If you think about it, the most important thing we remember about Sept. 11, 2001, is not the horrifying videos or even the courageous stories. It is who we were talking to, who we called, who we were with and what we did. In that moment, more than ever, we realized that we were not alone, and in the midst of a deed designed to tear us apart, we came together.
We learned a whole new vocabulary, or at least a redefined one. Sure, we learned for the first time about something called al Qaeda and the remote country of Afghanistan, but we also learned how we had slipped into a state of viewing, rather than participating. We watched Bruce Willis beat the bad guys and Sylvester Stallone take on whole armies by himself. Some of us even believed that we could change the world just by talking about love. Suddenly, we were no longer watching a movie. We were in it.
Most of all, in our world of sports, we came to a realization that while what we do has an important place in the portrait of America, it is only a single color in a rainbow of dreams.
In the year that has passed, we have come to a different understanding of our words. A war is not a football game between Texas and Oklahoma. A tragedy is not a single loss of a game. Courage is not something that requires one to suck it up and go play a sport, or face third-and-10 from your own 10-yard line down by a touchdown with a minute to play. And heroes are not the guys who star in movies or play in games.
There are exceptions, of course. A hero is one who inspires others to do great things. When Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France, he inspired every cancer patient in the world to believe that they had a chance and he showed courage to battle a life threatening disease to do it. However, it is important that we understand the difference, and the impact, of a vocabulary that defines sport and one that defines life.
The great gift of sport is that it not only entertains us, but it also gives us all a chance to believe that if we bond together, we can make tremendous things happen. Most of all, however, it brings us an awareness of our need for each other.
And that is what happened in the world of sport on September 11.
For UT head football coach Mack Brown, the day was about learning again that freedom is very, very important and something not to be taken for granted. Brown understood why his mother cried when they played The National Anthem. In the new patriotism that has followed, he found an appreciation of the millions of people who do their job every day for very little pay so that his children and grandchildren will be able to experience that freedom.
"They are the heroes," he said. "Those who keep our lives safe so we can play the game are the heroes." For Longhorns men's golf coach John Fields, it was a reminder of togetherness even in the world of an individual sport.
"The TV was on in my office and I saw how it genuinely affected all of our kids," Fields said. "They came by and watched. It seemed like everybody just wanted to be with somebody and what I have also seen is that it is a message that regardless of what happens in life, you have to go on. That was a huge blow and it never passes, but you have to keep moving. It was a tragedy in all of our lives, yet a year later, we realize that the world doesn't stop."
UT head baseball coach Augie Garrido saw it as a lesson about the importance of living every day to the fullest.
"It taught us not to take things so seriously and to appreciate the opportunities that we have because a lot of people were separated forever from their opportunities on that day," Garrido said. "It was also about a whole nation stepping forward and putting their arms around each other and realizing that there were more important things than their differences."
In the moments of the day and the memory of the year, what we now understand is that a generation of young people who never knew war have been introduced to it in a very real and cruel way. What we now know about crisis is that the only way to make it through it is with faith, family and friends because those were our rallying points that day. Some network announcers have returned to their cynicism and our politicians have gone back to sniping at each other. We yell at the guy in the car next to us and don't wave our flag quite as much as we did then, but the power of resolve is strong and we have turned to placing real value in words like trust, team and love. We have affirmed our need — our right — to fight for what we believe.
As for Texas football, the team is reminded every day of our symbols of freedom because Brown and UT benefactor Frank Denius put an American flag at the practice field. Individuals have embraced the concept of team rather than self. Having had the unique opportunity to meet George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, many of the players also have a sober understanding of a commitment to leadership.
Looking back, the most important message of sport and its value probably came aboard United Airlines Flight 93, somewhere over western Pennsylvania. We all know that four jumbo jets took off and became instruments of terror, guided missiles destined to destroy some of America's national landmarks and thousands of lives. We saw that two of the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York.
We learned another struck in Washington, slashing into the nation's center of military operations, the Pentagon.
Quick thinking grounded other flights, but one more hijacked plane sped toward Washington. On that plane, people who were being held captive had time to learn what was actually happening and they fought back.
In the days since, and in the years that will follow, we will remember the story of Flight 93 and of Todd Beamer, once a college shortstop and third baseman; Mark Bingham, a rugby player; Tom Burnett, a former high school quarterback; and Jeremy Glick, a judo champion.
They were four athletes who banded together as a team to fight against all odds. You learn that in sports. You learn the value of teamwork, the importance of leadership and the defiant spirit of unbridled will in responding to a challenge.
We will never learn what actually happened aboard that plane and the names of other heroes who may have joined the fight will never be listed. This much we do know. Because of their courage, even in the face of death, lives were saved.
The supreme lesson of sport, is that it becomes second nature to the athlete to act, not for the glory of one, but for good of the whole. On that flight in Pennsylvania, terrorists who were willing to die to glorify themselves met Americans who chose to fight to live and who were willing to die to save others.
On Wednesday, Brown and his Longhorns will gather and talk about the day, the players will wear red, white and blue ribbons to honor those who died that day and the team will have a memorial service prior to practice to honor those who passed and those who work daily for our freedom and our well-being.
A year ago America was attacked by an opponent we didn't know. One we really still don't know.
It wasn't about finding out who they were.
It was about finding out who we were.