John Mara got the horrific news from Jim Fassel, his head coach, early on the morning of 9/11.
“So I walked to the top of the old Giants Stadium there,” Mara told The Post, “and I could see both towers on fire. It was a pretty stark image that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
“We could always see those towers from our old practice field. Walking out to practice a number of days later and not seeing them was pretty memorable, and pretty frightening, actually.
“But that sight from the top of the stadium of watching those buildings burning, not realizing at the time they were gonna come down minutes later, that is an image that will stay with me forever.”
Back then, the Giants offices were in Giants Stadium.
“I went to the top of the third deck, where I had a pretty good view of the buildings and watched them on fire,” Mara said, “then I went downstairs, put the TV on — by the time I got downstairs, one of the buildings had already come down and the other one followed shortly thereafter.”
Twelve days later, Jason Garrett was the backup quarterback to Kerry Collins, when the 2001 Giants rallied around each other and rallied around what it meant to represent a wounded city that so desperately needed something, anything, to help with the healing and beat the Chiefs 13-3 in Kansas City, where there were Chiefs fans of course, but more than anything, fans of America, with empathy in their hearts for New York and its Giants.
And to this day, Garrett cherishes the team photo taken in the postgame locker room at the behest of Fassel, a good, good man who died unexpectedly in June at age 71.
“We felt a real burden and a responsibility to have success for this area and for the people who were going through such challenging times,” Garrett recalled, “and I thought that moment captured it where we all kind of came together. It’s still one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever had in football. I have it in my office. I have it at my house. So many distinct memories of that time. Twenty years later, I mean, they’re vivid. They’re vivid and you can still feel them. Obviously, a very tragic time in our country’s history.”
Two days shy of 20 years later, Garrett pictured it all as if it were yesterday.
“I remember going out before the game to warm up and the fans were so warm and welcoming. Again, it was such an emotional time. I can remember them playing a lot of Bob Dylan before the game and it just seemed like a surreal experience. But the great takeaway was this fan base in Kansas City that was always so behind their team was certainly behind the Chiefs, but you also felt their support for our team and for people in our area and that was a great takeaway,” Garrett said.
“I think you reflect back on just the national anthem, and I can remember guys were just crying. It was just such an emotional thing and then you had to kind of get your energy right, take a deep breath and go play a football game.
“Personally, for me, I [was the holder] in that game for the first time, and I can remember the pressure of that. Needing a field goal late in the game and Morten Andersen was our kicker and just making sure, ‘Hey, catch it and get it down. This is damn important.’ Good thing it all worked out. I thought our organization and our team did a great job responding to that time.”
A tiny silver lining, if there could ever be such a thing in the darkest cloud we have ever witnessed, was the united state of America in the wake of such unspeakable evil. It helped us get off the canvas and revealed a strength of character.
“I think everybody — whether it’s President Bush or the leaders in our country, the community leaders, just citizens — how do you respond to that?” Garrett said. “One of the things when you reflect back on that time, what was amazing is I think we were at our best in our response and how everyone came together.
“It wasn’t about being liberal or conservative, it was about being an American and it was about being a human being.”
“I thought we did a great job in this area and all across our country rallying around the cause,” Garrett said.
Everyone was a patriot. You didn’t need to wave a flag and call yourself a patriot to be a true patriot. You wore an NYPD hat, or an FDNY hat, or Port Authority hat, in tribute, and with pride. Everyone played for the same team. Garrett and Collins this week shared their remembrances with each other.
“It was just amazing how this area and our country, in many ways our world, came together after 9/11,” Garrett said. “I can remember we were living in the city at the time, and I can remember we were going to go donate blood, and literally they said, ‘We’ve had so many people want to donate blood, we do not need any more blood.’ To us, that was always like this amazing thing, how everybody rallied around the cause after such a tragedy. It was such a sad, emotional time.”
Mara and Garrett both gave a shout-out to Allison Stangeby, the Giants vice president of community and corporate relations, for her role in the club’s community outreach following 9/11.
“In many ways, I think we felt fortunate as members of this team to be able to try to help the community in some ways,” Garrett said. “We spent a lot of time at firehouses and visiting police departments and some of the people who lost their dads or their moms. At least you felt like you were trying to do something.”
Fassel did plenty.
“Jim Fassel really led a lot of those efforts,” Mara said.
Former Giants players and coaches honored him at the Upper Montclair Country Club on Aug. 30 for The Jim Fassel Foundation Memorial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
“I just thought he did an amazing job,” Garrett said. “We had a chance to go to the dinner after the golf tournament they had for him last week and there were a lot of policemen there, firemen there, guys who were around at 9/11 who we stayed in touch with, and a big part of the tribute to him was around his leadership in response to that tragedy. So I thought he handled it beautifully and it was great to see his leadership as a player help this organization and help this community.”
Garrett and the Giants coaches will wear 9/11 lapel pins at Sunday’s home opener against the Broncos. Special NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority Police Department hats will be worn in partnership with NYC & Co. and New Era at the game to commemorate the lost first responders. Cheers and tears at MetLife Stadium.
“It’ll be pretty emotional because just having first responders and families in the stadium and on the field, I think it’ll be pretty solemn and emotional for a lot of us especially those of us that were here in the office,” Mara said. “A number of us lost friends and went to funerals and experienced a lot of the pain that went along with that day firsthand. … It’ll be good to commemorate and remember people that did lose their lives and the first responders who were the real heroes of the day.”
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