My 9/11 nightmare began in Denver. That’s where I was when Osama bin Laden pulled the world from under our feet.
On Sept. 10, 2001, I was covering a “Monday Night Football” game between the Broncos and Giants for NFL.com. The next morning, football and practically everything else that didn’t relate to the horror in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., suddenly became an afterthought.
The memories are as vivid and jolting today as the experiences were 12 years ago.
Waiting to take off from Denver on the early-morning flight I had just boarded, and getting that frantic phone call from my wife, saying, “Get off the plane, now! They’re crashing planes into the World Trade Center!”
Frantically gathering my belongings and walking off that jet and leaving the airport terminal -- along with thousands of other panicked passengers who suddenly realized they were going nowhere by air that day -- and hearing a man in his 20s say, to no one in particular, “This is our Pearl Harbor.”
Sitting with a group of hotel guests in front of the lobby television, shortly after the second plane hit the Twin Towers, and realizing that three women crying inconsolably were flight attendants for United Airlines as the reality that their co-workers were among the earliest victims was setting in.
And then, once it became clear that I would not be getting home by plane any time soon, the drive back to my home in Western New York. The nearly 1,400 miles through eight states, with plenty of caffeine and the thought of hugging my wife and children pushing me to make the trip as fast as I possibly could.
Seeing all of those American flags hanging from overpasses and trucks on the highway.
Exchanging periodic phone calls with my long-time friend, John Clayton, who had been covering the same game for ESPN and was driving back to Seattle at the same time.
Looking into the faces of people at rest stops along the way, and not needing to say a word to know the chilling uncertainty that we all shared.
At some point, we would go back to dealing with football, but not that week. The NFL properly postponed its Week 2 slate of games, mostly at the urging of players from the Giants and Jets that were the closest to the carnage in New York and greatly impacted by it.
Everyone was left reeling, and a season that had just started would have to be put on hold as the NFL, like the rest of the world, tried to pull itself back together.
Players from those New York teams couldn’t think of practicing or playing, especially the many who had witnessed the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center from their homes. Former Browns offensive guard Joe Andruzzi, who played for the New England Patriots at the time, had three brothers who were New York firefighters -- and all lived to talk about 9/11, including Jimmy Andruzzi, who reached the 27th floor of the north tower before being ordered to evacuate because the south tower had crumbled.
When the NFL games did resume, there were strong displays of patriotism at every stadium. Former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman was so moved that he quit football to enlist in the military, a decision that drew tremendous admiration but wound up with him making the ultimate sacrifice.
Twelve years later, so many of us are forced to remember so much that we wish we could forget.
For me, the memories will begin where they always do, in Denver, and they always will extend to the thousands of lives that were lost and to their loved ones.
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