Monday, September 11, 2006

By Duane Lewis

Five years ago today, our nation watched in horror the tragic events that unfolded in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania as the United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

As we all pause in remembrance to those that lost their lives and the families that will always be affected by the attacks, I talked to several Rams' players about that fateful morning and the time that followed.

Being a Tuesday, Rams' players were off that day – one that will never be forgotten.

"It's one of those things where you always remember where you were," kicker Jeff Wilkins said. "I was sleeping and my wife came in and said something about there was a place crash. So I got up and we got our daughter off to school. I remember being about to walk out and stopping in front of the TV when they showed it, around the time the second plane hit.

"I can still see myself standing in the family room in front of the TV for the next half hour after that. From there, I remember just driving around in my jeep and everything was kind of surreal. It was a weird feeling, constantly looking up in the sky."

T Orlando Pace was at home as well as the tragedy continued to unfold.

"I remember waking up about 9 and looking at the news," Pace said. "When I first turned on the news, the second plane had just hit and you just couldn't believe it. I was shocked and didn't know how severely we were being attacked. I was hoping everybody was ok, and if I had any family in that area. My wife is from D.C., so I wanted to make sure they were fine."

The attacks took QB Marc Bulger back to stories he had been told by his grandmother.

"I thought of Pearl Harbor and my grandmother telling me stories about that," Bulger said. "You knew it would be the same impact. I remember that whole week – players got together and decided we weren't going to play and I think it was the right thing to do."

Safety Corey Chavous, who at the time was with the Arizona Cardinals, said it was day that "you wondered what would happen next. It was like there was no specific end to what was going on. There were only questions – not answers. Even to this day, there remain some questions that are unanswered. There are a lot of people that lost their lives. The thing I was left with was a feeling of death. (For those in the attacks) you go from one emotion of being at work to the emotion of trying to survive. It just really put things in perspective."

When the NFL resumed playing about two weeks later, the Rams played at San Francisco following an emotional pregame ceremony.

"For those people (in California), who were over 3,000 miles away (from where the attacks happened), it felt the same as it did in St. Louis," Bulger said. "I'm sure it was worse in New York, but the country all felt as one. It was pretty neat for the way the country came together. We all realized we're Americans, sort of like a family. When someone messes with one of us, we're all in it together."

About six weeks after the attacks, the Rams flew into the New York area for a game at Giants Stadium against the New York Jets. I had the responsibility that week to advance the game, finalizing all of the organizations' travel assignments and coordinating with the Giants’ media). That Saturday morning, I went down to Ground Zero with two former co-workers. Some 42 days after the attacks, the towers still burned and the smell was as if it had happened that week.

"Everyone was peeking out the window trying to figure out where (the towers) were," said Wilkins of the Rams' flight into Newark Airport. "Even when we landed, people were taking taxis or trying to get to an area where you used to be able to see the towers. I was just trying to absorb it all, to see how people were responding. It was a surreal feeling."

"Being from Pittsburgh, I've flown into New York a lot," Bulger said. "It was weird coming into Newark and not seeing the two buildings. The skyline is impressive itself, but those two buildings kind of marked it off. At night you could see the lights, knowing people were down there working. It was depressing."

And while the country tried to move forward and show resolve from the attacks as the NFL and other sports leagues resumed play, Chavous said while it may helped as a whole, it would never be enough for the families.

"I think it helped the people who weren't directly affected. I don't think it was therapeutic for people whose families had individuals that lost lives," Chavous said. "It's still the unexpectedness, the horror that your loved ones died the way that they died. You don't know if they were able to die peacefully or struggled and died. Those are the issues that as Americans as a whole, we can overcome, but from a family perspective, or an individual perspective, for 5,000 or so families, fire fighters, heroes, etc., there still to this day are no answers."