Weather was clear on the Oahu lagoon of Pearl Harbor that Sunday with good visibility — perfect weather for an attack. More than 2,300 perished in the early morning raid of Pearl Harbor, so it’s no surprise that Dec. 7 is a day that not only lives on as a day of infamy, but a day of reflection for the soldiers and the personnel that lost their lives that fateful day.
The Japanese felt that Sunday was the perfect day to carry out the raid, believing Americans would be relaxed and thus easily susceptible to attack. That was true nationwide, but also in the sports world. At 2 p.m. (9 a.m. Hawaii time), there were only three games on tap in the NFL; one of them was the Washington Redskins game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins came into that game needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and as the 27,000 fans poured into the stadium, no one knew that war had already been declared and lives had been lost. During the course of the game, as the story broke, controversial Redskins owner George Marshall had the announcer page servicemen to their units but refused to make an announcement about the attack over the public address system, later saying “he did not want to divert the fans attention away.” That game ended with Hall-Of-Famer Sammy Baugh leading the way in a 20-14 win and playoff berth for Washington, but football would soon take a back seat to what was happening in the real world. Athletes and fans alike became soldiers, while women feared the worst for their husbands.
It’s unimaginable to think of the mood and tone that afternoon, but it goes hand-in-hand with the belief that sports can not only be a worthy distraction, but that they represent everything that’s great about this nation. We saw it days after Sept. 11 as the New York Yankees took the field and beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-1. ”I think we gave people something to cheer for for three hours a day, which was good,” Derek Jeter would later say of that day. As we look back on that day, professional sports still play a pivotal role in helping us cope while we heal, never to forget.