BOWLING GREEN – When it's the Tuesday before a football team's season opener, all coaches are doing the same thing: fine-tuning the game plan, watching film, and meeting with other coaches to discuss the needs of the program.
On Sept. 11, 2001, that changed for coaches around the country.
Bowling Green State University football coach Dave Clawson, then the head coach at Fordham, spent that morning focused on one task.
“I just went into my office and, for three hours, speed-dialed my office phone and my cell phone, trying to reach [my sister],” he said. “My sister worked in the second World Trade Center building – on the 92nd floor. When that second plane hit, there was a 50-50 chance I had lost my sister.
“It was one of those miracle stories that, on that day, her train was 10 minutes late. She got the last subway out of Ground Zero.”
For BG assistant Adam Scheier, a New York native who at that time was coaching at nearby Princeton, the morning was spent watching events with a combination of shock and horror.
“My wife was working in Hoboken, N.J., which is right across the river from the World Trade Center,” Scheier said. “I never thought what had happened could actually have happened.
“And as I watched, my mind started to think about whether friends or family are safe. I wasn't sure if my wife was safe.”
Scheier's wife was unhurt, but Clawson said his life was touched by the loss of a former Fordham player who wasn't as fortunate.
Nicholas Brandemarti worked for investment firm Keefe, Bruyette and Woods. The company was located on the 89th floor of the South Tower.
“Nick Brandemarti had earned a starting job at Fordham as a senior, then suffered a concussion in practice so he became a student-coach for us,” Clawson said. “He was very sharp, and a great student. He went to work — in the World Trade Center.
“Every time that it's 9/11 I think of Nick— and I think of my sister that day. I think of all of my players at Fordham, many of them had family members who worked in the World Trade Center.”
Scheier said the anniversary will cause him to pause and think of how his hometown was changed.
“As Americans, we always felt safe on our own soil,” he said. “At that time, my wife and I had a newborn, and on my 45-minute drive home every night I had time to think about what kind of world we were bringing this girl into. It was forever changed.
“In the days and weeks following the attacks, you never thought it would get back to normalcy. Obviously it did, but it certainly made me question what kind of world we would have in the future.”
Clawson's task after the attack was especially difficult, since Fordham — which is located in New York City — was scheduled to open against another local team, Columbia.
“A lot of our players thought, at the time, that New York was under attack,” Clawson said. “They didn't know what to think — they were scared to leave their dorm rooms.
“Up until late Thursday, we were going to play our next game. But it became obvious that it would be incredibly insensitive to play that game. And it was impossible to get our guys to even think about football.”
Clawson said the events of 9/11, and the aftermath of the attack, impact how he lives his life and does his job.
“When you get into coaching and you don't have kids of your own, you have a certain approach,” he said. “Once you have kids, you start realizing that all of these young men are somebody's son, and you have a greater obligation than to just coach them about football.
“We certainly try to run the program that way. We want to win here —we want to win championships, we want to go to bowl games, and we want to beat BCS schools. But if we do that at the expense of [helping players] developing character and getting a degree, what we've done [on the field] is useless.”
Scheier said he will spend some time today thinking of a college teammate who nearly lost his life in the attack.
“He was trading for a firm in the upper stories of the World Trade Center,” Scheier explained. “He had been trading in Japan, and he had just come back to the United States.
“He was still trading on Japanese time, so he left the office at 7:30 a.m. — just an hour before the first tower was hit. He was scheduled to go back to ‘day' trading one week later — so if the plane had hit one hour earlier, or one week later … well, his firm was wiped out.”
Scheier said his friend's story keeps the wins and losses in perspective.
“My friend lost a lot of colleagues and close friends, and he realized there's no use in sweating the small things any more – life is too precious,” Scheier said. “I consider myself a true New Yorker, and I know 9/11 has had an impact on my life. You have to enjoy the moment, seize every opportunity you have, and keep it all in perspective.
“I take losses hard, don't get me wrong. But I always say the best thing after a loss is to have my four children come up and give me a hug. That loss doesn't change anything in their world.”
Contact John Wagner at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6481.