs first returned to Wrigley following the terrorist attacks. After his hop, step and a jump at home plate, Sosa slowed crossing the first-base bag and grabbed a small American flag from coach Billy Williams. He waved it all the while as he circled the bases.
"I was proud to do it," Sosa recalled Tuesday. "Knowing what happened, carrying the American flag was a special memory. It was my way of giving back."
This year, though, things seem normal enough that the defining moment of the Cubs' season will be Sosa's all-too-familiar plea to management to put a better product on the field.
"No question they got to clean house," Sosa said.
No doubt they will.
As the saying goes around here, "Wait until next year."
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