A couple of years ago, National Public Radio ran a story about people recalling what they had done on the day before September 11, 2001. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the story is that people actually recalled in detail what had happened that day, as opposed to September 11th itself. A few people, such as actress Marilu Henner, can remember the details of every day in their lives, but most of us need a notable event or some other specific prompt to bring the fine points of our past into focus. For example, I cannot recall anything about September 10, 2001, but I remember what I did on September 9th.
Because I’m something of a pack rat (a useful personality trait for accountancy, my chosen profession), I still have my ticket stub from the one and only National Football League game I have attended. It was the first game of the 2001 regular season between the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons at Candlestick Park (the ticket says “3Com Park”, a fact I choose to ignore). My wife’s doctor wasn’t able to use his season tickets, so she bought them on the spur of the moment for fifty dollars apiece as a present to me and her father. The 49ers were two lean years removed from the Joe Montana/Steve Young dynasty that had dominated the NFL for nearly two decades, but they had begun to show signs of life again after a couple of drafts by their former head coach Bill Walsh, who had returned as general manager. One of his discoveries, quarterback Jeff Garcia, had set a franchise record the year before for passing yards in a season, a remarkable achievement considering his Hall-of-Fame predecessors. It wasn’t the glory years, but I had reason to believe that I would see a good game.
The first three quarters were disappointing, as the Falcons took a 13-3 lead on the running of Jamal Anderson, the back who had carried them to a Super Bowl in 1998. In the fourth quarter, however, Garcia found his rhythm and started driving the 49ers down the field. Late in the game it appeared that they would win in regulation, down 13-10 with the ball inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line, but a couple of failed pass attempts forced them to settle for a field goal and go into overtime. The 49ers got the ball to start the period, and Garcia found receiver Tai Streets for a 52-yard gain, which was quickly followed by another field goal for the victory.
Several moments from the afternoon remain clear in my mind:
• Garrison Hearst running onto the field for pre-game introductions. Hearst had not played for two seasons after breaking his ankle in 1999. At the time of his injury and for long afterward, few thought he would ever return. The 49ers saved his introduction for last, making me a little teary-eyed and earning a roar from the crowd.
• Michael Vick in his first regular season NFL game. The Falcons had acquired him with the first pick in the 2001 NFL draft, and though Chris Chandler started the game at quarterback, they decided to play Vick for a couple of series for some seasoning. Even from my stratospheric end-zone seat I could see why they had drafted Vick; he simply ran in a faster gear than everyone else on the field.
• Cheering the scoreboard message during the overtime period that Barry Bonds had hit three home runs for the San Francisco Giants that day in Colorado. Bonds had faltered during the previous few games in his pursuit of the season home run record; the result assured us definitively that he had returned to his assault on National League pitching.
I remember that day as if it were yesterday, whereas the following day and countless more like it in my life have disappeared from my memory as if they had never happened. Then came Tuesday of that week. Upon leaving for work, I turned on my car radio and heard Bob Edwards announce on NPR that the South Tower had collapsed. Of course, everyone remembers what happened after that.