Here are a couple of columns that I wrote back in 2001, just days after the 9-11 attacks. I think they’re still worth re-reading …
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Tim O’Toole remembers the night the big kid came and knocked on his door, duffel bag in hand and a big smile on his face.
“Hi, I’m Steve Hagis,” said the big kid.
He had come to Fairfield University for a weekend recruiting visit and it was O’Toole’s — the Stags senior captain — job to show the kid around the campus. They checked out Alumni Hall and, of course, the student union. They also looked around at the School of Business. That was the direction Steve Hagis’ future was going to take.
Mitch Buonaguro remembers the knee brace. The big, ugly-looking knee brace. An injury had cost him an entire season, but that was not going to stop Steve Hagis. He did the rehab. He came back. He played.
Even though, as Buonaguro remembers, the pain had to be terrible.
“He was a wonderful kid,” said Buonaguro, his voice cracking. “He always tried … damn it. It’s not fair.”
That’s all that O’Toole, Buonaguro and so many others have left now.
Steve Hagis worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center . No one is exactly sure which floor: 101, 102, 104 or 105, he was on last Tuesday morning.
Sadly, we’ll never know. At 8:45 a.m. the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the 90th floor of the North Tower. Flaming jet fuel and smoke billowed upward, melting steel, disintegrating concrete.
Taking lives. One of which was Steve’s.
He is not on the Cantor Fitzgerald Web site of safe and accounted for employees. He is not listed anywhere in the New York City hospital treatment locator system.
“We haven’t heard from him. You can draw your own conclusions from that,” said Jeff Siegel, the person handling media inquiries regarding employees for Cantor Fitzgerald.
Your head says to hope but your heart says something else. It aches with the truth. It aches with the pain.
“I pray that he’s alive,” said O’Toole, knowing deep inside however that Hagis is likely among the 5,422 officially listed as missing in the wake of the terrorist attack. “He was such a great kid. You liked him and wanted to be around him.”
Hagis grew up in Staten Island and attended Monsignor Farrell High School, where he averaged 11.9 points and 10-2 rebounds as a senior for coach Bob Besignano. He was a big kid, standing 6-foot-10 and weighing about 225 pounds. Buonaguro, who was the Stags coach at the time, liked Hagis’ tenacity and his willingness to work, offering him a scholarship. Hagis accepted.
The 1987-88 Fairfield media guide that season described Hagis as: “A tough aggressive inside player, Steve is a strong rebounder, who runs the floor well despite his size.”
It seemed as if he had a bright future.
He averaged just 2.1 points and 1.2 rebounds as a freshman playing in 19 games as he battled knee problems as Fairfield struggled to an 8-20 record. He missed the entire 1988-89 season after having major reconstructive knee surgery, but after a lengthy rehabilitation, Hagis was determined to keep playing.
“He never quit … but that injury made it tough for him to play,” said Buonaguro, now an assistant coach at Cleveland State University. “He played in a lot of pain. He was such a wonderful kid … he never got the chance to show what he could do because of the injury.”
Hagis tried, though. He did manage to play in seven games in the 1989-90 season, averaging 1.6 points and a rebound per game. But after that, he did not play again, concentrating on his business major that eventually would lead him to Cantor Fitzgerald.
“I remember him being a very good student,” Buonaguro said. “I didn’t really keep track of him after I left Fairfield … he was a kid you could always have fun with. It’s a terrible shame.”
“He had a big heart. He was such a caring guy,” added O’Toole, the current Stags coach. “He was great … he is great. I just pray that he’s OK.”
The reports say that the fireball from the flaming jet fuel reached upwards of 1,000 degrees, hot enough to melt the giant steel beams that supported the tower’s outer framework and turn 4-inch thick concrete floors into dust. With the raging fire and the massive amount of wreckage below them, the workers had no way to get out.
But both O’Toole and Buonaguro know that Hagis would have tried.
“You just hope there was a way to get out,” Buonaguro said. “You hope they would have found a way.”
Maybe with more time, they would have.
