The firetruck looked like any other, but when it rolled through the gates at Northwestern's practice field Tuesday afternoon and a hush fell over the Wildcats, you had the eerie feeling that there was a serious story to come.
The truck and members of FDNY Rescue 4 were at practice to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Rescue 4's truck was the only rig that remained intact and operational after the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, but all eight responders lost their lives on 9/11. And the truck was the only one that remained intact enough to serve New York in the days and weeks after the attack. The truck will also be at Ryan Field Saturday when the Wildcats host Eastern Illinois in their home opener at 2:30.
Most Wildcat players were too young to remember 9/11, others were able to remember but not old enough to understand. Quarterback Dan Persa, from Bethlehem, Pa. falls into the latter category.
"I remember a lot, like where I was, in seventh grade sitting in a class and a bunch of kids were getting called out of class. I remember not really knowing what was going on. I just remember going home and my parents were pretty upset. I remember it vividly.
"At the time, I knew it was a big deal but I didn't understand how big of an affect it was going to have at the moment. But every year that went by it would hit me more and more."
Coach Pat Fitzgerald has his own memories of where he was and what he was doing on that day.
Fitzgerald was in Evanston where he was NU's linebackers/special teams coach. He was in a meeting with other coaches when administrative assistant Carolyn Fleming came into the room and told the staff what happened.
"My cousin [Billy Forbes] worked around the corner from the towers and I know there were many AON employees out there for Mr. [Pat] Ryan's company and Northwestern graduates were working down there, too," Fitzgerald said. "It was one of those surreal events you never forget."
But what made Fitzgerald nervous was that his wife, Stacy, was driving back to Evanston from Idaho, where Fitzgerald had just finished a stint as a defensive graduate assistant. For a while, he couldn't reach her.
"Cell phones weren't as cool as they are now," Fitzgerald said. "She was driving and I couldn't reach her. I don't remember when I reached her, somewhere in the Dakotas I think. It was a little scary for a while."
Fitzgerald remembers going out to practice that day trying to be like it was any other. And while the Wildcats were attempting to focus, Fitzgerald's lasting image was of an airplane -- probably a military aircraft -- flying over Evanston that morning.