Pointed Toward A Special Place

By coming to Navy, Ed DeChellis is answering a calling, for both him and his late friend.

By Bob Socci

Originally posted on http://www.navysports.com on May 25, 2011.

Ed DeChellis had been back in Happy Valley for four seasons when sadness struck in the summer of 2007, leaving him to eulogize the man he still considers “my best friend in coaching.”

His confidant and colleague, Skip Prosser, was at Wake Forest, where he went out for a jog, returned to his office and collapsed in his chair. At age 56, he was dead of an apparent heart attack.

Days later, DeChellis addressed the hundreds, many of them his basketball peers, crammed into Holy Family Catholic Church in Clemmons, N.C.

After eight seasons as head basketball coach of his alma mater Penn State, Ed DeChellis was hired by the Naval Academy.
“The man I count on for direction is gone,” he told the mourners. “My compass in life has gone to another place.”

Four years later, the memory of if not the compass himself, seemed to be pointing DeChellis to another place. On Monday, just two months after leading his alma mater Penn State to the NCAA Tournament, and only two seasons removed from a NIT title, DeChellis was hired by the Naval Academy.

He arrived at his decision after touring Annapolis, accompanied by his wife, Kim, daughter, Lauren, and constant reminders of a dear friend.

DeChellis had grown especially close to Prosser when both were college assistants. Eventually, he took ownership of East Tennessee State’s program, before returning to PSU, while Prosser rose in the profession from Loyola (Md.) to Xavier to Wake Forest.

But one position Prosser never held was the one he always professed to want; the one that last weekend was made available to DeChellis.

“(Skip’s) dream job was the Naval Academy,” DeChellis said by phone on Tuesday, making one of the 50-to-60 return calls he owed to media and colleagues around the country. “Each year in the spring time, when jobs would circulate, he always talked about the Academy.”

Prosser romanticized about frequent visits to Annapolis during Navy’s halcyon days of the mid-to-late 1980s. A hard-nosed kid he coached in high school, Doug Wojcik, was the lead guard for the “Elite Eight” Midshipmen of 1986 and their captain a year later.

“He always talked about how special it was seeing Doug playing,” DeChellis remembers. “Years ago, I scouted a game at Halsey Fieldhouse. I understood what (Skip) was talking about.”

And when he recently came back to The Yard, walking with Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk, watching midshipmen march past and feeling a “great sense of pride,” DeChellis thought of Prosser.

The inexplicable enormity of it all, at this stage of his life and career, moved him to act.

“It was something that was very, very powerful,” DeChellis said during a press conference early Monday evening in University Park, Pa. “I can’t explain it, unless you’ve been there and done it. It was more like, without being too philosophical, it was like a calling, like this was something I needed to do and this was where I needed to be.”

Call it his civic duty. DeChellis does, if only “in some small way.”

“Believe me, I’m a very small part of it, but this is something I can give back” he said of his newly chosen role coaching soon-to-be officers.

Outside of Annapolis, such sentiments have evoked responses ranging from curiosity to incredulity, as demonstrated by lines of questioning during Monday’s presser and in Tuesday morning’s analysis.

Why, some wonder, would the 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year depart a power conference so lucrative that it’s contemplating paying players? For the Patriot League, which until 2006-07 still fielded a member abstaining from athletic scholarships?

Was there discontent in Happy Valley, coaching in football’s 360-degree shadow? Did his contract status leave him feeling underappreciated, disrespected or insecure? Could it be all of the above?

It was, DeChellis stresses, none of the above.

“It’s not about going from the Big Ten to the Patriot League, it’s about working at the Naval Academy and having to work with young men who want to serve our country,” he said on Monday.

DeChellis paused several times to compose himself during the course of his 16 ½-minute media session. He was PSU Class of 1982, assisted three different head coaches for a total of 12 years and presided over the Nittany Lions for eight seasons. He and his wife raised three girls and became grandparents there. Saying goodbye is hard to do.

The following afternoon, DeChellis summed up his thought process.

“I wasn’t leaving Penn State,” he said, “I was going to Navy.”

To the person who knows DeChellis best, fully understanding his inner being and personal bearings, his decision in the end wasn’t much of a surprise.

“(To) my wife, driving home last week, I said, `What do you think?'” DeChellis recounted. “She just said, `This is who you are, this is what you stand for: morals, ethics, hard work, determination, all those words.'”

