, Salem, MA

Special Report

September 9, 2011

Matt Williams column: Ten years ago, football helped us heal

Three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sports and life came together in a way that defined my generation.

This wasn't just a football game.

This was a community event.

Time stopped on 9/11. Major League Baseball cancelled its games for the first time since World War II and there was no National Football League that weekend.

High school football games were some of the first major events held after 9/11. I was a junior at Peabody High in 2001, and the feeling of stepping on the field against Salem on Sept. 14 is one that I'll never forget.

Folks sometimes look at me like I have several heads when I say this, but we had football practice on 9/11. Ed Nizwantowski, our head coach, told my mom some years later that he felt it was best to stick to a routine in the face of the tragedy.

It made more sense to be on the football field than home glued to the television, frightened and dwelling on the horrific news.

Anyone who was in school that day remembers hearing from a teacher or a principal making an announcement about the attacks. I didn't have a class with a television all day, so I was largely in the dark about the details and how serious it was.

It wasn't until I got in the car with my dad after practice that the gravity of what happened hit me. There was no music on the radio; every station had been taken over by news. That was the first sign that everything had changed.

Truly, what I remember about practice that day were coach Niz's poignant words. He spoke eloquently about what it was like when he was in high school, when President John F. Kennedy was shot.

His feelings on that national day of mourning were much the same as ours now on what was a new day of infamy. The Niz that spoke to us that day was the man people who only knew him from the newspapers or the sidelines never understood — a true educator.

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