(Jim Fassel photos courtesy of N.Y. Giants)
Talk of Fame Network
Fifteen years ago, the United States was under attack – with planes hijacked, buildings toppled and thousands killed.
"Never forget" read bumper stickers that popped up everywhere after the 9/11 attacks, and former New York Giants' coach Jim Fassel can't ... and won't.
How could he? He and his team flew back to Newark Airport that morning, Sept. 11, 2001, (they had a Monday night game in Denver the previous night) and parked at a gate next to Flight 93, which was loading passengers as the Giants deplaned.
It later was hijacked and crashed in Pennsylvania.
He had a boat he tied up at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan that police used to ferry people off the island. His high-school classmate was a pilot killed on a jet hijacked and flown into the Pentagon. And he was at Ground Zero shortly after the World Trade Center towers fell.
No wonder Fassel said he still gets "very emotional" on this date, no matter the year.
"There are a lot of memories," Fassel said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "But I guess the first one that really stood out with me is (this): I got a call from Mayor Giuliani's office a couple of days ... three days ... after and asked if I would come over and walk around Ground Zero and just shake hands with the firemen and the first responders and cheer them up and let them know you're supporting them. And I said, 'Really? I'm just a football coach now.'
"Anyway, so I went over there, and it was amazing how these guys were dirty; they didn’t look like they'd ever slept, but they got up and came over and shook my hand to thank me. I said, 'Buddy, I need to thank you guys.'
"To see (lower) New York ... it's all buildings; you can't even get any sun down there. But there was a gaping hole. It was just unbelievable. And then they showed me around, and I climbed up on a plow and they had dog sniffers and found a few pieces ... and I said, 'I don’t think I need to see any more of this.' "
Two weeks later Fassel and the Giants would travel to Kansas City and play the Chiefs in a game they won, 13-3, and that Fassel … again … can never forget.
"It's about America," he said. "We were going to play the Kansas City Chiefs, and that’s a tough place to play. Their crowd is really cheering for their team. And when we took the field they gave us a standing ovation. I'm going to tell you, it was touching.
"I told (our players), 'You wear that NYPD or fire department baseball cap, and I'm telling you, we're honoring these people. So I don’t want to see it flipped around, I don’t want to see the bill up or sideways or something else. I want it front and center with that hat, or don’t put one on.'
"We won the game, and we went in the locker room and it was like an old-time picture. Everyone just got on our knees, we put our arms together and every guy in that picture – including (former owner) Wellington Mara ... that cap was straight forward and we honored them."
Fifteen years later, Fassel can't talk about that moment or the events of 9/11 without getting emotional. He no longer coaches the Giants. He no longer coaches in the NFL. And he no longer lives on the East Coast. But what happened 15 years ago is something that will always … always … stay with him.
"Everything is so visible in my mind," he said. "I can replay everything. It is probably the most indelible in my mind of all the games, of all the things that went on in my career. Because it was hard to get the players back and focused a little bit. That’s why I told the coaches, 'No yelling, no screaming; everybody's got a little bit of a story going on.'
"That whole season after that happened was something where we had to refocus ourselves. And I told the players ... Giants Stadium, you park your car and get on a bus to go to New York/Manhattan. And I always see some cars there. And when I left at night they were mostly all gone.
"For about 10 days, there were a whole bunch of cars left there. And I can only picture the fact that those people parked their cars, got on the bus and went over there, and they perished. It was tough on your stomach every morning when you went to work every and saw all those cars sitting there."