A day of reflection at the academy by the Thames

New Londo - It was "Monster Saturday," or so designated by television, in college football. All the Gatsbys playing the other Gatsbys. But those were just games. This? This was one of a handful of outposts across the country where dignity came packaged with history, comfort and a connection to something bigger.

You could have been in West Point on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the day everything changed, watching Army.

You could have been in Annapolis on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the day everything changed, watching Navy.

You could have been in Colorado Springs on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the day everything changed, watching Air Force.

Or you could have been by the Thames watching Coast Guard, honoring the ninth anniversary of the day everything changed, watching the Bears open the football season against the Merchant Marine Academy.

This is what you would have seen and heard at Cadet Memorial Field:

1:56 p.m.: Regiments from both academies walked onto the field, Kings Point cadets in all white, whiter than a box of Ivory Soap, all the Coast Guard cadets in lockstep precision.

2:06 p.m.: Presentation of the colors, everyone standing, everyone among the sellout crowd of 4,500 with their hats off and mouths closed.

2:08 p.m.: The Coast Guard Glee Club sang the Star Spangled Banner. Just as it was written. Just as it was supposed to sound. Not some five-minute ballad with melody spasms.

2:11 p.m.: A moment of silence to honor Sept. 11 first responders.

2:12 p.m.: The chapel bells struck 11 times in remembrance.

2:13 p.m.: The Glee Club sang God Bless America to honor victims and responders of Sept. 11.

2:16 p.m.: A Coast Guard Falcon flyover, aircraft from AIRSTA Cape Cod.

2:17 p.m. Cadet Regiments and color guard exited the field.

2:33 p.m.: Coast Guard senior Pat Bennett returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown, touching off a roar from the bleachers that, if for just a moment, sounded a little like it could have been Tuscaloosa or Gainesville or Norman.

Except that it was New London.

We are fortunate, indeed, to have a military academy so close to us, especially on days when we need to be reflective and contemplative about who we are.

And here is why: We can say that Sept. 11 "changed our lives forever," as if it were some sound bite for television. But it truly did. So many of us, all of us twentysomethings and thirtysomethings and fortysomethings, had never experienced anything close.

We didn't experience Pearl Harbor or World War II, only getting as close as family members who may have served. We were barely taught about them in school. It was usually June by the time our teachers reached the 1940s. Ditto for Korea and Vietnam. We lived every day in this bubble of blissful ignorance.

All that changed nine years ago Saturday.

It's the first time many of us ever felt that disquieting twinge of vulnerability. We did what we wanted, went where we wanted, said what we wanted … and then the towers collapsed.

And to be at a military academy for a football game tied the solemnity of remembrance with the pageantry of sports. It's exactly what makes us … us.

A few years ago, Tom Ridge, once the country's Secretary of Homeland Security, attended the Coast Guard-Kings Point game, his presence both a treat and a historical reminder. It's clear that Janet Napolitano is no Tom Ridge.

Spies at Coast Guard say that Napolitano, the current Secretary of Homeland Security, spent Saturday afternoon at the Mets game in New York. Someone might want to ask Ms. Napolitano how many people playing in the Mets-Phillies game will put their lives on the line in the name of homeland security. Bet it's not as many as the people playing football Saturday in New London.

But, hey, there must have been more television cameras in Flushing.

Her loss.

It was a good day, a fun day, a necessary day by the Thames. We honored, remembered and then played.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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