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With the game nearly in hand by that point _ Chicago won handily, 30-12 _ it could be that fans were just letting off steam at the end of an anxious few days. Or else, looking for a more convincing villain than the Atlanta Falcons, who weren’t very good in the role. Either way, by game’s end, nearly everyone on both sides seemed to have something worthwhile to take away from it.

“It just felt like a connection with everybody in that stadium, everybody cheering because we’re all Americans,” Atlanta veteran Tony Gonzalez said. “It was just an unbelievable feeling. Something I will never forget.”

His first NFL game would have been memorable enough for rookie Dane Sanzenbacher. Undrafted out of Ohio State, he’s had to fight for his roster spot, to learn how to make an impact in the few plays that made up his audition. If nothing else, he thinks that preparation made it easier to wall off his emotions on a few occasions throughout the day.

“Nerves are always part of every game. They’re something you learn to control first and if you play long enough, to thrive off,” Sanzenbacher said.

A decade ago, he was a seventh-grader in Toledo who knew nothing about the twin towers that had fallen in New York, nor what came next.

“Lots of guys must have looked at their phones this morning and gone, `It’s been 10 years? Man,” he paused, “it doesn’t feel like that long ago.”


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) Follow him at