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Back in the Game
An Essay by Kevin Maney

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Kevin Maney
Kevin Maney

Sept. 25, 2001 -- I play soccer at lunch time with a group that's mostly made up of Pentagon employees. We play on a field right next to the Pentagon. This has been going on for years.

It's a great bunch, and we all feel like friends, even if we only know first names of some of the guys, and what positions they play.

After the jet hit the Pentagon, we circulated e-mails trying to see if everyone was OK. It turns out that one player, Commander Bill Donovan, is missing.

We stopped playing the games for a week, but then decided it was time to start up again. We met early so we could have a small service for Bill. I am one of the few players who does not work for the Pentagon, so I felt a wave of relief when I was able to drive to the building, park, and walk up to that field unhindered.

The crash was on the opposite side of the building. The collapsed part is huge -- and it's chilling. But it didn't turn the place into a bunker.

We invited military Chaplain Alvin Sykes to join us. As players arrived, many hugged. We stood in a circle in the middle of the field on a beautiful sunny day. You could see scorch marks on the grass where choppers had landed. You could hear the sound of cranes lifting rubble.

Dave Nanney, who works at the Pentagon and runs the team, spoke about our missing player. And then he talked about how much he loves this team, and how members support each other. Sometimes Dave joked and made us laugh. Sometimes he broke down and cried.

Chaplain Sykes, dressed in combat fatigues, stepped in. We held hands in a circle, and he spoke not of religion but of friends, of grieving and of carrying on. He told us how we had to let it out and do so with people like those standing with us. Cry, scream, talk, take action -- whatever it takes. But get it out.

He finished with a prayer. After a moment, Dave said, in a quiet voice, "Let's kick some butt." I think he meant on the soccer field, but who knows.

And then we played, just like always. In the shadow of a target. Under office windows that framed people who are planning a war. And we all thought the same thing: Damn it felt good.

Kevin Maney is a technology columnist for USA Today.