It still feels like yesterday
Athletes of all ages from across the country recall the day that changed everything
This story appears in the Sept. 19, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Then: Seventh-grader, Drew Freeman Middle School (Md.)
Now: F, Oklahoma City Thunder
One of my friends heard a loud boom while he was walking to school. We never heard noises like that where we lived in Maryland, so I was kind of nervous. Our school dismissed us early. Only later, when I got home and saw the news, did I realize that the boom was the Pentagon being hit. Everyone was really scared because we didn't know what else would happen, and as a kid, you really feel that intensity.
Then: Seventh-grader, Ronald Edmonds Learning Center (N.Y.)
Now: G, Chicago Sky
We lived close to the Brooklyn Bridge, and my mother and I could see people running from lower Manhattan. We rushed to get my little brother from day care. Then we came back and sat on a bench and talked about what was happening. I just remember being so relieved that I didn't go to school in Manhattan.
Then: Seventh-grader, Lake Oswego (Ore.) Junior High School
Now: F/C, Minnesota Timberwolves
My parents were crying on the phone. They couldn't get through to my aunt and uncle, who lived three blocks away from the World Trade Center. My uncle had seen the second plane hit, and we couldn't reach him and my aunt because they were busy running away from the buildings. I arrived to school late that day, not knowing what to think. Whether you were 13 years old, like I was, or my parents' age, you were in a complete state of shock.
Then and now: Olympic archer
When I saw the smoking New York City skyline from West Orange, N.J., I froze. I was born in Georgia, which was part of the USSR, and grew up close to violence. I came to the U.S. to be safe.
Then: Eighth-grader, Pasco (Fla.) Middle School
Now: OF, Philadelphia Phillies
When you're in eighth grade, you think to yourself, Is this the end of the world?
Then: WR, Northern Colorado
Now: WR, San Diego Chargers
I came back from class, and one of my college roommates was sitting on the couch with a ghastly look on his face. Like a lot of people, we ended up watching TV for hours. I'd been heavily recruited by Columbia University, so I kept thinking, What would I have been experiencing if I lived in the city?
Then: RB, Arizona Cardinals
Now: RB, Kansas City Chiefs
I was affected a couple of different ways. I'd recently graduated from the University of Virginia and had friends who worked in the Twin Towers and on Wall Street. Also, my girlfriend at the time lived in northern Virginia. After seeing her, I would often fly west from Dulles on the same flight that flew into the Pentagon. That crash killed my good friend's mother, who worked in the building.
Then: Iranian teenager
Now: C, Memphis Grizzlies
I had just started playing basketball, and my team was on a road trip across Iran. Our bus had a TV, and the Iranian national news agency reported that the Twin Towers had been attacked. The Internet wasn't very accessible in Iran then, so it was difficult to get info, but the Iranian people were in disbelief that something so horrific had happened.
Then: Sophomore, Oakland (Calif.) Technical High School
Now: RB, Seattle Seahawks
I remember that the emotion I felt wasn't fear; we all know we've got to go someday. No, the emotion was more like: This is f--ed up. I mean, there are a lot of things in this world I don't understand anymore, and it all started right then and there.
Then: Freshman, New Rochelle (N.Y.) High School
Now: RB, Baltimore Ravens
New Rochelle is about 20 minutes north of New York City, and a lot of my classmates were deeply affected because we knew people in that area. When I got home, I went to the top of our building and could see the cloud of smoke in the distance. Football practice was canceled that afternoon, and they ended up postponing games too.
Then: OF, Boston Red Sox
I was in Tampa with the team, and my wife, very pregnant back in Boston, called at 5 a.m. that morning and said, "It's time." So I rushed to the airport to fly home. Halfway into the flight, the pilot said, "There's a situation in New York and DC, and President Bush has ordered all aircraft to land immediately." Our flight attendant looked like she was going to be sick. I knew something was really wrong, but I didn't know the full extent of the attacks until I passed a TV in the Norfolk, Va., airport. I broke down when I realized I wouldn't make it to the hospital on time. It was such a difficult, stressful and sorrowful day for us all, but for my family, a young man's birth brought hope and light to an otherwise dark story.
Then: Freshman, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Now: LPGA golfer
My dad is a pilot, and he was in the air at the time of the attacks. It was such a relief when I finally heard his voice. I did see one blue plane in the sky that day. It turned out that President Bush had been speaking at a school near me, so I think I saw Air Force One on 9/11.
Then: P, Oakland A's
Now: P, San Francisco Giants
There was a peculiar silence in the air afterward, partly because the sky was empty of planes. I remember stopping at a gas station, and everyone gazed at each other like zombies void of emotion. You could almost feel the shock running through everybody.
Then and now: F, Los Angeles Sparks
In LA, everything was really still. It felt like the calm before the storm. People bought water and canned goods. We were basically waiting and wondering if we would be next.
