Clemson head coach recounts what he was doing on this day 17 years ago, and remembers those who sacrificed their own lives to save others
Seventeen years ago, today, Dabo Swinney was driving his green pickup truck—a Toyota Tundra—and was talking to God as he went down an Alabama highway.
It was in those moments, while driving his favorite truck, when Swinney would have his private conversations with God as well as contemplate on the day and what was next.
At the time, he was not even a football coach. At the end of the 2000 season, Swinney was a part of the Mike DuBose staff that was let go at Alabama. He was working in commercial real estate at AIG Baker and was on Highway 459 coming from Tuscaloosa. After he got done with his prayer and conversation with God, that’s when Swinney turned on the radio and heard the most awful news any of us has heard.
“I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget,” Clemson’s head coach said Tuesday on the 17th Anniversary of 9/11. “In fact, I was telling (Kathleen Swinney) last night, I can’t believe it has been seventeen years ago.
“I was driving down 459 in my green tundra…all of sudden they came on and interrupted on the radio and started talking how there had been a plan crash. At first they thought it was just a crash. They did not know what was going on.”
What was going on is one of the worst acts of terror in the history of the world. What Swinney heard was the first of four coordinated attacks by the terrorist group known as al-Qaeda against the United States.
Four passenger airliners departed from airports in the northeast and were bound for California. They were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Two of the planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan.
“It was a very surreal moment,” Swinney said.
Within an hour and 42 minutes, both 110-story towers collapsed. Debris and the resulting fires caused a partial or complete collapse of all other buildings in the World Trade Center complex, including the 47-story 7 World Trade Center Tower, as well as significant damage to 10 other large surrounding structures.
“It was a very emotional day,” Swinney said. “It was an incredibly emotional day for everyone. It was a scary day. We as a company, there was nothing done that day. We just sat there and we watched TV and we listened.
“Nobody could believe what we were seeing. It was just heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. It was an incredibly emotional day.”
A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was crashed into the Pentagon (the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense) in Arlington County, Va., which led to a partial collapse of the building’s west side.
The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, was initially flown toward Washington, D.C., but crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pa., after its passengers overtook the hijackers. It is believed it was headed towards the White House.
“I just remember thinking about my three-year old and my two-year old and the world that they are going to grow up in,” Swinney said. “It was unbelievable. It impacted so many things in this country.”
The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage.
“It was a very emotional time, I think for everybody,” Swinney said. “I think it is great to take some time today and pause and reflect on all the people who lost their lives and the impact that it had on all of their families. The children who lost moms and dads, and then all of the unbelievably brave and heroic people that I saw that day.”
The events of 9/11 is the single deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States. There were 343 firefighters and 72 police officers killed as they ran towards and into the burning buildings to try and save lives.
“There is a difference in running away from a fire and running to it,” Swinney said. “People were running to it and through it. It was just amazing heroism from so many people. The policemen, the firemen, the first responders that lost their lives trying to save others.
“I know there are a lot of people who are alive today because of the sacrifice of others. That is what I think about when I think about it.”
Another hero Swinney thinks about on this day is Wells Crowther, a 24-year old man who is credited saving 18 lives as he raced up and down the stairwells before dying alongside firefighters when the towers collapsed.
He was described by those he saved as the Man in the Red Bandana. A former lacrosse player at Boston College, the school and the football program honors Crowther every with the Red Bandana Game.
Clemson was a part of the Red Bandana Game two years ago when its traveled to play the Eagles at Boston College. Swinney presented Crowther’s parents a signed helmet from the Clemson team prior to the game.
“I think about his mom and dad,” Swinney said. “I still have that red handkerchief. It stays in my briefcase. I think about his mom and dad. How this kid saved other peoples lives. You never know how you will respond in a situation like that.
“It was an incredibly difficult day for our country. Obviously, I was not alive during Pearl Harbor, but I can imagine it was probably a very similar feeling for this country. So, hopefully, it is something we never have to deal with again. It was a tough day. One I will never forget.”