Saccharin as those words might seem to skeptics – especially considering some of the stuff we’ve heard from too many ethically-challenged coaches – DeChellis’s reputation appears beyond reproach.

And if accepting a reported pay cut to take a supposed step down on the coaching ladder seems unfathomable, you should understand that DeChellis sees life differently than most of us.

He was in his early 20s when his father, Richard, the family breadwinner, died from stomach cancer on Halloween of 1981. With poor health coverage and little life insurance, the DeChellises were forced to sell their family home.

The disease would revisit decades later. DeChellis’s mother Audrey succumbed to pancreatic and liver cancer at 6:08 a.m. on Christmas Day in 2007.

Between the losses of both parents, DeChellis awoke on a Friday morning seven years ago to blood in his urine. He suspected a kidney stone. The next day, a doctor delivered a grave diagnosis: DeChellis had a tumor in his bladder. It was malignant.

Today cancer is in remission, yet remains part of who DeChellis is. It shapes his perspective.

“No question,” he says. “I live six months at a time. My next doctor’s appointment is in June.

“You look at things differently. You learn that having lots of money, fanfare, TV (notoriety), whatever; it’s not going to help you.”

DeChellis called the late Skip Prosser "my compass in life."
In 2009, DeChellis was one of five Division I basketball coaches among more than 6,000 American Cancer Society representatives who converged on Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers to do more to help families ravaged by the disease physically and financially.

He’s also helped Penn State raise hundreds of thousands through his work with Coaches vs. Cancer. Last year alone, according to a school press release, the Nittany Lions generated more than $200,000.

Considering what he confronted, and how he’s acted on his convictions, there’s no doubting DeChellis’s sincerity when he tells you that coming to the Academy is “about what I wanted to do with my life.”

And, he adds, making a difference in his players’ lives.

That includes helping the Mids reach the NCAA Tournament. Navy hasn’t been there since 1998.

Like his friend Don DeVoe, who led the Mids to three Patriot League titles in a five-year span, DeChellis comes to Annapolis after guiding two other schools to the NCAA tourney.

At East Tennessee State, he inherited a 20-loss program before averaging nearly 19 wins his final three seasons, including a Southern Conference crown in 2003. DeChellis then succeeded Jerry Dunn at Penn State, which had gone to the NCAA Tournament only eight times in its history.

Any Nittany Lion tradition in basketball, for the most part, is in the women’s game. The Penn State men’s program is truly a Big Ten outlier. While five conference foes have advanced to the Final Four since 2000, it hasn’t been that deep since 1954.

Nonetheless, under DeChellis, the Nittany Lions captured the NIT Championship with their 27th victory of 2008-09. Last March, they reached their first-ever Big Ten final and earned the school’s first NCAA tourney bid in a decade.

As you know – and as he’s already discovered – DeChellis faces unique challenges inherent at a service academy. He laughs about trying to reach a Navy player this week, only to learn of the Mid’s unavailability. His ship, literally, had sailed.

But DeChellis’s rolodex is filled with invaluable resources. He intends to call on DeVoe and Wojcik, now the head coach at Tulsa. He plans to reach out to Paul Evans, Pete Hermann and Emmett Davis, all of whom have strong coaching ties to the Academy.

“I want to see what their formula for success was,” DeChellis says. “History can repeat itself if you pay attention.”

In many ways – especially on defense and under the boards – he’ll try to duplicate what was done at Penn State. When successful, his Nittany Lions weren’t quite winning on style points. Sometimes they won without many points, period.

Like in the 2011 Big Ten quarterfinals, where the score was: Penn State 36, Wisconsin 33. And no, the shot clock didn’t malfunction.

Of course, that’s an extreme example. Nonetheless, DeChellis will soon be coaching where prevailing by grit and grind isn’t just accepted; it’s expected. This is, after all, where the football team has won twice in three years without ever completing a pass.

It’s also where the Mids of the mid-90s made winning ugly at times an art form. Most of DeVoe’s tenure, defense and rebounding were paramount. Offense often was a by-product of the two.

And though the dynamics of the now-scholarship Patriot League are different than many of those seasons, Navy was good enough to place second just four years ago. The Mids have been talented enough to feature the conference’s top scorer three of the past four seasons.

But with a style predicated on three pointers – sometimes for better, sometimes not – they still found the league’s quarterfinals inescapable. Navy hasn’t won a postseason game since 2001.