But barely an hour after the explosion, the North Tower crumbled to the ground. No one from Cantor Fitzgerald has been heard from since.
Steve Hagis’ birthday is Sept. 18. He would have been 32 years old today. But one week ago, his life was snuffed out by an unspeakable act of terror.
Now, all that are left are memories.
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
DUANESBURG, N.Y. — Looking out the backdoor and down the hill, Duane Lake was as still as glass. Wisps of fog rolled off the top of the water as the sun slowly climbed over the line of trees and into the morning sky.
Across the lake, an American flag fluttered at half-mast, a chilling reminder that the pain was still with us and was not about to go away anytime soon.
This was supposed to be a weekend away from the hell. A couple days of peace and quiet with the wife and the kids and the dog and my step-father-in-law.
There was quiet. But there wasn’t much peace.
Even in this small, upstate New York town, flags are flying everywhere. From houses, from cars, off of overpasses and bridges. And with every flag you see, that dull ache starts up all over again.
It has been 14 days since our way of life was changed forever. Fourteen days since we saw the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapse; 14 days since we first saw the gaping hole in the side of the Pentagon; 14 days since we first heard of the heroism on the airplane that undoubtedly saved hundreds of other lives.
Our country’s nose was bloodied. It was a sharp, unexpected blow. It caught us with our guard down. It hurt. It made us angry.
Two weeks later, we still can see the devastation. We still can remember the horror. We still grieve over the dead.
But last Friday night, a night when New York City paid tribute to its fallen and missing heroes and honored its own steely resolve, Mike Piazza sent a ball deep into the September night, and for a moment the city cheered.
Whether the Mets can pull off another miracle remains to be seen, but when the city needed a reason to smile, a reason to hug and high-five, Piazza swung at a Steve Karsay fastball and let everyone go a little wild.
We needed that. We needed that release. Sports are slowly getting back to normal; slowly, so are we. The National Football League started up again Sunday, as did the colleges the day before.
Baseball has a week under its belt, but there still seems to be a pall over everything. It seemed like no one wanted to cheer, to be happy.
Until Piazza swung, that is, and allowed the city to crack a smile.
We honor the fallen with flags. Baseball players have American flags sewn onto the backs of their uniforms, and football players have flag decals on their helmets. They will wear these for the rest of their respective seasons.
Last week, the PGA Tour used American flags on the flagsticks for the Pennsylvania Classic. Hopefully, they will do this at every tournament stop for the rest of the season.
We want to move on. We don’t want to forget.
President Bush wants the people of this country to get on with their lives. We will need sports to help us do this. Barry Bonds’ chase of Mark McGwire’s home-run record will keep our minds from thinking about death tolls and missing-persons counts.
The pennant races in the National League will keep us from worrying about the falling stock market or the troubled airline industry.
Sports is the great healer. Even though the wound we suffered two weeks ago is very deep and the pain still terrible, we will feel better. There is no timetable as to when. Maybe it won’t be until the World Series. Maybe it won’t be until the Super Bowl. Maybe it won’t be until the Winter Olympics, but we will feel better.
Sports will help us.
Piazza crushed a baseball Friday night, and the first step in the healing process had begun.
On Sunday, the Giants and Jets were winners on the road and will play their first home games — Sunday afternoon and Monday night, respectively — since the terrible attack. Emotion will flow freely both days, you can bet on that.
The second week of October, the Yankees will open the postseason looking for their fourth straight World Series crown and fifth in the last six years. Maybe the Mets will find a way over these final 12 games to join them in the playoffs.
The Rangers will drop the puck on another season in a couple of weeks, and soon after, the Knicks will start playing.
We need them. We need them all.
Friday night, we stood in the grass and watched the stillness of the lake, drinking in the quiet. When Piazza hit that ball in the bottom of the eighth, my step-father-in-law yelled; my daughter and I high-fived. The healing process had begun.
The next morning, across the lake, the flag was there, fluttering in the breeze. Just like it should be.
We want to move on. We don’t want to forget.