SBJ/September 9 - 15, 2002/Opinion

After 9/11, recovery became a team effort

As we approach the anniversary of one of our nation's greatest tragedies, the Sept. 11 attacks, we can reflect on the year past. We saw a nation come together with inspiring patriotism, a people working to regain normalcy in their lives, and an outpouring of support for those impacted by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Robert Tisch: New York Giants goal after Sept. 11 was to "lift the spirits of these heroes who had been to hell and back."

I remember well our game on Sept. 10. It was the New York Giants vs. the Broncos in Denver. Broadcast on "Monday Night Football," the game ran very late. I always thought that because of the game, we may have saved the lives of some people who stayed up to watch and were late to work on that fateful day.

Following the attacks, the Loews corporate jet was grounded in Denver. I was anxious to get back to New York and see what I could do to help out. Since we had a plane, we thought that we might be of assistance to some agencies that needed to get to New York with supplies. There were four Federal Emergency Management Agency people in Denver on a project who needed to get to New York. We were able to arrange for special clearance to take them. On Sept. 12, we got clearance to land in Teterboro, N.J., delivering key personnel to help in the rescue effort.

Once back, there was much to accomplish. We all agreed that what the New York Giants could do best was to go out and lift the spirits of many of the people who were devastated by the attacks.

The first weekend, 30 players volunteered at the Jersey City Exchange Place, loading boats with supplies for firefighters, steel workers, police and EMTs. Some players made a special trip to ground zero to show appreciation to all the workers. A number of our players made personal visits to the homes of kids who had lost parents in the attacks.

The following week, Wellington Mara, John Mara, Coach Jim Fassel and I arranged for the team to travel throughout the city by bus and visit some key locations. The Giants were invited to visit Engine 22, Ladder 13 on 85th and Lexington Avenue, where a number of men were lost. I thought we should try to reach more firehouses as long as we were on the east side, so I got a state police car to escort us through traffic. We stopped at Engine 40, Ladder 35, several more police and fire stations, the family assistance center at Pier 94, and ground zero — a total of seven stops. We brought Giants T-shirts and hats to give away, cleaning out everything we had at the stadium.

Our visits that day remain ingrained in my memory — the way our players could lift the spirits of these heroes who had been to hell and back. One police captain at the 17th Precinct said he hadn't seen his men smile until our visit. For the team, this trip was very meaningful. Some of our newer players from other parts of the country felt that this experience created for them a special bond to New York City.

One of the most moving experiences for me was the 9/11 tribute we arranged during our first game following the attacks — on Sept. 30 against the Saints, when we hosted a group of 150 firefighters and police and collected donations for the AmeriCares Heroes' Fund. We could sense the emotion throughout the stadium, as Tony Bennett and the Harlem Boys Choir sang "America the Beautiful" and the national anthem.

Kerry Collins (left), Jason Garrett (center) and other New York Giants helped in Sept. 11 relief work last year. Giants Chairman Robert Tisch writes of the team's efforts to help New York, page 29.

During pregame ceremonies, Saints owner Tom Benson and representatives of the Louisiana Sheriff's and Fire Departments made a $325,000 donation to the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children's Benefit Fund. It was uplifting for all of us in New York to feel the support of the Saints and NFL teams across the country.

These activities were only a few of the initiatives undertaken by the team and the individual players during those weeks following the attacks, as we all tried to contribute what we could.

The spirit and camaraderie continued throughout the year. More recently, the New York Giants connected with a nonprofit group called The Gift of New York, which was formed to help in the healing process for families of victims of 9/11. The Gift of New York provides these families with free access to the vast array of cultural, sports and entertainment events in the tri-state area.

The Gift of New York organized more than 200 institutions, from the Metropolitan Museum to the Mets, from the Central Park Zoo to Carnegie Hall — and, of course, the New York Giants — to provide tickets and events for these families.

In July, when we wrote to our season-ticket holders, we invited them to send any tickets that they are unable to use to the Gift of New York to be distributed to these family members, so they would have the opportunity to enjoy a Giants game at the Meadowlands. The response was terrific — thousands of family members of those who perished in the 9/11 attacks have been attending our games. The program enabled Giants fans to make a small contribution to the recovery effort.

A nonprofit organization I founded, called Take the Field, was able to contribute to the downtown area revival. We are currently rebuilding the New York City high schools' crumbling outdoor athletic facilities. During the budget cuts of the 1970s, these outdoor fields were left to disintegrate, and sports were practically eliminated from the schools.

In our first 24 months of operation, we have received pledges of $21.5 million from private sources and have received a $75 million commitment over several years from the city to match our funding, on a three-for-one basis. We have already completed our first 20 facilities — and are now building our next six, including a field in downtown Manhattan, near ground zero. This outdoor $3.8 million field at Murry Bergtraum High School, including space to accommodate track and field, baseball, softball and soccer, will certainly lift the spirits of the students and community in the area.

Bruce Springsteen recently sang his new song, "The Rising," at a concert in Asbury Park, N.J. That is an appropriate metaphor for New York City, as I see it today. We can celebrate the resilience and the indomitable spirit of our great town. We have proven that we can all work together to rebuild, restore and renew our beloved city and its people.

Robert Tisch is chairman of the New York Giants and co-chairman of Loews Corp.

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