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As 9/11 Unfolded For The Cardinals

On the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, a look back at the events in Tempe

A fan holds an American flag honoring the 9/11 tragedy during a Cardinals' home game against the Falcons on Sept. 30, 2001 at Sun Devil Stadium.
A fan holds an American flag honoring the 9/11 tragedy during a Cardinals' home game against the Falcons on Sept. 30, 2001 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Bill Bidwill was actually in Manhattan 20 years ago today, attending an NFL meeting.

And while it was an off day that Tuesday – Sept. 11, 2001 – a handful of players were at the Cardinals' Tempe facility, getting in a workout. They were the lone NFL team not to have yet played a game that season. With the NFL at an odd number of teams, a single team had to have a bye on opening weekend, and that was the Cardinals. Their opener, scheduled for Sept. 16, was to be at the Washington Redskins.

Yet no one, even at an NFL team's facility that morning, was thinking about football.

Not Pat Tillman, who ended up sitting for a time watching the wreckage of the World Trade Center on television with a reporter in the media relations area. A football game in Washington that coming weekend seemed pointless, during a time when more terrorist attacks felt inevitable.

"I wouldn't be worried about our safety," Tillman said as he watched the screen that day. "My concern would be if it is appropriate. The importance of football ranks zero compared to what happened. When you compare it … we're worthless. We're actors."

Wide receiver Rob Moore spent time in the training room, talking with long-time head athletic trainer John Omohundro about how one-time NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had decided to go ahead and play the NFL schedule a couple of days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the decision now facing current commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Bidwill, far enough away in his hotel in New York to be safe, ended up stuck in New York briefly after commercial air travel was shut down in the country. At one point he attempted to fly out soon after the attacks; the flight eventually was grounded before takeoff and not before a handful of men were taken off the plane by authorities.

Bidwill ended up driving from New York to Oklahoma City, where son Michael, a pilot, was able to fly and pick him up to bring him back to Arizona.

"The world is always changing," Bill Bidwill said after his return, "and we have gone through a quantum change."

The decision to cancel games came soon enough. Players from the teams back East – the Giants, Jets, Washington, and Eagles in particular – had no desire to play games. The Giants' facility had been used as a staging area for the disaster. Playing games made no sense. At that point, people still didn't know exactly the lives lost. Cardinals center Pete Kendall was talking about the potential of 20,000 people dead.

"Innocent people, we feel bulletproof," Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer said, "and all of a sudden, the World Trade Center is rubble."

The Cardinals, in their final year as members of the NFC East, played in both New York and Washington that year. The trip to New York came in mid-December, and even before they went to the hotel, they boarded buses that took them to Ground Zero. On the road trip to Washington to end the regular season – the game originally postponed – the Cardinals stayed at a hotel across the freeway from the damaged Pentagon in Crystal City.

On Sept. 11, Moore, who grew up on Long Island, was wondering aloud what it was going to be like driving into the city and not see the World Trade Center buildings stretching into the sky. Tillman, taking in the images as he did, later joined the military.

The Cardinals ended up playing their first game of the season on Sept. 23.

"This is a chance for us in a way to get lost a little bit," Plummer said. "Not everyone in the country will be watching, but some will people will be watching and getting away from the sadness and sorrow they have been feeling."