Sports reporters hear the national anthem countless times.
Covering sporting events each week during the various seasons, listening to "The Star-Spangled Banner" sadly melts into the sports scribe's game-day routine. After hearing it so often, it becomes merely a preamble for the action about to take place and the work to be done.
I was no different 20 years ago, then a 31-year-old sports editor for the Superior Daily Telegram. I must have heard the national anthem hundreds — maybe over a thousand — times already into my career.
But hearing that song hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, and a thwarted attack that ended with Flight 93 crashing near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, will never be forgotten.
Up to that point, probably the two most memorable national anthems that I had heard were Whitney Houston's outstanding turn at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 and listening to our country's theme song just before a high school wrestling match the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.
But on the night of Sept. 11, 2001, the Northwestern High School volleyball team had a couple of matches that I was scheduled to cover. I don't remember much, if anything, about the matches.
What I do remember were the conversations I had with several young Northwestern athletes before the matches and their impressions of the day's tragic, horrific and life-changing events. Like the rest of us, they were just trying to make some sense of the horror that played out earlier in the day. It was impossible for adults to process the terrorist attacks on our country; I can't imagine what that felt like to a teenager just about to enter adulthood.
READ PAGES FROM THE SEPT. 12, 2001, DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE:
And then came the playing of the national anthem. It felt surreal. Every note seemed delivered with a somber, heavy tone. Fixated on the flag, you didn't want to look anywhere else but at the Stars and Stripes. Hearing a song that tells the story of the heavy price we have paid for our freedom (particularly in later verses) — on one of the worst days in U.S. history — wrung a lot of emotion from the spectators that night.
But "The Star-Spangled Banner" is also a song about hope, pride and perseverance in the "land of the free and the home of the brave." And hearing that message in the national anthem that night helped provide a bit of comfort on the first of many days of national mourning.
It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed since that date which jumps off the calendar in much the same way Dec. 7 does for the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
I have heard the national anthem many times since then. Not one of them has been as memorable as the night of Sept. 11, 2001. Not one of them has been taken for granted.