Nine weeks ago today, I stood in the press box of Cleveland Browns Stadium with a bunch of cynical sportswriters all trying to hold back tears while "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" were performed.
Three-and-a-half weeks ago, I watched a tattered U.S. flag that was found in the rubble of the World Trade Center fly high over Yankee Stadium during the World Series and fought back the same wave of sadness.
Those events had me convinced that things were different in America, that the warped values that had us placing way-too-much hero worship on professional athletes, actors and musicians was about to come back into line with reality.
Recent events suggest I was dreaming.
Suspension: Take Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari, who was suspended for just one game by Coach Jim Tressel.
Growing up to become the Buckeyes quarterback is the dream of every young football player in Ohio. How does Bellisari reward the Buckeye faithful after winning the lottery?
He is arrested for driving under the influence about 34 hours before kickoff against the Fighting Illini.
That Bellisari could consume so much booze to register a blood-alcohol level of .22 suggests that this wasn't the Ohio State senior's first night of binge drinking this fall.
Some Buckeye followers believe he shouldn't have been punished. Others think Tressel ended the suspension way too soon (perhaps because this weekend's opponent was Michigan instead of Akron).
Tressel's forgiveness suggests that we are supposed to feel sorry for someone handed the greatest college football job in Ohio because he has a drug-dependency problem?
Obviously, "Slingin' Steve" didn't learn much about thankfulness in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Maybe his alcohol-clouded mind doesn't remember there once was a World Trade Center.
Browns, too: And then there are the Cleveland Browns' Three Stooges (defensive lineman Gerard Warren, defensive back Lamar Chapman and fullback Mike Sellers) who were arrested last week for an unlicensed firearm (Warren) and felony drug abuse (Chapman and Sellers).
Browns coach Butch Davis wasted no time, immediately suspending the two healthy Browns for today's crucial game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
And if Chapman, who is out with an injury, ever gets reinstated, Sheriff Butch has a one-game suspension awaiting.
It sickens me to think that U.S. soldiers are risking their lives, so pampered, selfish athletes back home enjoy the freedom to pursue drugs.
And baseball owners: And then there is baseball, specifically, the owners, the only millionaires who can make Warren, Chapman and Sellers resemble Rhodes scholars.
Two days after one of the greatest World Series ever played ends, baseball announces it no longer needs two of its 30 teams because the big boys are tired of sharing.
The owners drop plenty of hints that the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos are on the chopping block for franchise execution, but decide to postpone formal elimination until a later date.
Meanwhile, the ballclubs send season ticketholders renewal forms that have mid-November deadlines.
Baseball fans lucky enough to own the rights to the best seats in the ballparks have no choice but to ante up.
The rest of us need our heads examined if we continue to support a sport that is doing nothing to close the gap between the clubs blessed with huge local media rights fees and the teams that depend on profits from paying customers.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.