By Peter Schwartz
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We all remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001.
I was working for another radio station and was driving up to Lake Placid to cover New York Islanders training camp. As I passed the exit for Albany on the New York State Thruway, I heard about the first plane smashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Our world changed forever.
A short time later, I was sitting in the 1980 Arena watching the Islanders practice when something dawned on me. Here I was, sitting in a building where one of the greatest moments in United States history occurred on what was the absolute worst day in American history.
The heroics of Jim Craig or Mike Eruzione didn’t seem to matter much that day.
The Jets were getting ready to play the Raiders in Oakland. It was a Tuesday so the Jets were off, but players showed up if they wanted to work out.
“I remember that day vividly,” said former Jets center Kevin Mawae. “We got a phone call that a plane crashed into the (World Trade Center). It was a somber day for everybody. I remember sitting in Weeb Ewbank Hall (at Hofstra) and watching television when the towers collapsed. It was a moment that you never forget.”
The NFL was leaning towards going forward with Week 2, but that did not sit well with the Jets.
“We took a vote as a team that we would forfeit that game against the Raiders if they made us play,” said Mawae. “I think it set the tone for the rest of the teams around the league.”
In the end, Week 2 was rescheduled as Week 17, setting the scene for John Hall’s game winning field goal in Oakland that sent the Jets into the playoffs.
On Sunday night, the Jets will host the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The Jets will join the NFL and the nation as they honor, remember, and reunite with special ceremonies throughout the night.
“September 11, 2001 was a tragic day our nation will never forget,” said Jets Chairman and CEO Woody Johnson. “The New York Jets are honored to commemorate the 10-year anniversary, remembering those who were lost, those they left behind and all those who became heroes that day. We are proud to join with our fellow countrymen and women to reunite as the greatest nation in the world.”
Each fan that attends Sunday night’s game will receive an American Flag. As part of pre-game ceremonies, taps will be streamed live into the stadium with the backdrop of the World Trade Center site. Also, bagpipers from the FDNY, NYPD, and PAPD will before Amazing Grace on the field.
Grammy winner and New York native Mary J. Blige will perform the National Anthem. Then, children of first responders will serve as honorary captains for the Jets.
At halftime, the stadium lights will be turned off and the Jets will ask fans to stay in the seats for an emotional tribute. The ceremony will start when Academy Award-winning actor and New York native Robert De Niro narrates a powerful moment created by family members of 9/11 represented by Tuesday’s Children.
Then, Five For Fighting will perform an acoustic, piano version of “Superman.” The song became an anthem for many people after the attacks after a version was performed at “The Concern For New York city” in October 2001.
“As it was 10 years ago, it is an honor to pay tribute to those Americans who showed immeasurable courage during and after the attacks of 9/11,” said Ondraski. “We can never forget the families who lost loved ones and may we find strength in the memory of New York City’s heroes.”
Fans will be able to make a $10 donation to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum throughout the game by texting “HOPE” to 80088. The players and coaches will be wearing FDNY and NYPD hats on the sidelines during the game. They will be available for purchase at jetsshop.com for $15 with 100% of the proceeds from sales donated to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
9/11 will always be a day etched in our memories.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan was working for the Ravens on 9/11. That morning, he was walking past the office of Pat Moriarty, a Ravens employee that handled all of the team’s contracts.
“He’s like “Oh my goodness”, said Ryan. “I looked in there and we were getting ready to practice and so I’m watching it, and right when I was watching, the other plane hit the second tower. I was like, “Oh my goodness.” So that’s what I remember, and I was thinking about my cousin who (was) a New York City fireman and all that. So I had a lot of thoughts about those times.”
As it turns out, Ryan’s cousin, Matthew Russo, was not at Ground Zero that day.
Many Jets players have vivid memories of 9/11. Most of them were still in high school or college at the time.
Center Nick Mangold was a senior at Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio and was sitting in math class when the attacks began.
“It was one of those things where you really didn’t know what was going on,” said Mangold. “It was just an amazing tragedy. You couldn’t really wrap your mind around it. It was a crazy time for all of us.”
Safety Eric Smith was a freshman at Michigan State in 2001. On the morning of 9/11, he was walking from class to his dorm room.
“They had it on television (in the dorms) and everyone was watching it,” recalled Smith. “It took me a minute to figure out what was going on but it was unbelievable.”
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was getting ready to go his football class at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida when he learned about the events of that morning.
“I didn’t know what to think,” said Cromartie. “When someone said something about it, I thought somebody was (joking). Then we went down to our locker rooms and it was on TV. “
Last week, the Jets paid a visit to Ground Zero when they held their Kickoff Luncheon in Lower Manhattan. It was an experience that they’ll never forget.
“It was special,” said running back LaDainian Tomlinson. “Because I think for a guy like me who was on the West Coast at the time, I really didn’t get a chance to see it up close. When you go there, there’s a certain aura that you have when you stand there and you just imagine that day and just the chaos and everything that so many families and people went through.”
As for the game on Sunday night, Ryan is part of two storylines. First, he’ll be looking across the field at his brother Rob, who is the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys. Second, he wants to win the game for New York on what will be a very emotional night.
“Usually, it’s (going) against my brother and all that and you have a lot of fun with that,” said Ryan. “But obviously I feel (like) it’s different, like a responsibility. The significance of it, I think it’s stronger than any game I’ve ever felt. I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I’ve ever coached. I know it’s football and we’re not talking about life or death or anything like that, but I don’t know, that’s kind of how I’m taking it.”
The Yankees’ run to the 2001 World Series didn’t bring back any lives or make people forget about the events of 9/11, but it did provide many with an escape of sorts from what was going on. Also, Mike Piazza’s dramatic home run against the Braves in the first game after the attacks was one of the greatest moments in New York sports history.
On Sunday night, the Jets, just like the Giants, will try to accomplish in Washington earlier in the day, hope to give their fans something to smile about on the anniversary of a horrible tragedy that, I think, we are all still trying to figure out.
A win over the Cowboys isn’t a life or death matter, but it would be a nice way to put the wraps on a very emotional day.
Are you happy with the ceremonies planned at MetLife Stadium? Let us know in the comments below…