If the likes of Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan and Wojcik believe DeChellis has what it takes to change that – and they most certainly do – well, to coin an expression familiar around Annapolis, expect to win.

“I’m proud that we proved we could win at Penn State,” DeChellis says. “I’m ready to do something different.”

Albeit by means tried and true, in both Navy and Penn State blue.

“You have to be a tight-knit group and have a togetherness to you, with no missing pieces on the floor,” he says of his coaching philosophy. “You have to defend, and you better take care of the basketball to give yourself a chance to do well.

“Togetherness, toughness, defense; those three things have to be staples in our program.”

Especially togetherness and toughness; those are cornerstones of the Academy. DeChellis is ready to start building around them.

“It’s a different lifestyle; a different way of life,” he knows. “But it’s basketball; it’s competing…We will be as competitive as heck and I think we are going to put a great program together. But it’s not about those other things with me anymore. It’s just not.”

It’s about something an old friend understood long ago.

“Penn State is a special place for me and my family,” DeChellis says, “but I found another special place in the United States Naval Academy.”

Bob has enjoyed a 15-year association with the Naval Academy. In addition to his current role as radio voice of Navy football, he calls Norfolk Tides baseball and is a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit www.bobsocci.com.

A Doctor On The Call

By Bob Socci

Perhaps it was the veteran goaltender, his helmet dislodged after being barreled over by a teammate tumbling into the crease and his eyebrow bloodied by the puck careening off his head into the net.

Or the teenager, lagging in experience and unable to keep up with others in a patented playoff tradition, yet accelerating between and beyond defenders, leaving them behind in his first postseason series.

Blonde-bearded Tim Thomas was once the 217th player selected in the NHL Entry Draft and a journeyman of North American minor leagues and Scandinavian hockey. Now, at 37, he is a late-blooming star. The hopes of the so-called Hub of Hockey rest on his shoulders and skates.

Just last summer, Tyler Seguin was chosen 2nd overall among the world’s most-talented amateurs. His boyish face appears on screen to feature only smudges of hair attached to his 19-year-old chin. Born only two years before his teammate Thomas was drafted, he is emerging as New England’s next fan favorite.

On this night, as the Boston Bruins evened the Eastern Conference Finals with Tampa Bay, either one could have been the face of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Meanwhile, the voice of hockey’s second season – arguably the most arduous championship pursuit in pro sports – belongs indisputably to Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick.

Master of his craft for more than three decades, Emrick is in his 22nd consecutive spring calling the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’ll soon work his 12th Finals with a distinct style that makes him both a Thomas and Seguin of play-by-play storytellers.

His is the perspective of the veteran who’s virtually seen and told it all; and the enthusiasm of a fresh-faced teenager celebrating after he finds the back of the net.

Whether a fan of the sport or someone who appreciates broadcasting at its best, everything is in order when Emrick describes an odd-man rush.

In January 2009, the New Jersey Devils staged Mike 'Doc' Emrick Night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (www.devils.nhl.com).
Even during the tensest circumstances and most exciting situations – when there’s no time to sort through one’s vocabulary – he chooses his words exquisitely.

Passes are made “haphazardly,” pucks are “floated on” and shots are “flexed” aside. A goalie is “besieged,” while a skater losing an edge is left “powerless to prevent an off-sides.” Emrick goes where no one in this business east of Vin Scully can.

And as with his poetic baseball counterpart, he stretches the language to ensure accuracy. It’s substantive style not schtick, down to the very last detail. Thomas, for example, didn’t simply smother a shot in Game 3 on Thursday, he “trapped (the puck) on the spoked-B” of his sweater.

Considering Emrick’s background – more Thomas-like than Seguinesque – such devotion to precision shouldn’t be surprising.

When The NHL Network aired the series Voices several years ago, the episode devoted to Emrick was as much a half-hour how-to for younger broadcasters as a profile of the lead announcer for the New Jersey Devils, Versus and NBC.

Emrick grew up in Indiana, where he was introduced to the pro club in Fort Wayne and educated by Bob Chase, who well into his 80s and approaching six decades as the radio voice of the Komets continues calling their games.

Eventually, he joined Chase at the nearby Coliseum; though in Emrick’s case, his was an audience of one. Occupying an otherwise empty section of the stands, he spoke into a reel-to-reel recorder, unleashing the creativity that remains a trademark.

