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On September 11th, 2001, the world changed.
Fast forward to March 11th, 2020, and it changed again.
When Old Dominion opens its home slate Saturday on September 11th, 2021, those two dates will clash.
For those who don’t remember, March 11th, 2020 was the date the NBA shut down due to the COVID pandemic. The NBA shutdown drove the reality of the situation home to many, and within the next few weeks, all sports leagues suspended their seasons and much of the county stopped.
Old Dominion would cancel their season later that summer, pushing new head coach Ricky Rahne’s debut back a year or so.
Now, 18 months after that shutdown, and exactly 20 years after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 that changed the country, the Monarchs are ready to hit the field with the magnitude of this date in their minds
That (ODU home opener) is going to be the thing that signals Norfolk is back and ready to go,” Rahne said at Conference USA's media day. “That first game in S.B. Ballard Stadium at Kornblau Field will be tremendous for us and an awesome deal. I’m pushing hard to make sure we sell that thing out and get as many people in the seats as possible.”
Rahne, who played college football at Cornell, located only a few hours drive from where the World Trade Center once stood, remembers that day.
“That (9/11) was my senior year in college,” Rahne said. “I can remember that day very vividly from where I was and who I was with and all those things. Being that I went to school in New York, I had fraternity brothers and teammates that were in NYC and D.C.
“It hit home for a lot of guys whose families and family members were there and a couple of them lost people,” Rahne added. “It’s something that brought our country together, and that is something we need now more than ever, for our country to come together.”
Sixth-year senior Isaac Weaver came back to ODU for his final year after last season was canceled. For Weaver, 9/11 will be a return to the field, where he anchors not only the offensive line but also the team.
“It’s going to be a huge day for so many reasons,” Weaver said at Conference USA media days. “I don’t think I’ve ever played on 9/11. It’s such an emotional day for people and to add on the fact that we missed so much time away from football and everything built into that, I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Senior linebacker Jordan Young is another who is ready to get back on the field. Young, a leader on defense, gave his thoughts on the first home game at S.B. Ballard Stadium in 651 days
“It’s going to be a surreal moment,” Young said about the return to football for ODU and its impact on the city. “Walking onto the field, seeing all the fans and hearing the national anthem start to play, it’s going to be a moment where you sit and think. You are happy that you are able to be around everybody and reunite everybody with football and celebrate a day where we can actually be around each other and support each other.”
One of the younger returning starters for the Monarchs, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Nick Saldiveri, started 11 games at right tackle in 2019. Saldiveri is excited to bring football back to the area for the first time in 18 months.
“I can’t wait. It’s been a long time without football in the Hampton Roads area,” Saldiveri said. “I feel like everybody is going to be jacked up to get back in the stadium and watch the boys play. We can’t wait to be able to play at home again with our fans.”
Junior defensive lineman Marcus Haynes has played in all 24 games since arriving to ODU from Fork Union Military Academy. In that time he has become a force on the defensive line with 5.5 sacks, two coming in the 2018 upset of Virginia Tech.
“I feel like we are playing for our fans,” Haynes said. I know we have a lot of donors and people around the community that were affected by 9/11 so when they come out they are going to see their boys beat up on somebody else to make them feel good.”
Saturday’s game hopefully will mark the return of a more normal life for Norfolk as everyone works through the pandemic.
Old Dominion will do its part to achieve that, as the game is a white-out with fans being asked to wear all white and pack S.B. Ballard stadium.