The standard for one of these is the day Kennedy was shot.
Everyone who was old enough to remember knows exactly where they were when they learned that the President had been killed, and November 22, 1963 is "one of those days." The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is one of those days. September 11, 2001 is one of those days.
For me, February 12th, 2009 is one of those days, and with all respect to my sixth-grade self, it's much more "one of those days" than September 11th, the magnitude of which I don't think I understood until much of the trauma had passed.
The evening of February 12th, UB topped Eastern Michigan 58-49 to move to 9-1 in MAC play. They had won a tournament right before New Year's, and while they were winning close, they were winning. Following the magical 2008 football season, basketball seemed on the up and up as well, and the team would nearly match football's MAC Championship run before falling to Akron in the final test before the Big Dance.
In my first year away from Buffalo, I had never felt closer to the city. I was a little too zealous about my hometown and quickly gained a reputation among the Patriots fans in my dorm. I spent the evening of Friday, November 21st listening to UB take on Bowling Green in Northwest Ohio and wept when James Starks took it to the house to clinch the MAC East title. I was eager to share the cases of Aunt Rosie's Loganberry that I had brought from Western New York.
But this is not a paean to Buffalo. I got a text that night shortly after 11:00 from a friend directing me to "turn on CNN. a plane has crashed into a house in Buffalo, NY."
Two things went through my mind. (1) You're from outside Syracuse, you and I both know Buffalo is in New York, and (2) This is probably one of those small-craft personal plane crashes.
I was totally unprepared for the live shots of what was once a house replaced by a ball of flame and parts of an airplane. I don't know how I spent that evening, but I know I spent the next day swallowing up everything I could from the Buffalo News and all the TV stations. I remember when people realized that, no, that's not a wing, that's the tail, and, shit, this was no personal plane. I took five pieces of printer paper and a Sharpie marker and made a "3407" sign with the outline of one of those memorial ribbons for my window.
To be clear, I knew no one one the plane, nor did I know Mr. Wielinski, who was in the house and killed by the crash. I don't even think I am within a degree of separation from anyone who passed. And yet I still felt this tragedy along with the rest of Buffalo every minute in the following days.
On Friday the 13th, the Sabres played a hockey game. Just as there had been two years prior on the heels of the October Storm - on another Friday the 13th - there was a debate as to whether the game should go on. But it was. A handful of tribute videos have been made to that game, but this is my favorite, Spider Man music aside:
I watch this video probably once every couple of months. February 12, 2009 is one of those days. When I do watch it, I love the crowd shots, because a part of me believes that every single person in that building was watching the hockey game through the lens of that fireball and fifty souls lost, yelling, jumping, and I'm sure crying in a grand catharsis with each of the three first period goals, with Rivet's shot from the point with nearly no time left, with the puck settling in Miller's glove to ice the shootout and the game.
But a much larger part of me hopes and wishes that every single person in that building was doing nothing more than watching a hockey game and enjoying a Sabres win. Because just maybe the hockey made them forget the outside world.
I've had friends who don't care as much about sports as I do. They don't think the provincialism is worth getting worked up about. What does a win or a loss do to change our - the fans' - daily lives? At least the Greek city-states went to war in between Olympics. We just talk about how much we dislike Boston and Philly and Toronto.
But you can bet that on February 13, 2009, a 6-5 shootout victory over the Sharks meant a whole lot. You can bet that the 26.2 miles of footfalls that separate Hopkinton and Copley on Monday, April 21, 2014 will mean a whole lot. (April 15, 2013 is one of those days).
Sports can help heal. In the case of the two dates above, they are certainly part of the healing process.
Sports can inspire. You've heard that story before so I won't say more.
Sports can plain old bring a community together. As I mentioned, the Sabres game after the October Storm was almost cancelled, but it wasn't, and HSBC Arena that night was a big, eighteen-thousand people party featuring a bunch of people giving a big "up yours!" to a foot-plus of the heaviest lake-effect snow you've ever seen. I maintain that the most diverse crowd you're ever going to find in Western New York can be found at the Roller Derby in North Tonawanda on Saturdays in the spring. I am confident I would have never met Dave, Tim, or Conrad without UB.
Sports are an expression of our culture and are impossibly intertwined with our society. Like our food, our weather, our heritage, they're something we share. Something that represents us.
Whether some folks want to admit it or not, sports are meaningful. On Friday February 13, 2009, a hockey game was a little more meaningful, and that's part of the story of Buffalo and Flight 3407.
I have been careful to save a certain part of this post for the end. When you finish reading, you'll find a slideshow put together by the Families of Flight 3407, who have done amazing things in the last five years. You'll find the names and some other info of 49 of the 50 victims, culled from a Buffalo News article from a few days after the crash.
I said above that I didn't personally know anyone on the plane. And it's likely that I don't know anyone who knew someone who was on the plane, or who knew Doug Wielinski. And at the same time I know these people, because Buffalo was a part of their lives. Many of them lived and worked here. Some were visiting. Some were passing through on their way to Toronto. Some were reuniting with an old part of their life. The Buffalo part of their life.
Looking through this list and other news reports following the tragedy, I knew these people. Or I know them now.
Two were 19. I was 18 the day of the crash. Two others were 24, the age I'll be in August. There were folks from New Jersey, Washington, and India, the homes of several of my roommates over the years.
The list is littered with suburbs of Buffalo that we all know, have passed through, and have lived in.
Beverly Eckert was traveling to award a memorial scholarship in her husband's honor at his high school, where they met at a school dance. Canisius High School. My high school.
There are Polish names suspiciously similar to ones I had to be coached on as a young lector in St. Joseph's Parish.
Madeline Loftus was a former Buff State hockey player. I'm sure at some point she was on that ice at the same time I was right next door for an indoor track meet or to watch a high school basketball game.