Emrick jokes about the time he pitted the faculty of Miami University, where he went to grad school, against fellow students. In his imagination, professors played for the Komets, peers for Toledo.

“It was just a way to try to practice,” he says, smiling, in the Voices documentary.

After tapes of those make-believe broadcasts failed to net any real over-the-air time, Emrick taught speech at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa. While there, he volunteered to cover the Pittsburgh Penguins for the local paper, paying his dues as an unpaid correspondent.

Emrick went back to school, at Bowling Green, to earn his doctorate – hence the nickname – and, in return for teaching a couple of classes, handled the second period of Falcons’ hockey games. In 1973, the Port Huron Flags hired him at the rate of $160 a week.

Rather than forget such humble beginnings, Emrick pays tribute to them. His preparation is as deep and broad as his roots in the game. Every telecast is a history lesson from the former educator.

“I do love to prepare,” he says in Voices, “It’s fun for me.”

And fun for us. That’s because there’s a purpose for everything Emrick shares. He’s not randomly disseminating information. He’s telling the stories of rivalries, traditions, players and – always foremost, far and away – the game we’re watching.

But as much as Emrick knows, he’s anything but a know-it-all. He is both talker and listener and, as well as anyone in his business, prods his partners to explain themselves. Instead of proffering his own opinions, Emrick is constantly questioning, almost as if he’s an absolute novice.

For instance, during the Bruins’ 2-0 victory on Thursday, Ed Olczyk suggested using Seguin during an early 4-on-4 situation. Said an inquiring Emrick, “What would he bring to that?”

Emrick centers his broadcasting team, setting up Olczyk and Joe Micheletti as analysts. He assists, they score with their points. You don’t have to listen long to hear their chemistry.

He seems absent of ego, quick to self-deprecate on his own broadcasts and often available for others on theirs.

Pete Michaud has been broadcasting hockey in Norfolk, Va. for 19 years, the last 12 with the Admirals of the AHL. As host of Admirals Hour each Tuesday, he recently invited Emrick to call in. Being the considerate pro that he is, Michaud tried to give plenty of advanced notice.

But as they talked on a Monday, Emrick was tied up the following week, as well as the week after that. “How about tomorrow?” he asked Michaud. A day later, Emrick was regaling Hampton Roads with minor league anecdotes about Michaud’s co-host and coach of the Admirals Jon Cooper.

Emrick is big time, but not too big for the Fort Waynes, Port Hurons and Norfolks of the hockey world. And certainly never too big to say he’s sorry.

There was a split-second on Thursday when he confused David Krejci with Rich Peverley, a 46 for a 49. Immediately, Emrick uttered the four words so many of us struggle with: I beg your pardon. Better to ask forgiveness, and get it right.

Most of all, hearing him simply makes you happy. Like Scully, Emrick articulates with an easy-listening lilt, even while calling a high-octane sport.

Six years ago, Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post, brilliantly profiled the legendary Scully, declaring him ‘The Voice of Heaven.’ Sheinin also quoted Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

“I don’t know how to say it, really…but hearing Vin’s voice,” Selig concluded, “just makes me feel better.”

Later that summer, as the Triple-A Norfolk Tides rode through the darkness of another night on the road, their coaches – all three of them ex-major leaguers – sat near the front of a sleeper bus equipped with satellite TV. They were wide awake, held captive by The Voice of Heaven, coming to them from the City of the Angels.

At one point, a fellow passenger, the team’s radio announcer, repeated Selig’s line. Several innings later, pitching coach Randy Niemann did the same.

“You’re right,” Niemann agreed with a grin. “He does make you feel better.”

No different, really, than the middle of this month, in a living room just south of Boston. A Bruins victory was great. Emrick made it better.

Thomas’s late stand in Game 2, supported by Seguin’s four-point performance, enabled the B’s to barely survive a third-period surge by the Lightning. They held on, 6-5.

Watching the teams leave the ice, Emrick wondered tongue-in-cheek whether any of the Bruins would enter the dressing room and proclaim, “Boys, we had them the whole way.”

Joking aside, it was Emrick who had us, the whole way.

Bob calls Norfolk Tides games, in addition to his roles as the radio voice of Navy football and a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit www.bobsocci.com.

Baseball in This American Life

By Bob Socci

Like so many Saturdays in May, far too many to possibly recount, this one included plenty of conversation about the game I’ve loved as long as memory can recall.

Only, unlike all those others, I wasn’t doing the talking.

