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National Columnist

Sports helps Boston, nation start healing process after bombings

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There's a sports story to be written here, about Boston. About the bombings, and the way sports helped unite the region, even the country, around the Boston area. That's a good story, and a true story.

It's not the whole story but it deserves to be told, including the Red Sox angle from this weekend when the team played its first home games since the bombings Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. On Saturday they wore jerseys that replaced "Red Sox" across the chest with "Boston." On Sunday outfielder Jonny Gomes unveiled a specially made bat that honored the victims.

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That came a day after Red Sox slugger David Ortiz's brief pregame speech had the Fenway Park crowd roaring: "This is our f----g city," Ortiz roared, "and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong!" That expletive was carried on live TV and radio, the sort of thing that draws a fine from FCC regulators. But not this time.

"David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today's Red Sox game," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski tweeted. "I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston."

There's the Bruins angle from this weekend, the hockey team playing a postponed game Saturday after the lockdown that shuttered the region while authorities conducted a manhunt for the suspected bombers. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and forward Chris Kunitz wore "Boston Strong" shirts, and the Bruins wore local police caps during their pregame skate.

Through sports, people around the country -- and world -- stood with Boston. Marathons were run Sunday in England and Germany by runners wearing black ribbons or armbands bearing the slogan "Run for Boston." Spectators lined streets, sitting near the starting and finish lines, a target zone in Boston for the bombers, but a place that still belongs to us, not them.

Yankee Stadium and others stood with Boston by playing the Red Sox's unofficial song, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond -- who came unannounced to Fenway on Saturday. He flew in from Los Angeles and asked the team, which plays his song over the loudspeakers during the eighth inning, if he could lead the crowd in a live rendition. The team said yes, of course. What a moment.

That's a sports moment, because that happened at a sports stadium, but so much of what unfolded last week wasn't a sports story. It was a Boston story. We talk about grace under pressure, but when have we seen more grace -- displayed under more pressure -- than we saw from Boston and the surrounding area?

At our best, America is the Boston that emerged from the horror of bombs exploding near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, taking three lives and injuring more than 180. That was nightmarish, a horror movie come to life, and Boston reacted the way I hope my town, Cincinnati, and the way you hope your town, wherever you live, would react.

After the bombing a website was established so Boston-area residents could offer their homes to strangers, to the families of victims, and within minutes several hundred homes were available. The first listing said: "Small apartment; can accommodate 1 or 2 people."

It continued, on and on, until more than 6,000 people had offered a room or a bed or, in the words of one listing: "We have an L couch to offer, one long section and a short section that can fit a smaller (5ft) person. Not much but we're happy to help!"

This was Boston, and this was America. At our best.

It continued, and it seeped into sports. Two nights after the bombing the Bruins played the Sabres at TD Garden, where the story was the national anthem. Rene Rancourt started singing, but after a few lines he stopped because he knew: Boston didn't need him to sing the anthem. Boston was singing the anthem. The same thing happened Saturday. Rancourt started the anthem, and the crowd finished.

On Sunday the Bruins autographed their game jerseys to be given to a handful of select fans as part of an annual promotion. That was the plan, but the plan changed. The Bruins gave the jerseys instead to first responders in attendance. Know whose idea that was? The handful of select fans. They didn't want the jerseys -- they wanted the heroes to get them. So when the game ended, each Bruin found a first responder and skated over, taking the jersey off his back and giving it away.

What of the Celtics? The team hasn't played at home since the bombing but is offering a "Boston Stands as One" T-shirt and giving 100 percent of the proceeds to The One Fund in Boston. The Celtics are wearing the shirts during warmups in their playoff series in New York against the Knicks.

Make no mistake, there are sports stories to be written about this whole thing -- but this story would be incomplete without the following anecdote from Friday night, when a Watertown resident found the last remaining alleged bomber hiding in a boat. Police were called, shots were fired and the suspect was arrested.

As police drove away, the most wonderful thing happened:

Boston cheered the police.

It was just a few dozen people, whoever was near that house in Watertown, but it spread. Word of the cheering went viral because we heard about it and thought it was wonderful and passed the message to our friends. The message even made it into the skies, into a Delta 757 flying from Atlanta to Chicago, where a passenger saw it on Twitter and told a flight attendant, who told everyone else on the plane, who started cheering. That was us, cheering the police. And cheering Boston.

Because Boston won. Some lost their lives and dozens more were injured, some horrifically, and I don't mean to minimize that. Three people -- local restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, standing at the finish line and cheering for the runners, as she did most years; Lu Lingzi, 23, a graduate student at Boston University from China; and 8-year-old Martin Richard, a third-grader from Dorchester whose family has a basketball hoop and hockey goal in the driveway -- died from the blast. MIT campus police officer Sean Collier, two months from achieving his dream of joining the Somerville police force, died Thursday in a confrontation with the alleged bombers. The story of what happened to those four people, and to those injured, is a tragedy.

But the story of what happened next is a victory. Sports played a role in this, as it often does, but this story is bigger than sports. This is a story about the people of Boston and the surrounding area, sports fans and otherwise. This was America at our finest, and it makes me wonder if the rest of us, if any of us, could respond to that much stress with that much class.

Let's hope you and I never have to find out.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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