The two-week delay wasn’t the only development that threw Trinidad off his game and may have helped transform him from the 3½-to-1 favorite he was listed as to an underdog when the bell actually rang. On the night of the fight, September 29th, in the dressing room, Hopkins’ assistant trainer, Naazim Richardson, was watching Felix Trinidad Sr. wrap his son’s hands and objected to the way he was layering tape and gauze. Richardson believed the amount of material on Trinidad’s knuckles exceeded legal limits. And the New York Commission member present agreed that the handwraps did not meet the state’s standards, so the Trinidads had to re-wrap his fists.
While the drama unfolded, or if you were part of the Trinidad camp, unraveled, in the dressing room, there was a different kind of drama taking place out in the arena. The lingering post-9/11 emotional fallout, where Americans were still asking themselves whether it was okay to joke, to laugh, to be entertained, created a truly unique atmosphere. Here are Jim Lampley’s reflections:
Lampley: It was otherworldly just to be there. I never dreamed they could put the fight together within two weeks. I never dreamed I’d be back in New York so quickly after 9/11, after sitting through those four days waiting it out in Wichita. I was shocked, I was kind of awestruck that it was actually taking place, that we were there. And just as the city would later demonstrate in the playoffs and the World Series in the baseball postseason, the city was ready for a visible statement of its continuing vibrancy and importance, and that statement was there in MSG that night. I mean, the fight wouldn’t have been the same thing anywhere else. It had to be there.
Don King took the step of setting aside a section on the floor just for survivors and first responders. HBO executive Mark Taffet says he’ll never forget the moment during the undercard when those firefighters and policemen were led to their seats.
Taffet: I remember some of the folks at HBO, Janet Indelli and Coco Cocoves, working with the fire department. And at one point, Janet and Coco walked into the arena with what had to be at least 20 firefighters and policemen, and I recall the moment the images appeared on the big screen, and all of a sudden everyone in the Garden stood. It was like a giant wave. And the roar that came from the crowd was so loud that it actually didn’t have sound. It almost sucked all the sound out of the room, and you just felt this roar of air crossing by you. And everyone was crying and standing and cheering. And the fighters in the ring were actually perplexed, they had no idea what was going on. Suddenly they realized it, and there was a very quick short break in their action, as they just looked around to see what was going on. It was really something that I’ll never forget. I can’t even explain in words how overcome I was and everyone was with emotion, I’ll never forget even as I knew they were about to walk in, the chills that, as I say it now, I get the same feeling again—I get so emotional, such feelings of pride, you felt great to be an American, great to be there, and my god, so grateful to those folks who walked in and symbolized the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked so hard to bring everyone to safety that night and the days that followed. It was something I’ll never forget the rest of my life.
Bernard Hopkins made the decision not to wear his all-black Executioner outfit to the ring, feeling it wasn’t appropriate. He entered to Ray Charles’ “America The Beautiful,” to a mixed reaction from the mostly pro-Trinidad crowd. Then Trinidad entered wearing an NYPD hat and brought the house down. Four months earlier, when Trinidad fought Joppy, the Puerto Rican fans booed the Star Spangled Banner. On this night, there was no booing when NYPD officer Danny Rodriguez sang the National Anthem.
Referee Steve Smoger recalls the power of that anthem and the vibe in the arena.
Steve Smoger: It was the first major step toward healing. And it was the most emotional event I have ever attended or participated in in 34 years. The emotion. Don had a section for first responders and survivors, if they felt strong enough to come out and try the first step in the healing process. The chills were just, I had to maintain my composure. I really, really did. I said, “You’re here to do a job, you cannot get caught up in it.”