I had taken a train into New York City. Then a cab to the Garden. It was, I guess, around 8:30 a.m. I stopped into a Starbucks near the Garden and was standing in a long line when some jackwagon came in hollering and screaming, interspersed with F-bombs, about something happening at the World Trade Center.
Idiot, I thought. When I got close to the front of the line I could see a TV up in the corner, and there was a picture of the WTC, smoke coming out of one of the higher floors. And people were saying a small plane hit it. Geez. How could that happen?
So, across to the Garden I went. The Rangers were skipping their annual trip to Burlington, Vt., for camp. They were going to have it at MSG and let the fans in for free, sort of an olive branch for all the lousy hockey they had presented since 1997.
They were supposed to be staying at the World Trade Center Marriott, but something happened and that got scuttled, and they wound up in a mid-town hotel. Early that Sept. 11 morning, they were to start trickling in for pre-camp physical exams and testing.
By the time I walked through the employees’ entrance, people were saying it wasn’t a small plane, but a big jet that hit the skyscraper. Still, it was exceptionally odd and worrisome, but there was no idea how bad.
Then, and I don’t remember the order, but it seemed at almost the same time, came word that the Pentagon was hit, and so was the other tower downtown. Holy crap!
All the buildings in New York were now being evacuated. Sirens were screaming, all of them headed south, and you can’t imagine how many of them. Soon there were F-16 fighter jets, deafeningly loud, unbelievably low, zooming across the city skyline. There was fear of what had just happened, and fear that more might be coming? What next? The Empire State Building? Grand Central? The bridges? The Garden?
I started to make my way home, and it would take about 12 hours of walking, jumping cabs and buses and finally making it to the Metro North Station in New Rochelle for a train home. I saw the second tower fall with my own eyes.
Soon after we started to see how intertwined the Rangers were with 9/11. They are, afterall, one of two teams that actually plays in Manhattan. They were the only team in the city that day. And they had the largest number of players and staff actually living in the city. They would play the first post-9/11 sporting events, albeit exhibition games.
Brian Leetch lost a close friend, John Murry (see NHL.com’s story here). Don Maloney lost his brother-in-law Tommy Palazzo (I went to high school with him, and the last time I saw him was at MSG, him telling me about the great view he has from his office at the WTC). The L.A. Kings’ scouting director Ace Bailey and scout Mark Bavis were on the second plane to hit the tower.
What I remember most was how the Rangers reacted, how great Glen Sather and Ron Low were, how the players went on their own to visit firehouses and workers at Ground Zero and — unlike some of our other pro sports teams around here, who seem to think 9/11 was about them, or that the commemoration of the event is a marketing tool — the Rangers never invited the media or the cameras to make the visits with them.
They did everything right, and for the right reasons. For that, I have always — and always will — admire the organization.
I’ll probably have more later on.
I’m just wondering if any of you want to share your memories or thoughts on the worst day of our lives.