Note: The following appears in the South Carolina State football gameday program.
As I headed into my office in the Jervey Athletic Center on Sept. 11, 2001, I was looking forward to a good day. It was the Tuesday before the Tigers were scheduled to meet Duke at Memorial Stadium.
Clemson was 2-0 behind Woodrow Dantzler, and coming off a 9-3 record and No. 14 final ranking in 2000, Dantzler received a lot of national attention for his abilities as a runner and thrower, and he was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Duke was coming off an 0-11 record and had lost its first two games (Florida State, Rice). I figured Dantzler was going to put up some big numbers against a Duke team that would go on to yield nearly 500 yards per game defensively.
Dantzler did his interviews on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. in the McFadden Building auditorium. It was scheduled at that time as a lead-in to Head Coach Tommy Bowden’s 11 a.m. press conference.
Each Tuesday at 9 a.m., I attended Bobby Robinson’s athletic department staff meeting in the IPTAY building at Memorial Stadium.
When I came out of the meeting, I ran into Associate Athletic Director Tim Match, who motioned me to come over to a nearby television set.
To our horror, we watched the NBC coverage of the first plane ramming into the North tower of the World Trade Center. It had occurred at 8:46 a.m., but it had taken some time for the networks to get the video. Then, 18 minutes later, the second plane rammed into the South tower.
After the first crash, there was some doubt as to the reason for the crash. Had a pilot had a heart attack and lost control of the plane? But when the second plane hit the South tower, we all knew it was a terrorist attack.
At about 10 a.m., I made the 200-yard walk from the IPTAY building back to Jervey trying to decide if I should cancel our media availabilities.
But I knew there were about 15 media members who were making a multiple-hour drive to Clemson, and they were almost in town.
Figuring the sports media would want some kind of reaction to what had happened, I kept the schedule. Dantzler arrived on time and did his interviews. Most of the questions directed to him were about Duke, because at that point, no one knew if the game would be canceled.
We later learned that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania.
Coach Bowden did his press conference, but it was short. As the news of the tragedy became more and more grave, no one really cared about talking football.
Initially, there was debate over whether or not to play sports that weekend. Some believed it would help the healing of the country by having games. Others thought it would be disrespectful to those who had suffered lost relatives and friends.
Since there was no decision on Tuesday, Clemson practiced for the Duke game that afternoon. I was at the practice, but everyone’s head was elsewhere, concerned where the next attack might occur.
On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the ACC put out a release that all athletic events would be canceled through Sunday. The SEC initially announced on Wednesday that they would play. It was announced the league would donate $1 million of gate receipts and television revenue from the Tennessee vs. Florida game to the people affected in New York.
On Wednesday night, the NFL had a conference call with its player representatives. They voted 17-11 to cancel all the games. It was apparent many teams would boycott the games if they were not canceled, making NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s decision easy. When the NFL announced late Wednesday they were canceling that week’s schedule, pressure mounted on all other conferences and leagues to postpone.
On Friday, I learned from the Notre Dame Alumni Association that two of my fellow students from the class of ’77 had died in the attacks. Colonel Neil Hyland died while working in the Pentagon when the plane carrying Dora Monchaca crashed into the Pentagon. In a terrible irony, the flight number of that plane was 77.
The Duke game was rescheduled for Dec. 1. Playing in his final home game, Dantzler accounted for five touchdowns, gained 378 total yards (243 passing, 135 rushing) and became the first player in FBS history to total 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
It was a great accomplishment, but it seemed as though all the great accomplishments in sports that year were empty.