Most of adulthood – accepting that I’ve actually grown up – spring and summer weekends typically were spent at ballparks around the country. One minor league baseball season to the next, that was life dedicated to the dream of becoming a major league announcer.

From 2003-09, it annually included the 140-plus games of a Triple-A schedule, sandwiched between the college basketball and football campaigns. Every spring, I stuffed my car with clothes and books, and headed out.

Those first three years, I drove three days from Annapolis to Albuquerque to call the start-up Isotopes. The next three, my commute was shortened to three-plus hours, as voice of the Norfolk (Va.) Tides. Around Labor Day, I retraced my tracks just in time for opening kickoff.

Harbor Park in Norfolk, Va. is home of the Baltimore Orioles Triple-A affiliate.

But by April of ’09, I was re-routed, after my wife and I moved to New England. Boston, for us, was the best place to raise a family. Unfortunately, home games – all four of them – occurred only when the Tides visited Pawtucket.

Then, last summer our first child, a boy, was born and my baseball schedule was cut in half. Although games were still almost always away, calling sports year-round, it was great to again experience true home stands. This spring, as our son closes in on his 11th month, my role with the Tides is essentially that of a pinch-hitter.

So, on Saturday, May 7, after returning from Indianapolis and Louisville, I wasn’t needed on air. My weekend free, what did I do? Naturally – though certainly not without the blessing of my wonderful wife – I left the house for a few hours of talking baseball. In this instance, for a change, I was the listener.

The Great Fenway Park Writers Series, a public service of the Red Sox, was holding its next event, an appearance by Texas attorney and published baseball historian Talmage Boston at a coffee-and-croissant reception inside the Hotel Commonwealth.

Ironically, if not for a football writer, I never would have known about it. Months earlier, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King noted the Writers Series in his Monday Morning QB column for SI.com. King’s comment was published between the items reaffirming his “Coffeenerdness” and “Beernerdness.”

Interest piqued, a quick search led me to www.fenwayparkwriters.org, where I learned of Boston’s upcoming visit to The Hub. Since the Series’ calendar coincided with an opening on mine, I reserved my seat.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon arrival in Kenmore Square. Part of me hoped Peter would be there too, so I could introduce myself, invite him to the Army-Navy Game – one coffee snob to another, thanking him for his lead about the Writers Series – and recommend Osiris Pale Ale the next time he’s in Indy to cover the Colts.

Alas, if King was there, I didn’t see him. Not that I recognized anyone in the audience, aside from the author. And not that it made an ounce of difference. The only thing that really mattered was easily apparent in everyone around me: why we were all there.

We all shared a passion for baseball. Why else would we devote a beautiful Saturday morning, much less pay to hear a lawyer state his case?

I signed in, received a copy of Boston’s latest book, Baseball and The Baby Boomer, poured a cup of coffee (Peter would have liked it, I think) and took an open seat. The first person I met was Jeff, a very friendly hotel employee enjoying a door man’s holiday. He was a veteran of the Writers Series and assured me that I was in the right place, among the right people – baseball fans all.

Before long, another amiable gentleman, Bob, joined us. Old enough to have seen his first major league game in person at the Polo Grounds, he was sporting a San Francisco Giants cap. It was his homage to Willie Mays, who the day before celebrated his 80th birthday. Say Hey!

Others filled the room, and soon enough the Writers Series chairman George Mitrovich addressed the gathering. Mitrovich presides over similar forums in Denver and San Diego. His bio on the group’s website states that he has a “profound belief in the dialogue of democracy – a dialogue that most assuredly includes the realm of sports.”

Especially the game that Mitrovich reasserts remains our National Pastime. As longtime Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote, “Conversation is the lifeblood of baseball.”

Now, my friends in places like Baltimore or New York might find a bunch of mainly Red Sox fans waxing poetic about baseball, around the corner from Fenway Park, to be absolutely unlistenable. My own travels taught me long ago that devoted fans populate great baseball towns – and in some cases, regions – far from Red Sox Nation.

In college, I interned with the Reds when Pete Rose was a ‘future hall of famer’ and Cincinnati was capital of Reds Land. Years later, off-days for my Peoria Chiefs allowed for sunning in the bleachers at Wrigleyville or joining the Cardinal red sea of fans in St. Louis. I also strolled along Eutaw Street, beside the Warehouse at Camden Yards, when the Orioles were perched atop the AL East.

