The Red Sox, after all, had played New York, New York by Frank Sinatra after the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001. When Zillo’s idea for Sweet Caroline was approved, he tweeted the message across the Internet. Other teams joined the chorus, a disparate demonstration of unity among rivals that rarely bond this way. This spread not only through baseball but other athletic venues and it wasn’t just Sweet Caroline .
On Wednesday, before the first Bruins’ home game after the bombing, hockey fans in TD Garden sang the U.S. national anthem at the direction of Rene Rancourt, the usual singer, who sang the first few lines then used his hands to conduct the impromptu choir.
“The song was carrying me, lifting me up in the room,” Rancourt told a Boston radio station the following day. Video shows flag-waving fans wiping tears from their eyes and chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A!”
Canadian hockey fans know all about passionate anthem singing from Roger Doucet’s era at the Montreal Forum to the booming renditions of police officer Lyndon Slewidge in Ottawa. But an anthem vibe is not always joyous.
In the 1991 NHL all-star game, with the United States at war with Iraq, the singing and cheering that rattled the rafters in old Chicago Stadium during The Star-Spangled Banner had an ominous undertone. Flags waved, sparklers sparkled, clenched fists pumped and one sign said “No Flag Burners Here.”
Another popular notion about sports and community bonding is that victorious teams unite troubled cities. This myth is especially rich in Detroit, where it is often said that the World Series championship of 1968 repaired the wounds of the riot of 1967.
Kirk Gibson, now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was a sixth-grader in the Detroit area at the time. “It united the city, it helped,” Gibson said. “It made us all happy and we felt all of us were pulling in the same direction.”
But, Gibson added, “It didn’t unite it forever.” Gibson starred on the only Tigers’ championship since then, in 1984. That celebration included a riot that featured a torched police car. While both titles lifted the spirits of the residents, neither had significant impact on the city’s long-term decline or mentality.
Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia, said even in good times, sports unite “old and young, rich and poor, white and black, city and suburb.” He said sports have taken on greater symbolic significance in recent decades and that the bombing of a sports event added gravitas.
He said the anthem before Wednesday night’s hockey game was “an example of how some tragedy can be an avenue to bond together. This is an example of a real good support system, a very powerful feeling of sharing in that moment.”
According to Heidi Ahonen, a professor of music therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., such a rendition of such a song may mean more than meets the ear.
“Music can make us cry and laugh, weep or dance together,” Ahonen said in an e-mail. “Music can bring us peace or stir us up for a conflict ... Music is so powerful during a grief process. Music has been such a huge part of any emotional events in cultures around the world since the beginning of human history.”
Suzyn Waldman, a veteran colour analyst on Yankees’ radio broadcasts who grew up in Boston as a Red Sox fan, said Canadians might logically compare the New York-Boston rivalry in baseball to hockey in cities such as Toronto and Montreal.
“In this rivalry,” she said of baseball, “I don’t think there’s really a hatred. Maybe I’m a little naïve.” While growing up in Boston, Waldman spent marathon days by the course, cheering siblings, friends and local legends. “I used to wait for Johnny Kelley the Elder,” she said.
Waldman started the New York phase of her life as a singer in Broadway musicals. Ironically, her first role was in the chorus of No, No, Nanette , the revival of an old musical that plays a mythical role in Boston-New York lore.
A longstanding tale, now disputed, suggested that Harry Frazee, the Boston owner and Broadway producer, financed that show with funds obtained for the sale of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees before the 1920 season. In fact, the show came years later, but Waldman nevertheless enjoys its irony in her career arc.
She admits “belting” the words and tune when Sweet Caroline plays at Fenway Park while her network is doing commercials. When asked what she likes so much about it, Waldman replied: “It’s like baseball. It’s personal. It touches your heart.”