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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It won't all be about football this Sunday

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 09:11 PM
TAMPA -

Ten years ago, when the first plane crashed into New York's World Trade Center, Raheem Morris was working on a game plan. He was 25, the defensive backs coach at his alma mater, Hofstra University. Someone turned on a television. Then everything stopped.

"We all thought it was some terrible mistake,'' Morris said. "We got up on the roof (of Hofstra's library) and we could see the Manhattan skyline out there. I saw the second plane coming and I watched it hit live with my own eyes. That's an image I'll never forget.''

And now, it's time to remember.

Morris will enter his third season as Tampa Bay's head coach when the Bucs open the NFL's regular season against the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon — the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. All NFL games will have tributes to the 9/11 victims.

"It was a tragedy and life changed for everyone,'' said Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, the only Tampa Bay player who was active in the NFL on Sept. 11, 2001. "There's no bigger sport in America than football. Here's a chance to bring people together and show some national pride. That's what I remember most, everybody unifying, people helping one another.''

A handful of Bucs were college players. Most were in high school or middle school.

"I woke up to it,'' said Bucs backup quarterback Josh Johnson, who lived in Oakland, Calif. "I turned on the TV and thought I was watching a movie. Then I realized. This was the news. This was real. A lot of my friends didn't even go to school that day. For a young guy, that was tough to see.''

Ten years ago, Bucs director of pro scouting Shelton Quarles was an outside linebacker for Tampa Bay. It was the team's off-day, following a season-opening victory at Dallas. It was also Quarles' 30th birthday. His wife had planned a surprise dinner party for that evening.

They had just bought a home. They were out choosing tile patterns when a second plane hit the towers.

"The whole day was kind of a fog after that,'' Quarles said. "Everything (birthday dinner) got canceled. My wife was actually trying to figure out ways to pick me up. It became a very, very sad day for our family. The fact that it was my birthday, that was very secondary.''

There were other concerns.

The sister and brother-in-law of Quarles' wife both worked on Wall Street. At first, they couldn't be located.

The sister, weeks away from giving birth, had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge because there was no transportation.

The brother-in-law worked security at a building near the World Trade Center. He saw large chunks of debris collapsing on top of his building, but safely wedged himself into a tiny protective crevice, probably preserving his life. After the impact, he was covered in soot and ash, but escaped.

Quarles said it was the next day before he knew that both family members were safe.

"My birthday is a reminder of that and I guess it always will be,'' Quarles said.

Bucs running back Earnest Graham, then at Florida, remembers having breakfast on campus and seeing a television screen: "America Under Attack.'' Suddenly, the Saturday home game against Tennessee, which was postponed, took a back seat.

"I was wondering, 'What was coming next? Were we safe? Should I stay here or go home?' It was crazy,'' Graham said.

Bucs defensive tackle Roy Miller, who attended Shoemaker High in Killeen, Texas, a few hundred yards from the Fort Hood military base, said he knew life had changed drastically. His father, an Army sergeant, would soon be deployed to Iraq.

"Everyone was in shock,'' Miller said. "There was so much anxiety, these random attacks, and we were in the shadow of the world's largest Army base. People's parents were going out. It was like a scary movie.''

"I know it scared me,'' said Bucs receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who was 12 at the time. "I didn't really understand what had happened, but I was bothered by the thought of these planes crashing into buildings. I was thinking I might never go on an airplane again.''

The 9/11 anniversary hits home for Morris, who grew up in Irvington, N.J.

"It was scary for me,'' Morris said. "I don't know how many times I went through that subway down by the World Trade Center. That was my way home.''

At the same time, Morris said the 9/11 aftermath gave him a different view.

"I was proud of what I was seeing,'' said Morris, who attended "multiple'' funerals of Hofstra graduates who died in the attacks. "I've never seen so many American flags in my life. Watching people look for their loved ones in a complete scramble, that was a mess. But to see people helping people, to see what those firemen and policemen did, it was probably the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in New York.

"Our game, I think, can be a place where those feelings come back, that sense of perspective and bonding. That's what I want 9/11 to mean. We came together. We pushed forward. And we're not fearful.''

LIONS AT BUCS

Regular-season opener

Sunday: 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium TV: Fox, Channel 13

(subject to blackout locally)


jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353

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