Tillman, after the Towers came down

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2015 – 7:58 am

I’ve told this story before, many times, so bear with me. But as we reach another 9/11 anniversary, it’s hard not to revisit the emotions of that day in 2001. Never Forget is more than just a hashtag.

The towers crumbling, with the time zone difference, was happening just as I was waking up. By the time I got to the Cardinals’ Tempe facility — covering the team for the East Valley Tribune in those days — that Tuesday, football wasn’t exactly the top thing on everyone’s mind. The media workroom in those days had these giant, yellowish soft chairs in front of the TV, and that is where I sat once I got to work.

A Tuesday is the players’ day off, but as with most Tuesdays, a bunch were still milling around. So it wasn’t surprising when Pat Tillman came in the media room and sat in the soft chair next to me. We both just stared at the TV as the news coverage continued. The Cardinals were supposed to play their regular-season opener in Washington that coming Sunday (the team actually had a bye on the NFL’s opening weekend) but it was hard to believe in that moment there could be a game in Washington after the Pentagon was hit, or in New York.

I didn’t know what I was going to write that day, or even if I was going to write that day. Anything about sports seemed so incredibly meaningless, especially in those hours. But there was Tillman, on a day when players usually weren’t available, and as a reporter, that’s the job. So I took a moment, and if I remember right, I prefaced the question saying exactly what I was thinking, that I was sorry to be asking. But then I did what I needed to do, and asked Tillman about his thoughts about possibly having to play in Washington that weekend after the horrifying events of the morning.

“I wouldn’t be worried about our safety,” Tillman said. “My concern would be if it is appropriate. The importance of football ranks zero compared to what happened.

“When you compare it, we’re worthless. … We’re actors.”

That, and Tillman’s famous words on camera the next day, stick with me every year on this day. When you start seeing the memorials on TV when you wake up on Sept. 11, that’s what pops into my head. When I visited the 9/11 Museum with media relations manager Mike Helm during the Cards’ New York trip last season — an emotionally draining afternoon, but one I highly recommend — that day and those moments always flash once again.

My thoughts go out on this day to everyone who lost someone on 9/11. And for everyone affected by that day, which I’d guess pretty much means every single one of us.

Never forget.

NFL Cardinals Tillman


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Back on 9/11

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2014 – 10:17 am

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.


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Remembering 9/11 and the Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2009 – 8:09 am

Watching some of the ceremonies today for the anniversary of 9/11 brings back a flood of memories for me, just like I am sure for everyone out there. For me, many of them are Cardinal-related. The day of the attacks was a Tuesday. The Cards were supposed to play in Washington against the Redskins the following Sunday, and I was to stay in a hotel walking distance from the Pentagon. That trip, if you recall, ended up pushed back to the back end of the season, and the Pentagon obviously wasn’t all the way reconstructed by the time that first weekend in January rolled around.

The first road trip ended up being to Philly, still close to the area and we went only a couple of weeks later. Seeing the military personnel with machine guns everywhere in the terminal was unsettling, to say the least.

Being ’01, the Cards were still in the NFC East, so we also took a trip to play the Giants. I and three of my newspaper cohorts went to dinner in the city the Saturday night before the game and then decided to see Ground Zero afterward. It was mid-November, it was around midnight, and it was a surreal sight. Workers were still very busy clearing debris. What was left of the structure of one of the towers still climbed up in the air a couple hundred feet into the darkness, the temporary lights shining through the slits of the metal. With the dust of the site, it made for an eerie and — despite the noise of the work — still relatively silent situation. Flyers of the dead and the missing still were posted all over the place.

But for me, 9/11 was also about Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, even though I didn’t know it at the time. In those days, then-Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis still met with the press on Tuesdays, and besides, with a game approaching, it was going to be a story how the NFL handled things. So I went to the facility quickly, and sat in front of the TV in the media room watching the events unfold. Tillman eventually came in and sat next to me to do the same. Being a reporter, I had to ask him his thoughts. Part of what he said? “What we do is worthless … We’re actors.” He clearly had a hard time reconciling his job with the much bigger problems of the world at that time. Was joining the Army in his mind by then? I don’t know. But every year at this time, these are the things that come to mind.

And to those who lost their lives that day, and their loved ones — and those who have died fighting in the conflicts created from that day — our thoughts are with you.

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