What’s more, extended time in Triple-A can test your romantic devotion to the game. You’re always bound to encounter somebody displeased about something: mainly that he’s not in the big leagues.

But as Mitrovich concluded his introduction of Boston, prefacing a speech about “Baseball and American Life,” as far as I was concerned, we were in the center of the thinking fan’s universe. Boston opened by quoting the French-born scholar Jacques Barzun, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

Talmage Boston's latest book, published in 2009 by bright sky press.

For the better part of the next hour or so, Boston filled the room full of mostly middle-aged men and women with anecdotes to back up his premise that, “Baseball is a hard game played by hard men, who throw hard and hit hard.” Naturally, as with the best yarns about baseball, they spun off a few laughs.

Boston also demonstrated how this hard game can touch a soft spot. He told the story of former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Suffering great personal loss in 1960, Thornburgh credited the miraculous World Series triumph of his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates for lifting him out of the doldrums. For Thornburgh, baseball was a healing agent.

Hearing Boston, I couldn’t help but think about September 2001, and how baseball helped to ease one’s psyche. I’ll never forget the exact moment I began to sense the so-called return to normalcy after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

For a week, I had tensely watched and listened to news reports almost non-stop. But when I turned on the car radio on the evening of Sept. 17, pulling out of a grocery store parking lot in Annapolis, I heard Gary Cohen and Ed Coleman calling the New York Mets vs. the Pirates. Baseball was back. Finally, I could exhale. As the brilliant documentary, Nine Innings From Ground Zero, later illustrated, I wasn’t alone.

Boston also shared some of his fondest memories of his all-time favorites, like Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski and Nolan Ryan. With mention of each name, I thought of my own boyhood idols. What was personal for him evoked what was personal for me.

And that, as much as anything, is why I believe the hard game has such a firm hold on this American life. Each of us has experienced, or at least longed for, moments like Kevin Costner having a catch with his dad in Field of Dreams. Memories of the game take us back to the sandlots and diamonds of our youth, if not an Iowa cornfield.

Sometimes, when you find yourself inside the game, you need step back and take stock of those memories. I did. Someday, I look forward to sharing them with my son.

When Boston’s speech ended and the Writers Series adjourned, I walked out onto Commonwealth Avenue, which was teeming with fans on their way to Fenway. In two hours, the Sox would host the Twins.

They streamed one way and I went the opposite. I couldn’t help but feel we were all going in the same direction – to the ballpark.

Bob continues to call Norfolk Tides games, in addition to his roles as the radio voice of Navy football and a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit www.bobsocci.com.

‘A Total Team Effort’

Ex-linebacker and former Navy SEAL Clint Bruce reacts to death of Osama bin Laden

By Bob Socci

Originally posted on http://www.navysports.com on May 4, 2011.

This was one of those rare where-were-you-when moments in life, marked as much by the vivid imagery of our space in its time as by its time and date.

Most likely, for most of us, there hadn’t been anything like it since the darkest hours of a sunny Tuesday in New York City nearly a decade ago. The memory of that morning, when nearly 3,000 innocent victims were murdered in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field, remains both surreal and unshakable.

So will, undoubtedly and indelibly, the recollection of our exact whereabouts late on Sunday night or the first thing Monday. Whenever it was that we first learned that Osama bin Laden, the man behind those attacks on 9/11, had been killed by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Clint Bruce happened to be fulfilling a dad’s duty, proudly watching his daughter dance.

“I was at my daughter’s ballet recital,” Bruce, once and always a Navy SEAL, said by phone late Monday afternoon. “There are two places I would want to be, either there with the guys or watching my daughter’s ballet recital. I managed to be at one of the two places.”

Those “guys” Bruce refers to are the commandos who helped the world’s most wanted terrorist, codename Geronimo, meet the fate Americans have long sought for him, as an enemy killed in action.

“We’ve all circled around each other the last 24 hours,” Bruce says of the comrades he once served alongside. “Some of us regret that we weren’t there. You almost feel like you missed the bus for the state championship game, that we weren’t there for the guys.”

Bruce may feel that way. But one can’t help but imagine that he was there, at least in spirit, unequivocally inseparable from all the other remarkably dedicated and skilled professionals who ever trained to become our most elite warriors.

Those SEALs who carried out the Abbottabad helicopter assault in anonymity embody an ethos attesting that the “trident is a symbol of honor and heritage.” Such heritage is made up by men like Bruce.

