By Ramzy Nasrallah on March 18, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Mar 8, 2020; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard CJ Walker (13) is defended by Michigan State Spartans forward Malik Hall (25) during the second half a game at the Breslin Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
©Mike Carter | USAT Sports

No college football games were played on September 15, 2001.

NFL and MLB stadiums were all empty that Sunday too. The world had changed forever Tuesday morning and we had no idea what was going to happen next. Everything just stopped.

San Diego State had been scheduled to arrive in Columbus on Thursday. The Aztecs stayed home. Everyone stayed home. We all froze where right we were, glued to our bulbous television sets and sluggish home internet, with the good internet sequestered at work and school.

No one went anywhere that week. We were all paralyzed by fear, paranoia and suspicion. That's how these era-defining calamities tend to go, whether they occur in the Dark or Internet Ages.

Airplanes were all banned from the sky after terrorists stole four of them. Everything outside of essential services was grounded after that. Baseball's stretch run took the week off. Football hit the brakes for what turned out to be one weekend. Will we ever gather in large groups again? 

Mar 13, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; An official statement regarding refund of tickets for the the Big Ten mens basketball tournament is posted on the door at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The tournament has been cancelled due to concerns over the Covid 19 coronavirus. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
March as we know it, on hold. ©Brian Spurlock USAT Sports

Every sports league pressed pause while cable news channels discovered they could keep their new bulging viewerships engaged through a ticker with ALL CAPS MESSAGES framing their screens. Those scrolling panic bars are still with us today; a lasting invention born out of that miserable week.

The world ended on a Tuesday before lunchtime. It happened so quickly and we didn't know if or when it would start up again - then, just eight days later I jumped on a mostly empty airplane headed for Los Angeles to see the Buckeyes play the UCLA Bruins.

The world had returned - and with it - live sports with crowds. We really needed a game, and we finally got it. Not even two weeks later we were cheering for sports again.

But that single weekend without any football felt like an eternity. The attack was over, we knew the threat of another one would never completely disappear - and we needed something to help us heal from the tragedy of 3,000 of our murdered friends. Once it was safe enough to go back outside, we did our best to be normal again.

That brief, horrible, empty stretch from September 2001 is back, but this time it's in excruciating slow-motion. Sports have been canceled. Normalcy is paused indefinitely. We did not need a game on 9/11 and we do not need a game right now. It has been that awful Tuesday morning for a few weeks. It's going to stay Tuesday morning for several more.

And we can't even see the planes yet. They're still on their way.

Nov 23, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Baron Browning (5) celebrates after pressuring Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Will Levis (7) into an incomplete pass in the second half at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2019: Baron Browning celebrates a PSU incompletion. This was the week COVID-19 was first diagnosed. ©Greg Bartram | USAT Sports

The terrorists of the current moment are invisible. Wait, it gets worse (then it gets better - stay with me).

When they find most of us - and they will - they either linger quietly or wreak a little respiratory havoc before we beat them into submission. In the meantime, these little bastards breed inside us, jumping around from our bodies to countertops to railings to door knobs to shopping cart handles - to other bodies.

No explosions. No sports. Plenty of shitty cable news to consume again - but no normalcy for awhile, whatever the next edition of normalcy ends up being.

The good news is most of us are going to kick COVID-19's ass like it's a scrappy 14-seed that had little shot of winning. But some of us won't, and the law of big numbers means that even a single-digit death rate will be a more than a history book footnote; it would be a history book chapter. Eight percent of Americans get the flu. At least half of us will be facing COVID-19 in this tournament no one asked for - and just about all of us will help spread it.

Do that math if you feel like it. This is not the fucking flu. It never was.

You'll get A victory parade, once parades are PERMITTED. AND You will be able to hug and high-five strangers, once that's deemed safe AGAIN.

Twenty years ago there were, quite suddenly, thousands of dead people from every corner of the world in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, PA. That started and ended in a single morning on live television, so among all of the challenges that come with terrorism - getting people to take it seriously wasn't one of them.

Right now, thousands have already died from COVID-19 in other corners of the world. The wave that's clobbering so many countries is here now. We still can't quite see the planes, and for a lot of us - we don't have the slightest bit of distraction while we're annoyed, angry, bored or taking involuntary cover from the scrappy 14-seed we know we'll beat soundly.

But COVID-19 will advance past us, even if we beat it - if we're out in public. It's an undeniable scientific fact. That's why we are all at home now.

Every element of our lives at this moment is impacted by the virus and what its destruction to our wealth and health will end up being. There's never a good time for what's happening now, as we miss Opening Day and March Madness and the NBA and the NHL and the NFL Draft and everything else that's on hold forever.

One thing is absolutely certain: We do not need a game, just as we didn't need one at noon on 9/11.

This couldn't be a worse time for a game, as Italy showed a week ago when Serie A played in empty stadiums right before shutting everyone into their homes. Dribbling while Rome burns was deemed not only unsafe, but unsavory. The return of sports should and will be a triumph, not a brazen germ typhoon reluctantly propped up to distract us.

If you need a game, use technology to your advantage. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Take a break from the present by vacationing into the past while comfortably playing prevent defense against COVID-19.

This won't be easy or quick at all. But it won't be impossible either. In the end - whenever that is - COVID-19 loses and the tournament is over over. In the meantime, as complicated and miserable as this slow-motion nightmare is, the list of daily requirements for all of us is exactly the same.

  1. Stay physically healthy.
  2. Stay mentally healthy.
  3. Don't help the virus.

Worrying about money doesn't help you make more of it. Allowing bad people on television and the internet to hijack your emotions does not help you stay healthy. Defying the global scientific consensus because you feel fine is absolutely reckless. Survive and advance. This won't be easy or quick.

So there is a lot you do control, and that's the activity taking place inside your skull. Anxious? Scared? Pissed? Annoyed? Yeah, it's not just you - the line forms to the left and circles the globe, friend. Please stay at least six feet from the next person and try to smile.

Crisis management is all about surviving, advancing and learning from how it all went down so that you're better prepared for the next crisis. It's somewhere between not easy and not impossible and you control at least some of where it ends up placing in your life.

You'll get a victory parade, once parades are permitted again. You will be able to hug and high-five strangers, once that's deemed safe. You'll be weathered, hopefully smarter, more grateful and empathetic. You will have survived and advanced through this unfortunate chapter of world history.

And then we'll get to have a game again.

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