Sports, Disasters Don’t Mix
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The word filtered in sometime after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, in the midst of West Virginia’s football weekly media gathering, that the Mountaineers at North Carolina State on Saturday was not going to be played due to a massive Category 4 hurricane named Florence that was bearing down on the coast line and expected to bring winds of more than 140 miles an hour and as much as 30 inches of rain.
Sports and disasters don’t mix, a point that was driven home when you looked at your phone to note the time and saw the date — 9/11.
Indeed, 9/11 … a day we don’t want to remember but can’t — and shouldn’t — ever forget.
Two buildings, the tallest in New York City, were turned into rubble with 3,000 people being taken from this earth by the dastardly act of two hijacked airplanes being flown into what was the World Trade Center.
Among those 3,000 people was a young man named Chris Gray, a family man, a football hero, a one-time quarterback at West Virginia.
To talk to his famiy, to his wife that day in preparing a story about the horror of it all is something that refused to leave my consciousness.
West Virginia had a football game postponed that weekend.
Disasters do that sort of thing.
Same goes for November 22, 1963. If you are old enough to remember, you remember where you were when you learned in a non-Internet, non-smart phone world that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
I was working in a Dairy Queen then, a college student at Missouri in Columbia, when a customer drove in told me the news, news that hit hard at home, for my wife at the time knew the Kennedys through her family, had worked in the White House that summer answering letters to the President from children.
Football didn’t matter on that day, either.
Then there was the last game WVU had postponed, that coming in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma struck Florida, as part of the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season in which three of the the 10 most intense Atlantic hurricanes made landfall.
The game would be played later and one recalls driving through the streets of Florida, seeing palm trees stripped clean, signs broken and store windows smashed, streets without traffic.
This was no Disneyland.
As noted, disasters and sports do not mix.
At 5:05 p.m. (PST) on October 17, my son’s birthday, I was in Candlestick Park in San Francisco preparing for the 1989 World Series to begin when the earth started shaking.
It seemed to shimmy and shake for an hour or two, but it was only for 30 or 40 seconds, I’m told but do not yet believe it. The sight, as I curled up under a press room desk, of maybe 20 sportswriters trying to cram themselves under the door jamb, obviously having heard that was the safest place to be, as if all of Candlestick Park would crumble but they could be saved huddling in that doorway.
That game was canceled and that night, to ride all the way from the ball park to downtown San Francisco on a chartered bus in pitch darkness, so black that even as we reached downtown and were told to disembark we didn’t realize we were there among skyscrapers.
As we walked through oppresive heat to the St. Francis Hotel the sounds of broken glass being shaken loose and falling into the street from aftershocks still rings in my ears, the night’s only real salvation was to come across a hotel with a glass front, a couple of automobiles parked with their headlights shining into the lobby bar, which still had cold beer.
Former Boston Red Sox first baseman Dick Gernert, then a scout, and I stopped and got one along with a couple of candles for the room, the prices outrageous but at that point you could not overprice a beer, and we took it back to the hotel.
The World Series earthquake was yet another disaster.
In many ways, WVU has seen them all. In 1918 it lost not only a game but season to World War I and the Influenza Pandemic which killed more than the Great War itself, estimated at between 20 and 40 million world wide.
What we tend to forget through all this is that there are people involved, people like Chris Gray.
Tony Gibson, for example, the WVU defensive coordinator, was hoping to hear the game would go on as Florence turned away from shore but that news never came and he had to turn his thoughts to his daughter, who had just moved into the path of the storm a week earlier.
“Right now I’m concerned to get her out of there” Gibson said, noting she hadn’t finished unpacking yet.
And one of the newest Mountaineers, defensive tackle Jabril Robinson, is from Leland, N.C.
“About five or seven minutes outside Wilmington,” he said.
Some of the models having the storm coming in right over Wilmington, leaving him concerned for family.
“Never really seen anything like this and it’s nerve wracking, especially with my family and friends who are at home,” Robinson said. “They have to prepare or is it bad enough to leave? I did tell my Mom, my grandfather and sister and family they could come a stay with me until the weekend is over. “
Right now, he says he’s not sure if they are going to come.
Certainly, they have no reason to stay.
There will be no game there this weekend.