WINSTON-SALEM — Dave Clawson wasn’t sure if Thursday’s game against Boston College would be played because of the impending weather. But he also knows that football games can be rescheduled.
He knows that better than almost anyone.
He was there the day the planes hit the towers in New York City, and every year on 9/11 his thoughts go back to the tense hours when all eyes were on his city.
Clawson was the head coach at Fordham University in the Bronx from 1999 to 2003. On Sept. 11, 2001, he and his staff were preparing for a football game against rival Columbia. They wouldn’t play it until Thanksgiving Day.
“It always brings back memories,” he said. “It still feels like it was yesterday.”
While only a few miles from the attack, Clawson watched like everyone else as the events of the day unfolded. But his sister was on the 92nd floor of Tower No 2.
“We were watching film, and we heard that a plane had hit the first Trade Center,” Clawson said. “At the time they thought it was pilot error or whatever, but we stopped watching film and turned on the TV. A little bit after 9 o’clock I saw a plane hit the second World Trade Center. That time is frozen.
“She took a commuter train in and she usually got to work at like 8:55 and was at her desk at 9. I had my office phone and my cell phone and I just kept speed-dialing her for the next two hours. All the cell phones were jammed up, and I really thought we’d lost my sister Kathy.
“My sister from Virginia was at Virginia Tech and actually got a call in to her and called us about 11:30 or noon, and my sister’s commuter train was 10 minutes late that day, and she saw what was going on and got the last train out of Ground Zero.”
Clawson told the story quietly, pausing to let the memories wash over him, telling a story he had told over and over through the years. He stared into space as he recalled the events, inhaling and exhaling periodically.
“Our team and our staff lived through those events,” he said. “We lost one of the best kids I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching, a kid named Nick Brandemarti. I always think of the team we had at Fordham and Nick Brandemarti and his family. I just want to let all those guys at Fordham know that every year I still think of them and what we went through and the loss we suffered together.”
Even in the midst of the tragedy, Fordham and Columbia officials were planning to play the game. There was some irony to that as much of the previous 24 hours had seen Wake and Boston College officials going back and forth about the game Thursday night, which has now been moved to a 5:30 p.m. start.
“The fact that we were making all these decisions about whether to play the game or not made it a little eerie,” Clawson said. “When 9/11 happened, President Bush at the time said you should live your life normally and continue life, that this is what the terrorists want us to do is alter our life. The Fordham-Columbia game was like the last game canceled. As a show of New York strength and solidarity, we were going to play the game. But as it went on, it just became obvious that that was not the appropriate thing to do.”
The 2001 season was an important season for Fordham and Clawson, and it’s a year he looks back to, not just on 9/11 but frequently.
“We ended up having a good season that year,” he said. “We all wore the NYPD hats and the Fire Department hats. We had a guy on our staff who worked as a volunteer for the New York Police Department. It kind of became a little bit of a bonding experience for us. That was the year we ended up turning the program, but all year those kids definitely played with a heavy heart.”
He believes Fordham and Columbia lost more alumni on that day than any other schools.
Clawson carries that day with him, the memory of a tragedy he lived through with his staff and team, sad for the loss of a former player and thankful for a late train that probably saved the life of his sister.
Each year, he pauses in honor of that team and that day, a day that will forever be frozen in his mind.