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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 04/20/2013 11:04 AM
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Jeff’s Weekly Sports Rapp: Mouth Agape, Heart Sickened

By Jeff Rapp

(Editor’s Note: Jeff Rapp has covered Ohio State athletics since he graduated from the university more than 20 years ago. He currently serves as a voting member of the Heisman Trophy Trust and is a longstanding member of the Football Writers Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).

The country responded as it should after the explosions and horrific events in Boston this week. It remains a monumental story both for its shock value and in the uplift of the human spirit as so many people tried to rush – either physically or emotionally – to the aid of the victims.

As I sat down to write this column, the proceedings were even more riveting. An area-wide manhunt has resulted in the death of one suspect and the cornering of another – a 19-year old kid/man/alleged terrorist who was arrested late Friday after hiding out in a boat in a Watertown, Mass. backyard.   

The dedicated work of first responders puts me in awe.

I also can’t help but relate this awful day to Sept. 11, 2001 and its aftermath. No matter the root of the evil, acts like this, as the president pointed out, have to viewed as terrorism. Unfortunately, terrorism can have a lasting effect.

When the harsh reality of the plane crashes in New York City hit me, I wondered, “Could Columbus be in danger? Should I pull my daughter out of school?”

I went to the Tuesday luncheon to interview Jim Tressel, who had just logged his first win as Ohio State’s head football coach.

It was clear he was searching for the answers like everyone else. He didn’t even talk football with us. There was no formality to the press conference; just a coach and a couple dozen reporters trying to make sense of the world.

Ohio State was the first school in the country to postpone its football game that Saturday, which as an alumnus made me proud. The OSU brass discovered it had an open date later in the season the same week as San Diego State. That moved whatever focus there could possibly be for Ohio State football to the UCLA game.

The flag was proudly displayed in Ohio Stadium in the aftermath of 9-11. Buckeye fans pilgrimaged to Ohio Stadium for a memorial event when the San Diego State game was postponed.
Photo by John Porentas

I had long ago secured a flight to Los Angeles to cover the game in Pasadena, and my wife and father were supposed to go on the trip with me. With my wife scheduled to deliver our third child in December and so much uncertainty in the world, we decided it would be best if she stayed home. My dad opted to do the same.

I suppose I could have stayed home as well, but even though my editor was not requiring me to go, I realized I wanted to make the trip. People had to get back up in the air and fly commercially again. I decided to be one of those people.

The flag is raised in Ohio Stadium by the U. S. Marines at the memorial services following 9-11.
Photo by John Porentas

It’s amazing what an image like a fully fueled airplane slamming into an iconic building can do in your mind. For a long time after that I couldn’t look up in the sky at aircraft without seeing a dangerous weapon. I’m sure a lot of people felt the same.

And as I sat in the spacious press box of the Rose Bowl looking out at the beautiful setting before me – two classic collegiate sports teams doing battle in one of America’s most treasured stadiums – I found my eyes wandering upward and thinking, “What if someone tried to terrorize this place next?”

I suppose it’s only natural to feel that onset of fear, but something made me go and attend the game. I’ve been to countless games before and since. Usually someone is there to check my computer bag, rifle through my stuff. I’ve been patted down and even been subjected to bomb-sniffing dogs.

And I don’t have to relate airline travel examples – we’ve all been through those.

It’s not an ideal result, not by a long shot, but it shows we can put measures in place to at least make evildoers think twice and perhaps thwart their efforts.

On the other hand, I’ve walked right into crowded sports environments, pulled my car right up next to Ohio Stadium with tens of thousands of people inside, sat courtside at basketball games with about 20,000 people hovered over the hardwood, and there have been moments when I’ve wondered, “What if … ”

So random. So violent. So awful.

My heart aches for the people of Boston. I was just there to cover the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Those same scumbags could have decided to hit TD Garden.

After Ohio State clinched the Final Four, WTVN sports director Matt McCoy and I drove back to our hotel in Newton looking for a place to get a late meal. Work still needed done, but our appetites were calling. We pulled off in a quiet riverside town called Watertown – the same place where police tracked down the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.

The flag flies at half mast at the memorial service in Ohio Stadium following 9-11.
Photo by John Porentas

There are horrendous wounds and emotional scars almost too numerous to count, but I know we will be stronger from this whole ordeal just as we found tremendous resolve after 9/11.

President Bush won the support of the country, even those who didn’t vote for him, when he stood on that pile of rubble in the Financial District. And the other day, President Obama, who if nothing else has been an exemplary Comforter in Chief, offered these words:

“The American people refuse to be terrorized. Because what the world saw yesterday in the aftermath of the explosions were stories of heroism and kindness, and generosity and love: Exhausted runners who kept running to the nearest hospital to give blood, and those who stayed to tend to the wounded, some tearing off their own clothes to make tourniquets. The first responders who ran into the chaos to save lives.

“The men and women who are still treating the wounded at some of the best hospitals in the world, and the medical students who hurried to help, saying “When we heard, we all came in.” The priests who opened their churches and ministered to the hurt and the fearful. And the good people of Boston who opened their homes to the victims of this attack, and those shaken by it.

“So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil – that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.”

So true, Mr. President, so true.

Sports will go on. There will be more marathons, more competitions, more memorable games in idyllic settings. And our country will go on, too.

Boston strong. Stronger than ever.


* This is the latest installment of Jeff Rapp’s Weekly Sports Rapp on The-Ozone.net. He is a regular voice on 610 WTVN in Columbus and long-time reporter covering the Buckeyes. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out more of Jeff’s work on SportsRappUp.com.

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