(EDITOR’S NOTE: To listen to Tiki Barber, click on the following attachment: Ep 71: Remembering 9/11 Part Two - Tiki Barber | Spreaker)
It’s not often a pro athlete admits he was “terrified.” Then again, it’s not often a pro athlete is in the middle of a city under attack, either.
Now meet former Giants’ running back Tiki Barber. He checks both boxes.
Barber lived in the Upper East Side of Manhattan and was there the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when two hijacked airliners flew into the World Trade Center, bringing down both towers and killing over 2,600 persons.
No, he didn’t witness the attacks first-hand. Like the rest of the country, he followed them on national television. But he was in the middle of Manhattan when the buildings came down, returning home that morning from an overnight flight from Denver where the Giants lost their season opener.
“I’m driving into the city,” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast (fullpressradio.com), “(and) traffic is a bear. I get home, and my phone won’t stop ringing. I just wanted to go to bed, and my phone won’t stop ringing.
“I finally answer, and I’m like, ‘What?’ (And someone says) ‘Turn on your TV.’ And so the emotion that I felt was confusion at first. Then when the second tower got hit – and I’m watching the “Today Show,” and I’m watching Matt Lauer do this -- it became scary. Because it really felt like it was down the street from me. And then when the plane crashed into the Pentagon, I felt like our country was under attack.”
That’s because it was.
Twenty years later, Barber said it’s not so much an image that comes to mind when he thinks of 9/11 as it is “a feeling.” And that feeling is one he seldom experienced.
“I was terrified,” he said, “utterly terrified and felt like I was trapped in New York. I grew up in southwest Virginia. I’m used to space and being outside. Living in Manhattan I got used to it. But that day I felt claustrophobic and afraid to be a New Yorker for the first time in my then-four years there.”
The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels were closed. The George Washington Bridge had little or no traffic. Airports were shuttered. So was the subway. In essence, all of Manhattan – heck, most of the country – had come to a standstill, trying to make sense of what just happened.
And people were scared.
It was a feeling that, in time, would lessen and eventually fade away. Except with Barber it never did. Because he and the Giants were woven into the day’s tragedy, with their charter that morning parking at a gate next to United Flight 93. That plane was later hijacked by terrorists who, in turn, were overtaken by passengers, with the plane crashing near a strip mine in Pennsylvania, thwarting an attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“I went into the terminal with the flight attendants,” Barber recalled of that morning, “and anybody else that had driven to the airport. Months, maybe years later, I couldn’t help but think I walked past these terrorists, because (Flight 93) was literally the gate next door.
"I walked past them. And that connection … that almost-connection to history … makes you feel like: ‘Could I have done something?” The answer is: Obviously not; I couldn’t. But you couldn’t help but think that.
“A couple of our flight attendants who were always with us on our charters on United ended up retiring because of the emotional stress that it caused them. The connection that we all had as athletes at the time in New York City … our specific connection because of flying in and parking next to Flight 93 … and then what (then-coach) Jim Fassel -- truly one of his great legacies -- helped create in the aftermath of 9/11 is something that was defining to an early part of my career.”
Once upon a time, people would say they remembered where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was shot. Now, it’s more likely they’re asked what they recall of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 when the United States was under attack.
Tiki Barber has no trouble answering. Because he cannot … and will never ... forget.
“It’s like an emotional scar that’s always going to be there,” he said. “I don’t know what to call it: A slogan is the wrong thing. A catch line or phrase is the wrong thing. (But) it’s meaningful when people say, ‘Never forget.’ If you were there, you can’t forget even if you tried to. You can’t because it was so traumatic in so many different ways.”