John Thompson's surreal 9/11 story

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
2:08
PM ET
Everyone has their own Sept. 11 story. Many of these stories are as simple as vivid memories of the morning itself -- where you were, who you were with, what your teacher said when the announcement came over the loudspeaker. Others are every bit as tragic and confusing as the day itself. Then there are the tales of serendipity, the people who were supposed to go to work on Sept. 11 but, say, called in sick instead.

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson's story is of the latter kind. On Monday, Thompson visited with Jim Rome on Rome's radio show, where he told his own story in harrowing detail. The details are as follows: In 2001, Thompson was set to fly to New York to do a long-negotiated studio interview on Rome's show at the time. Thompson wanted to be able to do the interview and still make a friend's birthday party in Las Vegas on Sept. 13, so he booked a ticket on American Airlines Flight 77 departing on Sept. 11. That didn't work for the show, whose producer, Danny Schwartz, asked Thompson to instead push his flight back to Sept. 12. Thompson didn't like the change, and he told Schwartz as much. Schwartz persisted. Thompson relented. After the events of 9/11 -- Thompson's house is near the Pentagon, and he felt Flight 77's impact as it crashed that morning -- the Georgetown icon realized just how lucky he had been:
“[Thompson's assistant said], 'You were supposed to be on that plane. If that kid hadn’t have talked you out of it, you would’ve been on that plane,'" Thompson said. "The strangest thing about it was, it’s hard to be elated about all of it because of what happened. I’m appreciative. I went out on my porch, smoked a cigar, said my prayers … but at the same time, you can’t be too jubilant about it. But had it not been for that set of circumstances, I would have been on that plane on the 11th.”

The whole interview is well worth a listen. Rome even put Schwartz and Thompson on the phone together:
“Let me tell you something, if you’re ever in Washington, D.C., you look me up,” Thompson said to the producer. “I was antagonistic in those days, and how you handled it saved my life, and I appreciate that.”

Unfortunately, the tragedies of those days still unfolded, and they still affect thousands of people -- and the United States -- in profound ways each and every day. But Thompson's story is a tiny sliver of purely positive luck in that day's otherwise bleak memory. The lesson, as always, is that we never know what lies ahead around the next corner. Sometimes getting lucky is the best you can do.

(Hat tip: Matt Norlander)

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