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Football, Faith, and Fighting for Freedom
September 11, 2001
A friend of mine was getting married on sunday, September 16, and he wasn't the only one who had to get his act together in the days before the wedding. I was looking frantically for my old tuxedo. It was a formal wedding, so all the men had to have one. I eventually found it in an old suitcase I'd buried in the back of a closet. I tried it on. Size 48L, the same size I wore when I was a linebacker in the NFL in the early 1990s. Only it looked ridiculous on me now. I weighed twenty pounds less than I did when I was playing with the Chiefs, Steelers, and Patriots, so I looked like a little kid trying on something he'd found in his dad's closet.
I had to get the monkey suit altered and cleaned up pretty fast. So I brought it to the tailor's shop near my apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. They told me to come back on Tuesday morningTuesday, September 11, 2001.
Getting this chore done would mean I'd be late for work that morning, but I knew that wouldn't be a problem. As an assistant district attorney in the office of Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau, I had spent the last few weeks working with the New York Police Department on an undercover investigation of a violent drug gang. I had put in a lot of hours on this case, so I was pretty sure nobody was going to be too upset if I showed up a little late that morning.
As I walked to a nearby subway station, I noticed traces of smoke in the air to my left, toward downtown. I heard somebody in the street say that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. Like most of us thatmorning, I figured that a small plane had somehow lost its way and plowed into one of the towers.
I got off the subway at the City Hall stop, which is just a few blocks south of the D.A.'s office in Foley Square. The stairs lead north, toward Foley Square and away from downtown. From the darkness of the subway station, I started walking up the stairs to the sunshine. But with each step, I saw more and more people gathered around the subway entrance. As I emerged I saw hundreds of people standing in the street. I could see their faces, filled with fear and bewilderment. Their heads were tilted up, their eyes staring at some object in the sky behind me. Some of them had tears in their eyes.
I turned around. There was a horrible, sickly gash in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Smoke was pouring out of the gash. "Holy shit! That was no small plane," I thought. My head then snapped to the left to see the south tower. It seemed like smoke was seeping out of every side of that huge steel frame just above the midway point. The smoke was clinging to the sides as it slowly rose toward the top.
This was far, far more awful than I'd imagined during the subway ride downtown.
After a few minutes, I overheard some guy to my left talking about how he was inside the north tower when the first plane slammed into it. I looked away from the burning towers to hear what he was saying, and as I did, I heard a deep rumbling sound. I looked back toward the south tower and saw it collapse.
People were pushing past me as they fled the falling debris. I just stood there, dumbstruck.
I snapped out of it when I saw a huge cloud of dust and debris whip around the corner of a building directly in front of me. I turned and joined the river of people running north away from the danger. As I ran, I kept repeating to myself, "The tower is gone. I can't believe the tower is gone."
When I was clear of the collapse zone, I stopped running and began to make my way to my office. I was still in shock but knew I had to check in with my colleagues to let them know I was okay. Sirens pierced the airambulances, fire engines, police cars, all heading to the World Trade Center site. Through the confusion and chaos, I made my way to 80 Centre Street and up to my office on the sixth floor.
I was assigned to the Office of Special Narcotics in a building located directly across the street from the D.A.'s offices at 1 Hogan Place, and shared an office with an A.D.A. named Jon Shapiro. We were more than just colleaguesthe two of us both served as reservists in the Judge Advocate Generals Corps, better known as JAGs. That we both served part-time as military prosecutors meant one weekend a month and two weeks a year. I was Army and he was Navy, so aside from the normal ribbing we would give each other about our poor judgment in picking a branch of service, it was a perfect fit.
Thanks to our military training, Jon and I knew the first order of business was to make sure our colleagues were safe. Everybody, luckily, was accounted for. We evacuated the office, and I walked home through the war zone that Manhattan had become.
During that long walk uptown, I saw men and women moving as if in a trance, their clothes covered in dust. We were modern war refugees, as shell-shocked as the men, women, and children who fled the Nazi blitz in 1940.
What kind of monsters had carried out this act of mass murder? What kind of barbarians had brought such misery to innocent people? As I made my way uptown, the numbness of shock gave way to a simmering fury. I wanted to hit back. I wanted to kill whoever was responsible for this slaughter. And I wanted to do something, anything, to help the rescue workers already picking through the rubble of the World Trade Center.All American
Football, Faith, and Fighting for Freedom. Copyright � by Robert McGovern. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.