EDITOR'S NOTE:This article originally ran Sept. 11, 2002, and was written by Carter Toole, former managing editor of HoustonTexans.com.
One year ago this morning, as the nation collectively rose, put on its bathrobe and shuffled to the kitchen, each generation could claim its own moment when time stood frighteningly still.
For my grandparents, it was December 7, 1941. They were sitting in the back seat of a car on a double date, hearing on the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. The car turned around and headed home.
For my parents, it was November 22, 1963, when the President was shot in Dallas and Walter Cronkite shed tears as he told the nation later that evening that John F. Kennedy was gone.
For me, it was that day in the middle school library when we all wondered why the Challenger had disappeared from the TV screen. Our teachers said they didn't know and hurriedly herded us out to the playground for an impromptu recess.
One year ago tonight, all of us, whether we were eight years old or 80, could claim a new moment when time stood still.
The Texans arrive at work today just like the rest of us. There will be lifting sessions, meetings and practice. They will talk about Sunday's opponent as they try to become the first expansion team in NFL history to win its first two games.
But, also like the rest of us, the Texans are well aware of today's significance in the history of this nation. And unlike the 31 other NFL teams, this franchise right now is a melting pot of sorts. None of the 56 players were in Houston last September 11. Only four of the 17 coaches were here. They were all in other cities with other teams, be they college or pro. So the stories circulating through these walls today might vary more than those at your office.
All are deeply personal; none are unimportant. But we're going to focus on two here, striking both ends of the emotional spectrum. One comes from Kevin Cooper, one of our media relations staffers. The other comes from Brian Stewart, our assistant defensive backs coach.
Cooper, a recent graduate of Syracuse, secured an internship last summer that most sports geeks would kill for. The defending NFC champion Giants hired him as their media relations intern.
The Giants opened the season at Denver on Monday Night Football. The Broncos won 31-20, opening their new stadium in style. The Giants bordered a charter back to Newark International Airport, landing at 5 a.m., a handful of hours before United Flight 93 would take off for San Francisco one terminal over.
Once the players arrived back at the Meadowlands, they hopped in their cars and headed home. They needed some sleep. But there was urgency amongst the coaching staff. Not only did the vaunted G-Men open with a loss, but they now had a short week to prepare for Brett Favre and the Packers in their home opener.
Cooper didn't travel to Denver but woke up early after watching the team lose.
"I remember leaving home in a bad mood," Cooper said. "I was thinking it was going to be a bad day at the office because we lost the game. And I remember just walking past the calendar in my apartment and not even looking at what day it was.
"To me, it was just another day after a loss."
Giants Stadium is about five miles from Manhattan with a clear view of downtown. Once he arrived at work, Cooper went to go get the mail, just like he did every morning. There was a post office just a stone's throw from the stadium. He looked out his car window on the drive back and noticed one of the World Trade Center towers was on fire.
"I got back to the office and asked what was going on," Cooper said. "Somebody said a plane flew into the World Trade Center but we didn't know what kind of plane. So I went back to my desk and started clipping the newspapers.
"Then somebody yelled 'Oh my God!' and time just seemed to freeze for a second. The second tower had been hit. Then we hear our GM Ernie Accorsi yell down the hall 'They got the Pentagon, too!'"
Giants staffers who lived in the city were trapped -- they couldn't get home. Club officials wouldn't let anybody up into the press box, which would have provided a clear view of the towers. Meanwhile, most of the players were sleeping, unaware of what was unfolding.
Cooper headed back to his apartment around 2 p.m. and put away his teal dress shirt, black pants and tie -- a combination he has yet to wear again. Then he fell asleep for a few hours.
"When I woke up, I was really hoping I had dreamt everything. Then I turned on the TV and finally looked at that calendar -- September 11. 9-1-1."
New York's players, coaches and the PR staff arrived back at the stadium Wednesday. Everybody else was told to stay home. There was a shuttle parking lot adjacent to the players' lot for downtown workers who didn't like to fight traffic in their daily commute. Some cars still remained in that lot, unclaimed.
On Wednesday, the NFL still had not decided whether to play games that week.
"Nobody wanted to play," Cooper said. "How could you honestly prepare for a game in that environment? We were all just numb. Jason Sehorn was our player rep and he was adamant about not playing."
The league later postponed all of that weekend's games until the end of the season.
On Saturday, Cooper and a host of other Giants went to Ground Zero to help haul supplies. He still remembers the smell.
"It was awful," Cooper said. "And I remember the guard told us that women, children and people with weak stomachs shouldn't go near it. He said he had fought in Vietnam and this was 10 times worse."
Stewart wasn't working in New York City last September 11, he was a few hours northwest in Syracuse, where he served as the Orangemen's defensive backs coach. Today's date takes on a strange meaning for Stewart, posing a question that only a select few have to grapple with.
What happens when arguably the greatest day in your life coincides with arguably the worst day in your country's existence?
One year ago today, Stewart's wife Kimberly gave birth to their first child, Leila.
"I remember Kim was in labor and we're sitting there watching this unfold on the TV in her hospital room," Stewart said. "When the second plane hit, we realized we were under attack.
"She was out of it, she was concentrating on having the baby. But I'm panicked, tears started coming to my eyes. I mean, here I am bringing this baby into this world and we're under attack?"
Leila was born that afternoon. Stewart still can't tell you exactly what time. The day was a blur.
"When we went to the delivery room, I tried to block everything out," Stewart said. "She delivered and I helped the nurse clean the baby. But then I just walked into the elevator and went all the way down, all six floors, and sat down outside.
"I never thought there was such a thing as too much information. But I was just overstimulated, if you will, at that point. The big thing I was fighting is are we going to be all right? I mean, before it was just me and Kim. But now I had this beautiful baby daughter. Is she going to be safe?"
After practice today, Stewart will celebrate Leila's first birthday with Kimberly, as well as in-laws, grandparents and neighbors.
"The whole house will be packed," Stewart said. "We're going to rehash the day, rehash the moment. But we're also going to celebrate -- celebrate her birthday and celebrate life.
"I've come to the conclusion that this was a blessing. I have a daughter and she's going to do something great because she was born on that day. So I have to do the best job I can as a father to make sure that happens."
So how will Cooper feel today?
"I keep telling people it will be weird," he said. "But then I think, this is different. I mean, honestly, weird describes having sweaty palms on a first date.
"This was sitting in my apartment all alone, with my phones dead and people that I haven't talked to in years frantically trying to see if I was OK. This was going to the grocery store and seeing people rushing to stock up in case this was just the beginning. We didn't know. Everything had changed."
Cooper keeps a newspaper in his desk drawer at Reliant Stadium. It's the September 11 edition of The New York Times. He'll pull it out this morning.
"To see how the world used to be."
*Cooper is now Senior Director of Communications with the Houston Texans. Stewart is now defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Maryland.