The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is less than five months away. It was one of the worst days in the history of the United States and irrevocably changed our nation, most notably in lower Manhattan where reconstruction is not complete.
That day also will mark the opening weekend of the National Football League season, at least if the owners and players can manage to divvy up their $9 billion annual revenue pie in time.
Labor unrest aside, the NFL did the right thing Tuesday by announcing a pair of meaningful matchups for this historic date – three days following the Thursday night kickoff between Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.
On that Sunday afternoon, the New York Giants will visit the Washington Redskins, opening the action with a game tying together the two cities that were attacked on 9/11. The day will be wrapped with the Dallas Cowboys at the New York Jets in a game broadcast on NBC's highly rated "Sunday Night Football."
The day promises to be one of sadness, somber remembrance and retrospective of how the past decade has unfolded for all of us.
Football is virtually meaningless when facing the scope of such an incident. Yet after a difficult day, a night of frivolity, an exhibition of unity and a chance at night's end for New York to cheer with the rest of the country watching is appropriate.
"Sunday Night Football" was the highest rated show on television last fall, a first for a sports program. NFL games resulted in the 19 most-watched broadcasts last fall (the "Dancing with the Stars" finale also tied for 19th) and the top 15 cable shows of the year. February's Super Bowl was the most-watched program in American history, 111 million viewers strong.
[Related: Complete 2011 NFL week-by-week schedule]
This is what America does – it gathers to watch professional football.
The anniversary will include memorial services and moving tributes across the country, most notably in Manhattan, at the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C. and a field in southwest Pennsylvania, where victims perished. It will be a day to mourn.
So let the night be something to celebrate. And there are few places more appropriate than right there across the Hudson from New York City, where from the tailgating lots you can see the famed skyline that lacks those two iconic towers.
By pulling the two cities most affected and allowing the finale to be just outside Manhattan, where the majority of the casualties occurred and where so many indelible images of that day flashed across our television screens, was a perfect choice by the league.
In many ways this is what the NFL does best: Bring the country together.
You can discount the importance of football, and you wouldn't be wrong. The labor battle between all those millions is particularly galling in the face of international conflicts, troops in harm's way and a long, lingering recession. That doesn't mean there isn't undeniable power in the product – this would be America's Game on a most American of a day. No one can deny the real emotion that sprung a decade ago from World Series baseball games held in Yankee Stadium.
The announcement of these games serves as a reminder of the unique importance of this opening weekend across the country. It should cause owners and players and their teams of lawyers alike to settle their differences and bring the game back to the people. Currently, the players union is locked out and the sides are engaged in federally-mandated mediation.
Missing this opportunity, going silent on a weekend of such significance, would be shameful.
Having 80,000-plus people come together for the national pastime, which itself will no doubt feature a pageant-filled pregame full of honoring heroes alive and deceased, will be a fitting cap to a difficult day.
One of the emotions that sprung from that dark day a decade ago was that America would continue on in spite of the terrorist and murderers.
The NFL's season opening Sunday starting outside the nation's capital and ending on a New York night would be a small, but significant example that we have.