“A house divided against itself cannot stand” – Abraham Lincoln
On February 13, 2003, after barely a wink of sleep, I woke up on the Jersey side of the Hudson River and looked out the hotel window to an unforgettable sight. Two Apache Helicopters were patrolling our border, hovering over the place where the Twin Towers once stood. It had been one year, five months and 12 days since the day that our country was attacked by terrorism, and I was in New York for the first time in my life, trying out for an opportunity to play football for the New York Giants.
It was all very surreal. It had been over a year since that day the Towers fell, and life was getting back to dare I say, “normal” in parts of the country, but being in New York, and seeing the Apache Helicopters hovering over the city, put me right back to that September morning in 2001. I stood by the window for nearly 30 minutes just watching them fly back and forth, but mostly they seemed to just hover. Protecting.
I could have stayed at that hotel window gazing out for the entire day. I was fixed in my thoughts regarding the 2,606 people who died in the World Trade Center and it seemed like an honor just to see the Apaches in action, in person. I remember thinking about the pilots and crew in those helicopters, wondering who they were and where the soldiers were from. I wondered if any were from Ohio like me. My curiosity got the best of me for a while as I stood and watched our country, and our military protect me while I was literally, chasing my dream.
Later that day, after a solid workout with Coach Pope and a few other coaches, I signed a contract to play for the Giants. The funny thing about that day, is that I expected that to happen. I went to New York to play football and wasn’t nervous, wasn’t intimidated by the city, or competition, or anything like that. I knew I could play football. But seeing those helicopters flying over New York City, that threw me off more than football ever had. That memory has remained in the back of my mind and close to my heart ever since. (I can see them vividly right now as I type).
Fast forward to August 7th of that same year, I played tight end in the first NFL game I ever attended. Standing on the 47-yard-line just before Kick Off, a few tears rolled down my cheek as I realized I made a dream come true and was playing in the NFL. Just about that same moment of realization, as the National Anthem was nearing the big finale, four F-16 Fighter Jets flew over the stadium in Foxborough and every hair on my body was standing. I’ve never felt goosebumps so intense and I had never felt more grateful for my family, my past coaches, my past teammates, my supporters and even my haters than I did at that moment. When the rockets red glared, fireworks in the stadium exploded, and I was a football player not just in the NFL, but in the land of the free, and in the home of the brave.