Swinney remembers 9/11

Zach Lentz

CLEMSON -- 9/11 is a day that lives emblazoned in the hearts and minds of every American.

They can tell you where they were, what they were doing, who they were with and even what they were thinking the moment the planes began to hit the World Trade Center, a field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.

The same holds true for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who was on his way to work at AIG Baker, having been out of coaching in 2001.

“It was about an hour-and-15 or 20-minute drive every day from Tuscaloosa to 280. I was on 459 and I was listening to one of the radio stations talking football,” Swinney said. “I used to use that time as prayer time and quiet time and I'd catch up with what was going on in the sports world. It was my first time not coaching, so I was thinking about what I had to do that day at work or whatever. I'll never forget it.

“I was driving down 459 in my green Tundra. I was driving down the road and they came over and interrupted the radio and just started talking about that there had been a plane crash but they didn't know what was going on. Then all of a sudden, everything gets consumed on the radio I'm listening to and in my mind, I'm going, 'Man, this can't be real.' It was a very surreal moment. I listened on the way and then I got to the office and it was a very emotional day.”

Swinney echoed what every American felt that day — fear. Fear for the day. Fear for the days to come and fear for what the future would mean for his two boys.

“It was an incredibly emotional day for everyone. It was a scary day,” Swinney said. “As a company, there was nothing done that day. We sat and we watched TV and we listened and nobody could believe what we were seeing. It was just heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and incredibly emotional. I just remember thinking about my 3-year-old and my 2-year-old and the world that they're going to grow up in. It was unbelievable. It impacted so many things in this country.”

Three years ago, the Tigers made their biannual trek to Boston College for a football game against the Eagles, but this was not an ordinary football game — it was the Red Bandanna Game.

The game honors former lacrosse player Welles Crowther, who is remembered for his acts of heroism and bravery during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Crowther lost his life but not before he led at least a dozen people to safety in the South Tower of the World Trade Center complex. Crowther had opportunities to save himself but chose to return to the towers in hopes of leading more people to safety.

He became known as “The Man in the Red Bandanna” and during this one football game, fans wear red bandannas while the players and coaches wear specially designed apparel designed especially for the game.

For the Tigers head coach there is something special about being a participant in the game.

“I know there are a lot of people out there today whose lives were saved because of the sacrifice of others. I think about the kid with the red bandana,” Swinney said. “I think about his parents. In fact, I've still got the red bandana and carry it my briefcase. It stays in my briefcase. I think about his mom and dad and how this kid saved others people's lives. You never know how you might respond in a situation like that, but an incredibly difficult day for our country. I wasn't alive during Pearl Harbor, but I can imagine it was probably a similar feeling for this country.”

While most of his players were mere babes when the attacks occurred, Swinney was planning to take time Wednesday to educate them on what that day meant to America because it is a day that no one should ever forget.

“I think it's great to take some time today and pause and reflect on all of the people who lost their lives, the impact that it had on all of their families, the children who lost moms and dads,” Swinney said. “Then all of the unbelievable brave and heroic people that I saw that day. The old saying, ‘there's a difference between running away from a fire and running to it,’ and people who were running through it and to it. It was amazing heroism from so many people. The policemen, the firemen, the first responders that lost their lives trying to save others.

“Hopefully, it's not something we ever have to deal with again. It was a tough day and one I'll never forget.”