Fifteen years ago, he was defensive captain of a Navy football team that halted a string of 13 consecutive losing seasons and beat Cal in the Aloha Bowl. His position coach, Tommy Raye, once likened the passion with which Bruce played linebacker with that of Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke.

Bruce was a bundle of emotion and fury, uncontained by his No. 51 jersey. His toughness transcended the field. And upon graduating from the Naval Academy in 1997, he service selected the SEALs.

Where or when he deployed isn’t for us to know. What’s important is an understanding that Bruce did his part, just like anyone else who ever engaged in the War on Terror. Ultimately, in their own way, they all helped bring bin Laden down.

“Pre-op was nine years in the making,” says Bruce, his point substantiated by every report of how years of military and intelligence efforts, during two presidential administrations, led to a 40-minute raid. “There are thousands of things that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq that pointed in this direction…it’s a total moral victory for the military intelligence community.

“There’s a pride from your own personal history that our guys were the unit to get it done. But I’m extremely proud of the entire U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. Rest assured, everyone played a role. It was a total team effort.”

Offering context, Bruce reminds us that the SEALs formed “the pointed end of a spear.” The so-called “violence of action” with which they operated so precisely isn’t exclusive domain. It belongs not to one group alone, nor to a single branch of armed forces.

Even so, as layers of their amazing operation are unpeeled, we gain a greater appreciation for the unblinking eyes SEALs fix on finishing what’s started. And, in that regard, for their amazing adaptability when best laid plans go awry, such as when a helicopter malfunctions.

“SEAL teams put a remarkable value on intellect,” Bruce says. “Like surgeons, when something goes wrong, you start applying your knowledge. They have a tremendous capacity for innovation.”

Some once demonstrated that faculty in Annapolis; often, while competing for Academy athletic programs and clubs.

“A lot (of ex-Midshipmen) are doing an incredible job,” Bruce guarantees, speaking in an authoritative voice to a longtime observer of Navy athletics. “Not just a few of them…and not just from the major (sports). There are guys that you know well, who were athletes at the Naval Academy, who’ve done hundreds of times more than me. I didn’t do as much as most.

“There’s absolute pride and no surprise. They’re the same men who sweated and bled next to me as plebes.”

Several of Bruce’s teammates and classmates, continue to serve. Their identities are hidden, their locations undisclosed.

They follow the lead of Bert Calland (Class of ’74), who decades after his record-setting career as a wide receiver reportedly became the first American flag officer in Afghanistan post-9/11. As Vice Admiral, Calland commanded the SEALs, before his appointment as Deputy Director of the C.I.A.

And they humbly bear the legacy of former lacrosse player Brendan Looney (’04), who perished last September in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan. You wouldn’t be alone if thoughts at word of bin Laden’s death included Looney and all others who sacrificed their lives for the America they loved.

“I always think about guys we lost,” said Bruce. “Losses and mistakes are immortalized. You think about them all the time; whenever Navy plays a lacrosse game, whenever I’m drinking a beer with (my buddies), or whenever I’m with my kids, wishing they could meet those (heroes).”

With that somber note, Bruce also sounds a cautionary word.

“It’s the end of Chapter One, cutting the head off the snake,” he says of bin Laden’s demise. “(Sunday) was a reckoning, an accounting, but wasn’t the end. There’s all the morale and satisfaction that comes with that accounting.

“(But) strategically, you’re at your most vulnerable after a win, in proportion to how high you hold your head after victory. We need to be concerned.”

Bruce still stands vigilant. No longer active military, he manages intelligence and security for “admirals and generals of private industry” with the Trident Response Group.

He also remains extremely close to the coaches who once mentored him – “I was raised by those guys, (after) I lost my father” – and to the young men they now mold.

Bruce frequently reaches out to current Navy players, sometimes to counsel them on career choices. And when asked what it takes to be a SEAL, the self-professed “gas-pedal guy” never applies the break on the truth.

“The myth of who we are, and where we are, has been expanded,” Bruce said, well aware of the near mystique surrounding `his guys’ in the aftermath of Abbottabad. “But you either have it or you don’t. A commercial won’t get you through Hell Week.”

But to those who have it, to those who made it, this week more than ever, Americans are indebted.

“It’s amazing what can happen when you give bold men permission to be bold,” Bruce says. “Dare well, and you deliver well.”