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NFL remembers Sept. 11

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was in Jacksonville on Sept. 11, 2001.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Sept. 10, 2006) -- Giants coach Tom Coughlin was in Jacksonville on Sept. 11, 2001. His son Tim, a bond trader, was somewhere in the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Amani Toomer looked out the window of his New Jersey home and watched in disbelief as the towers fell.

In Washington, LaVar Arrington felt a shudder as a jet slammed into the Pentagon.

Five years later, the 9-11 terrorist attacks feels like yesterday to members of the New York Giants. Over the week that followed, there would be a trip to ground zero and firehouses where widows of fallen firefighters cried on their shoulders.

When Coughlin looks at his grandchildren, Andrea and Timmy, he knows they exist because his son found a way down from around the 60th floor after hijackers crashed two planes into the buildings.

"To be honest with you, I'm very aware of the miracles that have taken place in my life," Coughlin said. "And that certainly is one of them."

Across the NFL on Sept. 10, teams observed moments of silence, rolled out U.S. flags and arranged for jet fighters to fly over stadiums to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

In Nashville, Aaron Neville sang the national anthem as part of the Titans' ceremony, which also featured what was billed as he first operational flyover by four F-22A Raptors, the single-pilot stealth fighter jet.

During pregame festivities before the New Orleans Saints-Browns game in Cleveland, Lee Greenwood sang God Bless the U.S.A. as a 100-yard long American flag was unfurled and held by members of the Marine Corps. A moment of silence was also meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

At halftime in Charlotte, N.C., the Panthers set up a satellite connection for chosen area families to talk with their loved ones stationed in Iraq. Portions of the calls were then played back on the big screens.

In St. Louis, the Rams showed a video montage called "Everyday Heroes" at halftime honoring police and firefighters. Dozens of local law enforcement personnel and paramedics unfurled a giant flag.

But the five-year mark was all the more poignant for the Giants, who returned to New York a little more than 12 hours before the first plane struck on the day of the attacks. The night before, they opened their season in Denver with a loss on Monday night.

Linebacker Brandon Short was a rookie, starting his first game.

"I didn't play very well and I thought it was the end of the world," Short said. "The next day everything was put in perspective, like football. Nothing meant much except making sure that our country was secure and safe and that we could continue to enjoy the freedoms that we had."

The team's charter flight had landed at the then-Newark International Airport and pulled into the United terminal. Players say they learned that one of the planes they passed was the jet that would be United Flight 93.

"It's amazing how close you can come to death and not know it," Short said.

Toomer said he had little sleep when the first phone call came that the towers had been hit.

"I looked out and they were both smoking," Toomer said. "I kept watching and watching and watching and then one fell, and the other fell. It was unbelievable."

Arrington and fellow linebacker Antonio Pierce were playing for the Redskins in Washington in 2001, and that Tuesday was their day off. Arrington was home waiting for a buddy from New York to arrive when he felt the blast.

"It was a sad day, but at the same time it was a day that brought this whole nation together," Arrington said. "Sometimes it takes disasters for that to happen. I was upset, but at the same time, I felt, 'We're America and there will be some type of something that will make this right."'

Pierce and several Redskins visited hospitals in Washington to see injured soldiers.

"There were guys who wouldn't open their eyes or respond, who would hardly move, and we came in and they were happy to see us," Pierce said.

For the Giants, there was an unexpected trip to Ground Zero to boost the morale of rescue workers four days after the attack.

"When we went down to the World Trade Center and saw all that damage, you just looked and your jaw dropped," Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan said. "Nothing could describe it."

Running back Tiki Barber remembers fullback Greg Comella talking to rescue workers.

"No one was asking them how they felt and when Greg did, some of them broke down and started crying," Barber recalled.

The Giants were never far removed from the tragedy. When they returned to work the week after the attacks, they could still see the smoke on the New York City skyline where the towers had been.

For Wellington Mara, the longtime Giants owner who died last year, it brought back memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

"It was very remote and I was at a very tender age," Mara said in 2001. "I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was. But I know where the World Trade Center was."

No one has forgotten either the day, the towers or those lost in them.

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