Seminoles reflect on 9-11

Our country was forever changed in a horrifying act of terror last Sept. 11. The upcoming anniversary of last year's tragedy once again has the nation awash in emotion, and it's no different for the Florida State Seminoles. While fifth-ranked FSU eyes Saturday's road date at Maryland, the Seminoles also reflect on last year's horror. "I think it had an impact on every team in the country .... it shows the insignificance of football," coach Bobby Bowden said.

Our country was forever changed in a horrifying act of terror last Sept. 11. The upcoming anniversary of last year's tragedy once again has the nation awash in emotion, and it's no different for the Florida State Seminoles.

The fifth-ranked Seminoles (2-0) returned to practice Monday after a three-day respite. While it's business as usual for FSU, which travels to defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Maryland (1-1) on Saturday, last year's events remain embedded in the Seminoles' minds and souls.

"I think it had an impact on every team in the country, all of their attention went to that. It shows the insignificance of football," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

Bowden said the Seminoles will practice as scheduled Wednesday. However, he added, "I am sure I will discuss it with them (players) before practice in honor of what happened." Bowden is also scheduled to speak about the terrorists attacks Wednesday evening to the congregation at Immanuel Baptist Church.

Of course, the unthinkable happened a year ago Wednesday.

At 8:46 a.m. last Sept. 11, American Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center north tower. Seventeen minutes later, a second airplane - United Flight 175 -- crashed into the south tower. At 9:43 a.m., American Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. A fourth flight - United Flight 93 - nose-dived into rural Somerset County, Pa., at 10:10 a.m. as passengers struggled with the hijackers. Officials believe that flight was targeted for the White House, D..C. Capitol or the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland.

The toll was unbearable.

More than 3,000 died. Twenty-four minutes lapsed between the collapse of the south and north towers. U.S. officials that afternoon announced Saudi militant Osma bin Laden was involved in the attacks. It was a day filled with terror but also one that united the nation.

FSU receiver Talman Gardner remembers the events vividly.

"I was at home getting ready for class," Gardner said. "I was watching CNN. It came on and I was like, 'Is that really going on.' It was unbelievable."

Indeed. Last year at this time, the 2-0 Seminoles were preparing for a pivotal league showdown at home against Georgia Tech. The Yellows Jackets were considered one of the conference's top teams and tabbed the best bet to end FSU's grip on the conference championship. The Seminoles practiced briefly that afternoon but nobody's thoughts were on the upcoming showdown, which would be postponed to December.

"My first reaction was go play the game - don't let the terrorists tell us we can't play," Bowden said. "Then you begin to think about what all happened. Then it seemed like it definitely should be canceled."

Gardner says it was impossible to concentrate on a game while the country reacted to the national tragedy. The awful, mind-numbing images of that day flickered across the globe.

"It happened that morning," Gardner said. "The team came out to practice that night and it was like, 'Why are we here?' We should be at home. It was a really hard thing to get through, with all the lives that were lost. My heart still goes out to all the families, because I am still they are probably grieving. It was kind of hard for us to come out that day, not really giving those people the respect they deserved."

Added senior offensive lineman Brett Williams: "It was impossible to concentrate. (We are) trying to get ready for a football game when thousands of people lost their lives just going to work one day? It could have happened to one of our family members, our parents as easily as it happened to them."

Of course, it was horrifying. There's now an empty space in the New York City skyline. Some of drawn strength from the trauma, while others remain crippled by sadness and anger.

The numbers scream out - 3,010 victims killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on the four fatal flights; 2,639 victims killed at the World Trade center, including 341 New York firefighters, two of the city's paramedics and 23 of its police officers; 125 victims killed at the Pentagon.

The country continues to emerge from its haunted heart.

"Stuff like that you can't block it out of your mind," Gardner said. "Try to stay focused as much as you can. Some people are stronger than others, and some handle it differently. I think it had an affect on the whole season, dealing with everybody around the country. It was just us trying to get back on track, trying to get back to our regular lives across America. (You) try to be safe. Be aware of what's around you."

Williams said the events of Sept. 11, 2001, remain in his thoughts. And the survivors - and our country - in his prayers. Of course, FSU players are reminded of the events each time they put on their practice T-shirt with the slogan "Let's Roll" splashed across their chests.

Those were the words spoken by Todd Beamer, who along with other passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, averted greater disaster by apparently commandeering the flight before it crashed in Pennsylvania. The Seminoles' use of that slogan initially caused a national outcry, but it was quickly embraced by the Beamer Foundation.

While people have traveled different paths since Sept. 11, the terrorist attacks certainly struck a chord with the nation. And has left us embracing a far different world.

"It's crazy. We are thinking about the one-year anniversary coming up," Williams said. "We were saying the other day it didn't seem like a year. It just seems like it happened just yesterday. I think that's how it's always going to be throughout our whole lives because it was so horrible. But as a country I think we've done a good job getting through it."

Quarterback Chris Rix, meanwhile, was born in New York and lived there until he was seven. Some of his relatives continue to make New York their home. Additionally, Rix said his mother was once the manager of the restaurant that was on top of the World Trade Center. Rix said Tuesday he often reflects on the tragedy.

"I think I think about it more than most people probably," Rix said.

"At first I tried to block it out and not really think about it. It's a different state. Nobody I know is really affected. Focus on your life. But a year later I am probably more affected by it than I was at the time it happened. Just think what it has done to all the families of the people in that building, and what it has done to our country. Not just our economy and what our country stands for in general. It has affected it a lot."

Rix also admits he is angered by the terrorists' actions and the pain they have caused in their aftermath.

"I was in class today thinking I can't believe tomorrow is the anniversary," Rix said. "I can't believe it has been a year already. It's amazing how fast time has flown. I wish there was more I can do with the situation. I don't want to get too political but I wish there was something I could do personally to retaliate against the terrorists who did that to us. ... Hopefully someday we will get payback on that. I don't think enough has been done up to this point as far making a statement towards the people who did that to us."

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