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Murph’s Turf: Sports were in right place after Sandy

Back in the early 1980s, an elongated teenager named Brooke Shields looked sideways and seductively into a camera and revealed that nothing came between her and her Calvins.

Instead of promoting skin-tight denim, Shields could also have been describing all that stands between Americans and their sports.

As history attests, it hasn’t been easy to separate the pair. Most infamously, the National Football League played its regularly scheduled games just two days after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, even though the rival American Football League postponed its contests. The decision was one Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner at the time, came to bemoan, referring to it as the worst mistake of his lengthy tenure.

Perhaps Rozelle’s regret has had a positive influence. More recent tragedies, including the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco and the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., led to both Major League Baseball and the NFL postponing games. After those deadly events, and Hurricane Katrina, which forced the New Orleans Saints away from their home for a year, the prevailing sentiment was an accurate reminder: Sports were a diversion — their relative unimportance emerging through contrast with actual importance.

Fortunately, the message wasn’t lost last week. In the aftermath of Sandy, the benignly named Superstorm that pulverized and paralyzed the tri-state area, the Brooklyn Nets had their first-ever home game at the new Barclays Center postponed, and the annual New York City Marathon was finally canceled once outcry and criticism grew too loud for even Mayor Bloomberg’s reluctant ear.

On a more local level, the pattern was the same. Youth soccer and football leagues postponed games, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference pushed back the start of its high school state tournaments, and the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference delayed, and altered, its post-season schedule.

Those decisions all merited the same adjective: Wise. But while the overwhelming response was one of agreement, there were naysayers, particularly when it came to the FCIAC’s plan to proceed through only the semifinal round in the boys and girls soccer, field hockey and girls volleyball conference tournaments, leaving co-champions in those sports.

It’s difficult, however, to argue with any decision based on safety and logistics, which the FCIAC’s was. Many roads remained blocked and homes powerless into late last week; asking players, coaches and families to forgo more pressing matters — such as shelter, warmth and food — and focus on getting to a sporting event in another town would have been brash and heartless.

Leaving four sports with co-champions isn’t ideal, and the FCIAC might have done better to just cancel the semifinal and final rounds and declare the regular-season winners the conference champs. But the lengthy postponement was preferable to rushing back onto the field last week. It was a time for sports to be relegated to its role, which this time meant staying on the bench.

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