They aren’t dates we like to remember, but they’re dates we can’t forget.
Dec. 7, 1941. Nov. 22, 1963. And Sept. 11, 2001.
I was in my first year of handling the day-to-day football duties of Badger football for our office after seven years as our men’s basketball contact. The season had started unevenly with a win over Virginia, a tough loss at Joey Harrington-led and seventh-ranked Oregon and a home defeat to surprising Fresno State, led by quarterback David Carr.
We were 1-2, but home to play Western Kentucky on Sept. 15. Certainly the hope was that a victory would get the train back on track because we were due to open the Big Ten season the following week at Penn State.
It was a bright, sunny Tuesday morning the week of the Western Kentucky game. I had stopped to get the oil changed in my car on my way to work and was driving up Monroe Street to our office at Camp Randall when I heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. By the time I reached the stadium, a second plane had hit.
Barb Wyatt, the wife of Bernie (our former tight ends coach), was the program assistant in our office at the time and a native New Yorker. I can still remember standing next to Barb, both of us in silent disbelief, watching on a TV in our office as the Twin Towers collapsed.
Like millions of others, I didn’t have to look too far to find someone who was from New York, had friends or family there or was flying that day. Brian Lucas, who now handles football for our office, was an intern for us at the time and a native of Long Island. Brian White, then our offensive coordinator, had a brother who worked for Lehman Brothers at the World Financial Center. Several of our players were from the East Coast. My own father had been visiting here in Madison and was in the air to Detroit when the attacks occurred.
Of course, it wasn’t just New York. Two other planes were hijacked that day. One hit the Pentagon and the other crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers fought back against terrorists who had taken over.
College football was cancelled on Sept. 15. The Badgers practiced that day on the north practice field outside Camp Randall. What I remember about that practice was the silence. No planes flying over Madison.
The ensuing days brought, if not normalcy, an attempt to return to “normal activities.” We traveled to Penn State for our regularly scheduled Sept. 22 game. I remember how nervous some were about getting on a plane. And the security was unlike anything most of us had experienced.
Penn State’s athletic department handled the difficult and emotional moment with its typical class. Both teams were on the field for the playing and singing of the National Anthem, as well as “God Bless America.” A huge flag covered much of the field and a video tribute was played. The teams met at midfield and shook hands.
We played the Western Kentucky game on Sept. 29, which was originally scheduled as the team’s bye week.
It’s been seven years since that infamous day. A lot of lives were lost on Sept. 11 and continue to be lost in fighting resulting from those attacks. Many more lives were changed forever. It was a gut-wrenching day all across the world and I know many of us will take a moment today to remember and pay tribute in our own way.