Then: Head coach, New York Giants
Now: President and coach, Las Vegas Locomotives
I remember leaving Giants Stadium that evening. The stadium had a park-and-ride lot for Manhattan commuters, and dozens of cars were parked there. I said a prayer as I drove by -- something to the effect of, "I hope most of these cars are gone in the morning." Sadly, many were still there when I returned the next day.
Then: K, Atlanta Falcons
Now: K, Arizona Cardinals
When we finally returned to football, I remember wanting to do something to honor the victims and first responders. I was wearing an Adidas shoe at the time, and I painted the stripes so they were red, white and blue. It turned out that was on my very first football card, the picture is of me kicking with that shoe, which makes me proud.
Then: C, Edmonton Oilers
Now: Free agent
I'll never forget how quiet it was during that first moment of silence after we came back.
Then and now: Olympic mountain biker
There's something beautiful about being in tune with your body and performing at your absolute peak, and 9/11 gave me extra passion and motivation to suffer more than I had ever suffered before.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
Then and now: NASCAR driver
We didn't race that weekend, but we did the next, at Dover. I won, but what I remember most was how it felt with the green flag at the beginning of the race. It was like, "We can do this. We can overcome."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA
Then: Formula One driver
Now: NASCAR driver
I earned my first Formula One victory that first week back. Normally we spray champagne, but no one felt like celebrating. Instead, we had a moment of silence.
Then: G, Los Angeles Galaxy
Now: G, New England Revolution
We played in New York shortly after the attacks, and I remember trying to get as close to ground zero as I could. I remember the smell to this day. I wish I didn't.
I wanted to go to ground zero to show my support, but I couldn't control my anger.” -- John Smoltz
Then: P, Atlanta Braves
We had a series at Shea Stadium 10 days after 9/11, and we could still smell the smoke. Several of my teammates went to ground zero. I wanted to go to show my support, but I couldn't make myself do it. I couldn't control my anger.
Then: OF, San Diego Padres
Now: Coach, San Diego State University
Playing again was weird. Everything felt different. I think the fans were happy because it gave them something else to think about, but for a competitive athlete it was hard. It didn't seem like winning or losing mattered.
Then: QB, St. Louis Rams
When it came time to play, the NFL most assuredly had a hand in bringing our country together and helping it heal. I have a picture of Jeff Garcia, Mike Martz and me standing side by side before a game, holding the edge of a giant flag. It was a time of deep sorrow but also a moment of healing as we joined together in stadiums across the country, determined not to let the evil of a few men destroy the freedoms and lifestyles that make our country so great.
I carried the flag at the Olympics, and the moment was so powerful I had to do squats to keep from passing out.” -- Chris Klug
That February, for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, I helped carry the flag found in the rubble at ground zero into the opening ceremonies. I expected 60,000 people to erupt when they saw the flag, but there was utter silence. That moment was so powerful that I had to do squats right there because I thought I was going to pass out.
Then and now: Snowboarder
I won America's first gold medal at that Olympics, and there was nothing I could do to keep the tears from flowing when the national anthem played.
Then: QB, Arizona Cardinals
I look at 9/11 as one of the reasons my good buddy Pat Tillman is no longer with us. He was such a stud, such a champion. When I remember him, I don't even think of the military. I think of him catching a kickoff and trying to take it to the house. That was Pat.
Then and now: F, U.S. National Soccer Team
The longer I've played, the more I've come to understand the power of sports and their ability to grab our hearts. Representing our country, especially after 9/11, is an honor and helps me appreciate what otherwise might have felt like just a sport. The truth is, every time we step on the field, it isn't just a game. We represent an entire nation, a culture and a way of life.
Then: Senior, Cypress Creek (Fla.) High School
Now: F/C, New York Knicks
As a high school kid, I didn't know how to react to 9/11. Now, living in New York, I've talked to survivors. This one guy told me he was in one of the towers when it collapsed. All he could see was a small light, so he crawled toward it, got out and ran from the ashes and smoke. Unbelievable. It wasn't until I moved here that I began to understand the magnitude of the tragedy, with all those lives lost and families destroyed.
Then: Second-grader, Shanksville-Stonycreek (Pa.) Elementary School
Now: Senior, Shanksville-Stonycreek High School
Everyone I know in Shanksville likes to play sports. I go from golf to basketball to baseball. Our basketball team made it to the playoffs last year. But it's been rough for our baseball team lately. We went 1-16 last season. Let's just say that's what really needs rebuilding in Shanksville now.
Reported by Morty Ain, Sam Alipour, Patrick Cain, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Louise Cornetta, Chris Gigley, Lizzie Haldane, Ryan McGee, John Paschall, Stacey Pressman, Alyssa Roenigk, Larry Smith and Sarah Turcotte. Follow ESPN The Magazine on Twitter: @ESPNmag.