Coach's Corner

Odds and Ends: NFL referees have an overinflated view of their own importance; the U.S. Open proved that in tennis, as elsewhere, youth will be served; and if people think Coach ignores UT football, well, there are good reasons for that.

Has it only been seven days since Lleyton Hewitt pummeled Pete Sampras on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, just a half-hour cab ride from midtown Manhattan? I had to go back and check my calendar. That couldn't be right, but it was. Only seven days. It seems like so long ago. Just a week.

I'm 53 years old, and I've seen too much public tragedy. Too much. I have the proper litany of dates, times, and places stamped indelibly in memory. It starts in English lit class, slogging our ninth-grade path through Silas Marner, when an announcement came over the intercom in the early afternoon of November 22. In a car, south of Memphis, on my way Daytona Beach, that was King. Lying on a couch watching the late election returns from California when shots rang out in a hotel kitchen. Watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell told the nation about John Lennon. At a tennis camp in Florida when Reagan was almost killed. On 183, a cold day, going to inspect a new restaurant when the Challenger exploded high in the stratosphere over South Florida. The trauma of Challenger feels the most like September 11. The dark blue sky splashed a ghastly orange and white and cobalt blue, played over and over on television, on all the news magazine covers. I slept badly for a long time after that. I became obsessive -- after we were told those people were probably alive after the explosion -- about the horror of that: alive and conscious and tumbling from the sky. I tried hard to see something human hidden in the horrible pictures, but I never could, and that was good. Maybe they were wrong. I'm doing it again, every time they show the disintegration of the buildings. Where are the people? I look but they're not there.

I'm surprised at the universality of New York City. Our friend Donna was visiting from Brooklyn. She was supposed to go home on September 11. Her friend Michael watched the World Trade Center disintegrate from 14 blocks away. George's brother staggered home out of the rubble from a block away. John's brother-in-law, Peter, wandered dazed through Manhattan covered in the debris of the explosion two blocks away. My son -- who has his first benchmark date he won't ever forget -- knew two people on one of the planes. I was afraid to call my friend and stockbroker Bob, who lost an entire office headquarters. Some of those people were friends.

That's just my little world ... so many New York connections I'd never thought about. This same shrinking of the world must be occurring over and over with the American population, making September 11 resonate in such an intensely personal way. Frantic people viewing the unbelievable on CBS, trying to call the 212 area code, met with relentless busy signals. Most desperately relieved when the friend or family member finally was able to call out and say they were okay. "Call Mom and Dad and tell them I'm okay," George's brother said, "it's hard to get a line out." Normal people. Just like you and me.

I feel intensely uncomfortable with the subject of patriotism, because I dodged the draft during the Vietnam War. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's the truth. I guess I don't feel like I have the right to wave a flag or pontificate about anybody fighting my battles for me. But the truth is, I love America and I love being an American. I am a quintessential American. I'd never even consider living in another country. If I never took another vacation outside the 50 states, I wouldn't lose a wink of sleep. Nothing anywhere else in the world is as good as we have it here: Our food's better, our political process is better, our press is better, our television's better, our sports are better, our streets are cleaner, our physical beauty's unparalled, our phones work better. Which is precisely why those cretinous scum, who pass themselves off as members of the human race, targeted America and its symbol, New York City.

Last weekend's schedule of sports should have been played. Sports schedules were maintained after Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Iwo Jima, during awful beatings at the start of the Korean War, all the Sixties assassinations, and during the Tet Offensive. I'm afraid the cancellations are another manifestation of well-meaning political correctness. One of Bush's first statements concerned getting the country back to normal again. The across-the-board cancellation of sports schedules isn't the way to do that.

For me, I'm tired of wiping tears from my face, hiding behind my sunglasses every time another victim's picture is held up by a grieving daughter, or a fireman's widow is interviewed on CNN. I want to be back to "normal." I want to watch football. I want to rejoin the pennant race. I want to hear the Fighting Aggie Band play the Aggie War Hymn. It's late on Sunday afternoon, and I should be writing a column, but I don't want to. I'm going to a municipal golf course and play with three total strangers who, like me, for a few hours, want to curse their 9-iron, and not a man's name we can't even pronounce.

It's not possible that a week ago today the U.S. Open ended. It's not.

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