Football took on lesser meaning this week. For all of us. But for the denizens of Illiniland, Saturday home games in glorious autumn weather served as a rallying point, a day of long-overdue reunions and refreshed spirit.
From that standpoint, it is a shame that the University of Illinois changed its decision and will postpone the Louisville-UI game until December.
This will be praised by a strong minority who proclaim that the period of grieving should continue through the weekend. But who determines the length of mourning? Is it three days, five days, a week?
For Midwesterners, Saturday could have been a time for a few hours to get away from the TV horror show, to put depression on the back burner. To postpone is to place greater hardship on everyone involved, to alter plans that don´t need to be altered. For many, the growing number of cancellations (NFL, PGA, etc.) will be a clear sign terrorists have changed our lives in ways the hijackers never dreamed.
Even those of us favoring a green light for Saturday´s games can understand why others would feel differently, particularly in the East and where airplane travel is required. You would not, for example, expect Navy to play at Northwestern. But for those in easy driving proximity Western Michigan at Michigan, Iowa at Iowa State it seemed appropriate to go forward.
Louisville at Illinois fell into this category.
Scheduling of an athletic event, when practically everything else on campus and in the community is going full-bore, isn´t disrespectful. It doesn´t mean we can´t support the more serious occupations whose job it is to track the culprits, participate in the cleanup and devise ways to make cockpits secure (planes can´t become fuel-spewing missiles if hijackers can´t reach the pilots).
The markets have to face the music sometime, and insurance companies must begin the painful process of handling claims in the billions.
If, as has been mentioned, it is dangerous to bring 50,000 or 100,000 people into one vulnerable location, it´ll be no less dangerous a week later, or in a more relaxed atmosphere two months from now when, characteristically, we begin to let our guard down.
Players ready to return
Unlike the pros, many of whom were hesitant to board airplanes, the UI players wanted to play.
"The guys were unanimous and vocal," Illini coach Ron Turner said. "It´s not that they don´t have compassion. It´s more that they want to get their minds on something else. I wasn´t sure Tuesday, but today (Wednesday) I could see it in their eyes. There is a lot to consider, but, to me, it was not that big a decision. This country has to go forward. Louisville is close. I think the game could have a positive effect."
Illini seniors were all smiles as they reported a unanimous attitude.
"What happened this week was tragic, but yes, of course, we all wanted to play," tackle Brandon Moore said.
"I don´t mean to sound too harsh, but you have two teams that have worked very hard in anticipation of this game. We want to go forward."
Rocky Harvey said he didn´t want to wait until December, when there could be snow on the ground, to test the Cardinals. He´d like to carry momentum into the Big Ten showdown with his favorite rival, Michigan.
"We´re in the midst of our season," Harvey said, "and we want to keep going. All the seniors voted to play. Everyone is very sad over what happened. We feel their pain. But now it´s time to get our minds off that and back where we were.´´
A time to heal
Returning to normal is part of the healing process. In New York and Washington, and in the homes of those who lost loved ones, it will take much longer. But schools and businesses are forging ahead, and those who want to sit out the weekend have that individual option.
You don´t have to agree. Many deem games inappropriate. They are to be respected. Each must respond to his conscience.
Chancellor Nancy Cantor made a good decision Wednesday. The UI would undoubtedly have provided refunds for unused tickets. But the game is off. That is unfortunate for all those who want to see an early resumption of life as usual.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette.