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Nightmare Eve, the Game Before 9/11
Found this Article forgot to post the thread at 9/10 taught it deserve it's own thread
Nightmare Eve, the Game Before 9/11
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Oct. 21 - Jim Fassel remembers it as the season opener, the first game after he coached the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Offensive lineman Rich Seubert remembers it as his first N.F.L. game. Safety Shaun Williams remembers it partly for the thigh bruise he received from the vicious hit that broke Ed McCaffrey's leg. General Manager Ernie Accorsi remembers it as "an awful night," the Giants overpowered, in part, by the charged atmosphere of a stadium's grand opening.
The memories of the last game between the Giants and the Broncos, on a Monday night in Denver on Sept. 10, 2001, are as different as the people who hold them.
But to each of them, the game is mostly remembered simply as the night before.
Fassel remembers standing in bright sunshine the next morning on top of the Giants Stadium press box, looking across the Hudson River and watching smoke billow from Lower Manhattan. Seubert remembers trying to sleep while wishing his phone would stop ringing, not knowing it was his mother wanting to know if he was all right. Williams remembers turning on the television and wondering why there was only one tower.
Accorsi remembers landing at Newark Liberty International Airport at dawn, an hour or two before a nearby jet took off, destined to crash in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
"I try not to think of the Denver game," Accorsi said Thursday. "It was a lousy trip to start with. And then we came back to this."
The Giants and the Broncos have played only nine times since 1972. But they have played an unusually high number of momentous games and, in the most recent case, one linked to history.
The teams met in Super Bowl XXI, at the end of the 1986 season, the start of two eras.
It was two weeks after Broncos quarterback John Elway orchestrated the Drive in Cleveland, leading to the first of his five Super Bowl appearances. But the Giants beat Elway and the Broncos, 39-20, behind Phil Simms's 22-of-25 passing, winning the team's first championship in 30 years and forever lifting the popularity and expectations of the venerable franchise.
"That exorcised a demon we had over us," the former Giants linebacker Harry Carson said Wednesday.
In December 1998, Coach Mike Shanahan and the Broncos arrived at Giants Stadium with a 13-0 record and an 18-game winning streak, tied for the longest in league history. The Giants were sleepwalking through a 5-8 season. But a low-profile receiver named Amani Toomer - now the second-leading receiver in franchise history - caught a touchdown pass from Kent Graham with 48 seconds remaining to break Denver's streak.
"That really started it off for me as a receiver," Toomer said.
In the 2001 season opener, each team had viable championship aspirations. The Giants were coming off a Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens, who had also beaten the Broncos in the postseason. The matchup and the opening of Invesco Field at Mile High were in the "Monday Night Football" spotlight.
The Broncos won, 31-20, as Denver's Brian Griese and the Giants' Kerry Collins combined to throw five touchdown passes. The lasting image of the game was the hit by Williams that broke the leg of McCaffrey, the Denver receiver.
But memories of that late-night game blend into the horror of the next morning.
"There are other games you play and you don't really remember the circumstances," Fassel, now the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator, said Thursday in a telephone interview. "You remember that game because of the following event."
The game ended after midnight Eastern time. The United Airlines charter carrying the Giants landed in Newark just before 6 a.m. A flight attendant on the team's next trip told players that their plane had parked at a gate next to where United Flight 93 had departed - the 8 a.m. flight to San Francisco that was one of four planes hijacked on Sept. 11.
Four weeks ago, the Giants' plane landed in Newark and pulled up to the gate at dawn after a Sunday night game.
"When we landed on Monday morning after the San Diego trip, a few of us looked around at each other and said, 'We haven't done this since that day,' " said Pat Hanlon, the vice president for communications.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Giants executives who had cars parked at the airport walked through the terminal, perhaps past passengers on Flight 93. Players and coaches went down the side stairs to the tarmac and boarded a bus for Giants Stadium. Players got in cars and went home. Coaches and administrators went to their stadium offices to start preparing for the next game.
Part of the Manhattan skyline is visible from the practice field next to Giants Stadium. Hearing that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers, but assuming that it was an accident involving a small plane, Accorsi and the team's director of pro personnel, David Gettleman, went outside. Accorsi carried binoculars he had packed for the game in Denver and watched as a large jet inexplicably banked toward the skyline.
"It looks awfully close," Accorsi remembered saying.
But the idea of an attack was unfathomable, and from their angle, they could not see what happened next. Accorsi and Gettleman walked back into the stadium, only to learn that a jet had crashed into the south tower.
Players learned of the attacks the way so many others did: through phone calls and television images. Toomer could see the burning towers from his apartment in West New York, N.J.
But no one was as close as offensive lineman Jason Whittle. He received a call from his best friend, Greg Drake, whose brother, Randy, was in Manhattan on business and had been struck by debris from the second plane's impact. Randy Drake, hospitalized with a head injury, was not expected to live, and he had no family in New York.
Whittle spent four hours getting to Drake's bedside, unable to talk his way into Manhattan until a police officer finally drove him across the George Washington Bridge. Whittle stayed the night, praying and talking to him, though Drake was unconscious.
Days later, Drake was taken back to Kansas City, Mo., where his family lived. He died there on the day the Giants played their next game - in Kansas City.
That is the day, Sept. 23, 2001, the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium stood and cheered for the Giants. That is the day that, in the crowded visitors' locker room after a 13-3 victory over the Chiefs, the Giants huddled for a picture, each one wearing a hat representing the New York City police or fire department or the Port Authority police department.
"I told the guys that we wear those hats with respect, like the way they wear them: straight, front, center, forward," Fassel said. "You know how a lot of young guys wear their hats backward or tilt them to one side or the other? Every guy in that picture had his straight, front, center, forward. It meant a lot to me to have a picture like that."
That is what he remembers. That is what they all remember: the day the world changed, and the night before.
"Whenever I think about that game," Whittle said, "I put it all together."