Randolph, New Jersey. The hometown of Drew Willy, who had just finished his senior season.
As you'd expect from the largest university in the region, the UB community was significantly represented among the fifty. UB lost alumni, former employees, and family members in the tragedy. Human rights activist Alison Des Forges was traveling to the Queen City specifically to speak at UB.
Six UB alumni were among those confirmed publicly to date as passengers who died in the crash. They include Gerard Niewood of New Jersey, a 1965 graduate and musician with the Chuck Mangione Band; Susan Wehle, who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2002 and 1974, and was cantor at Temple Beth Am in Amherst; Jennifer E. Neill of Clarence, B.S. ’99, a pharmaceutical sales representative; and Jean Marzolf Srnecz of Clinton, N.J., M.A. ’72, senior vice president of merchandising for Baker & Taylor. Also on board the plane were two alumni who were employees of Northrop Grumman Corp.: Darren Tolsma Sr. of Lancaster, who received his bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1985 and was the father of UB student Darren Tolsma, and Jerome D. Krasuski of Cheektowaga, Professional MBA ’07.
A seventh alumnus, Douglas C. Wielinski of Clarence, who received a bachelor’s degree from UB in 1969, died when the plane crashed into his home. Also among the passengers were David Borner, former FSA employee and manager of Putnam’s, now employed with Kraft Foods; Ellyce Kausner, niece of Ellen L. Kausner, events coordinator at the Law School; and Brad S. Green Sr. of Amherst, father of UB student Brad S. Green.
UB has established a scholarship in memory of Alison L. Des Forges, the historian and human rights activist who was killed in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 near Buffalo in 2009. Working with the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Committee, UB created the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund to provide financial support for Buffalo Public Schools graduates who are committed to studying human rights and social justice.
In addition to the services and remembrances, the UB Basketball team would wear black "3407" bands for the rest of the season.
Five years is a long time. It's a lot of time to heal, a lot of time to honor the victims, a lot of time to pass legislation that will help prevent future disaster.
I won't pretend to know or attempt to give a summary of the incredible work that the Families of Flight 3407 have done in the last five years, as they have fought to make the airline industry safer. Furthermore, they can tell their stories better than I can. I would highly encourage you to check out their website. What they have done is nothing short of amazing. Today they will for the first time invite the public to join them as they gather on the anniversary of the crash.
For all the good things that can come out of five years, half a decade also provides ample opportunity to forget. That Buffalo News article I linked in the previous paragraph didn't even originate from Buffalo. It was written in DC. Perhaps there will be more come sunrise, but it seems even on the five year anniversary, 3407 has been barely remembered by its city's largest media outlet.
Without getting on too much of a high horse, I think it deserves more. February 12, 2009 is one of those days.
Dave, Tim, and Conrad have also written pieces for the Bull Run Remembers Flight 3407 project. You can find them through the links below under "More From Bull Run."
MARY JULIA ABRAHAM, 44 -- GEORGE ABU-KAREM, 27, TIBERIAS, ISRAEL -- DAVID M. BORNER, 49, PENDLETON -- LINDA DAVIDSON, 61, WESTFIELD -- RONALD DAVIDSON, 66, WESTFIELD -- ALISON L. DES FORGES, 66, BUFFALO -- BEVERLY ECKERT, 57, STAMFORD, CONN. -- JOHN FIORE, 60, GRAND ISLAND -- BRAD GREEN, 53, AMHERST -- RON GONZALEZ, 44, NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- ZHAOFANG GUO, 53, AMHERST -- KEVIN JOHNSTON, 52, EAST AMHERST -- STEVE JOHNSON, NORTHROP GRUMMAN -- GOERGES KARM -- ELLYCE KAUSNER, 24, CLARENCE -- NICOLE KORCZYKOWSKI, NEW YORK CITY -- JEROME KRASUSKI, 53, CHEEKTOWAGA -- BRIAN KUKLEWICZ -- BETHANY KUSHNER, 19, ANGOLA -- SEAN LANG, 19, MONTGOMERYVILLE, PA. -- MADELINE LOFTUS, 24, PARSIPPANY, N.J. -- LORIN MAURER, 30, PRINCETON, N.J. -- COLEMAN MELLETT, 34, EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- DON MCDONALD, 48, FORT ERIE, ONT. -- DAWN MONACHINO -- DAWN MOSSOP, 48, BLOOMFIELD, N.J. -- DONALD MOSSOP, 42, BLOOMFIELD, N.J. -- SHAWN MOSSOP, 12, BLOOMFIELD, N.J. -- JENNIFER NEILL, 34, CLARENCE -- GERRY NIEWOOD, 64, GLEN RIDGE, N.J. -- MARY "BELLE" PETTYS, 50, WEST SENECA -- JOHNATHAN PERRY, 27, NEW YORK CITY -- DONNA PRISCO, 52, RANDOLPH, N.J. -- MATILDA QUINTERO, 57,WOODBRIDGE, N.J. -- FERRIS REID, 44, BLOOMFIELD, N.J. -- CAPT. MARVIN RENSLOW, 47, LUTZ, FLA. -- JULIE RIES -- JOHN ROBERTS III, 48, INDIA -- KRISTIN SAFRAN -- REBECCA SHAW, 24, MAPLE VIEW, WASH. -- JEAN SRNECZ, 59, CLINTON, N.J. -- DARREN TOLSMA, 45, LANCASTER -- SUSAN WEHLE, 55, AMHERST -- ERNEST WEST, 54, CLARENCE -- DOUGLAS C. WIELINSKI, 61, CLARENCE -- CLAY YARBER, 62, RIVERSIDE, CALIF. -- SHIBIN YAO -- CAPT. JOSEPH ZUFFOLETTO, 27, JAMESTOWN