It’s hard to believe, but before the Houston Texans came along and there were 31 NFL teams, there was a bye every week — including opening weekend. In 2001, that team that had to sit out the NFL’s first week of play was the Arizona Cardinals. So that “bye” week — if you can call it that, since the Cardinals last played a meaningless fourth preseason game and were mostly just waiting — came and went slowly, and the players were ready to get going with a road game against NFC East rival Washington coming up Sunday.
Back in those days, Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis met with the media daily, including the players’ off day of Tuesday, so I — working for the East Valley Tribune — was still going to be headed over to the Cards’ facility. But I was woke up a little early by my wife, who had flipped on the TV in our bedroom a little after 6 a.m. and said, “I think you want to see this.”
And on the screen, the World Trade Center, both towers, were already billowing smoke.
I ended up going over to the Cardinals’ complex earlier than I normally would’ve, because you just wanted to be around people at that point. By then, the Pentagon had been hit and you start thinking that the hotel you are going to be staying at in just a couple of days is only a couple train stops down from the Pentagon and what the hell is happening in the world? I sat staring at the TV screen in the media relations office, and at one point, Pat Tillman sat down beside me just shaking his head, and I couldn’t help but try and get a comment about the Cardinals-Redskins game that was to be played.
“The importance of football ranks zero,” Tillman said, and of course he was right. That day, so much was left unknown, but it was quickly determined that the games that weekend would be postponed and frankly, with a 2-year-old at home, flying toward all that chaos wasn’t something I really wanted to do — not that it mattered, after all air travel was grounded for the time being.
The Cardinals didn’t play a regular-season game until Denver visited the following weekend. I remember going to New York to play the Giants in December for a Saturday game, and heading out on Friday night with cohorts Kent Somers, Scott Bordow and Pedro Gomez. By the time dinner was over, it was 11:30, and we drove over to Ground Zero. For December, the weather was surprisingly mild, and I remember coming around the corner and being much closer than you’d expect to the crash site. Workers even at that hour continued to plug away at the wreckage, pieces of the bottom of the building still pointing haphazardly in the air around so much debris, the floodlights giving the whole area an eerie glow. Just outside the gates were the leftovers of all the makeshift staging areas from the disaster, hundreds of “Have you seen me?” posters still hanging from those who had hoped against hoped they hadn’t lost someone in the towers.
A few weeks later the Cardinals played their makeup game in Washington, and I ended up at the same hotel and I took the train to the Pentagon stop, seeing the damage and thinking how — the previous year — it had been so easy to walk near the Pentagon to see it up close and how that was never happening again.
Now, the Cardinals find themselves going to New York this week again, a couple of days after the anniversary. In 2005, the Cards played in New York on 9/11, which was memorable. I haven’t had a trip to New York — including one with my family — without visiting the area, and this time will be no different. Today, there are always a flood of memories that come rushing back from a day, and a time, that will always resonate.
Tags: 9/11, Dave McGinnis, Giants, Pat Tillman, Redskins
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