18 years ago, the single most devastating act of terrorism of the modern era would result in the death of nearly 3,000 people. These attacks occurred in New York, Shanksville PA, and the nation’s capital of Washington D.C., claiming the lives of men, women, and children from over 90 countries across the globe.
Just two days later, the WWE (then the World Wrestling Federation) would hold one the most important episodes of it’s weekly program SmackDown ever.
From the moment the show went on the air, you know that it was going to be an emotional night to say the least.
It began with the voice of WWE at the time, good old Jim Ross, thanking all of us for joining them on a “very special edition of SmackDown”. The show came to us live from the then Compaq Center in Houston, Texas. The building was filled to the rafters. It was the largest known public gathering of people since the 9/11 attacks.
Widespread fear and tension had gripped America at this point in time, as our world had be shaken to its core. People began to ask themselves if places like airports, office buildings, theme parks and sports arenas even safe anymore.
While every seat was sold, not one fan sat in them. They instead stood tall, hoisting “I Love NY” signs and American flags. Chanting at the top of their lungs “U-S-A”.
After SmackDown’s opening video package aired, the fans were greeted by a parade of WWE Superstars walking down the ramp, holding their own American flags and special messages. Standing right in front we would see Vince McMahon and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson standing side by side, with Stone Cold Steve Austin bringing up the rear at the top of the ramp.
That night, The Rock could be seen sporting his “Team Bring It” shirt. That night, we were all Team Bring It.
We were then treated to ring announcer and singer Lillian Garcia, who would go on to belt out of the best renditions of the Star Spangled Banner that has ever been done (in this humble writer’s opinion). The highlight, no doubt, came at the line: “And our flag was still there”, as a crowd of 17,000 strong cheered on.
After her incredible performance, the Chairman of the Board Vince McMahon would step into the ring for what would be one of his best speeches.
As he stepped in between the red, white, and blue ropes, McMahon would raise his hand and proclaim that, “Tonight, the spirit of America lives in Houston, Texas and that in accordance to the American way. We will not live our lives in fear and the citizens of Houston were not afraid, the citizens of Texas were indeed not afraid, and by God – the citizens of the United States are not afraid. We are a proud people, proud of who we are, and damn proud of our nation.”
In what will be his finest hour, McMahon would say, “America’s heart may be wounded, but her spirit shines as a beacon of freedom that hasn’t or ever will be extinguished”.
What followed was an action packed night that included fan favorites like: Chris Jericho, the Hardy Boyz, Booker T, Kurt Angle and even a WCW Heavyweight Championship match featuring The Rock vs Shawn Stasiak. Between matches, we would see video packages from other WWE Superstars, sending their love, thoughts, and prayers to the victims and the victims’ families.
Ask anyone, and they can tell you where they were on 9/11/2001 without hesitation. More so, they can describe in detail the days that followed as well.
They will describe a time when Americans of all shapes, sizes, color, and creed looked into each other’s somber eyes, and embraced one another. The world watched as Americans everywhere came together in the wake of absolute horror and made it their goal to not allow the bond of man to be broken by the acts of the wicked. To not allow the spirit of America to be broken.
The WWE was no different. On this night, WWE pulled itself out of it’s constructed universe; and decided that it would take the opportunity to make the stand, not only for themselves, but for the United States as a whole: We are not afraid
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Cover photo: WWE.com