Honoring a 9/11 hero
In honor of those lost during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we at The Voice would like to remind our readers of a hero from that day, and of a tribute paid to that hero by UCF students on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The column about that moment, published originally on Sept. 14, 2011, is below.
Something grander than sport transcended the football field at the University of Central Florida on Saturday night, as more than 45,000 people got to experience a moment frequently missing from American life. On the eve of an infamous anniversary borne of the evils of human anger, they saw hope for what good is left in us, 10 years after Sept. 11.
That night, Knights fans gathered to watch a game, but they united to remember how one man defined his life in the moments before his death.
After a pair of UCF students watched a documentary about Welles Crowther’s selfless actions racing up and down the stairs of the World Trade Center to rescue victims in the hour after the South Tower was hit, they wanted to do something to remember him.
There was something uniquely American about Welles Crowther. The affable young man who grew up in the village of Nyack, just north of New York City, had small-town dreams of becoming a fireman. He volunteered for the local fire company as a teen, his favorite red bandanna matching perfectly with his red jumpsuit and helmet.
But then big city dreams took him to Boston College, where he played lacrosse for four years while he earned an economics degree, then to Wall Street, on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
There he saw the bright lights of the big city, the flash of its wealth, the allure of unrestrained capitalism as he worked alongside the nation’s financial elite. And then, like the iconic “Citizen Kane” director who bore his namesake, he railed against it.
Not long before Sept. 11, 2001, he told his father he would go crazy behind a desk for the rest of his life. He didn’t want to spend his life chasing after money. He wanted to be a New York City firefighter. He wanted to be a hero.
Ten years later, that’s how he’s remembered, though he never wore a uniform for FDNY.
Not many would know about the dreams of that seemingly typical young man had he not become what is now atypical in our increasingly competitive society. But 12 people who may have died that day knew him for one reason: faced with a choice to leave his coworkers behind, he instead lost his life saving theirs.
After a pair of UCF students watched an ESPN documentary about Crowther’s selfless actions racing up and down the stairs of the World Trade Center to rescue victims in the hour after the South Tower was hit, they wanted to do something to remember him.
Saturday night at the UCF vs. Boston College game, tens of thousands of fans waved red bandannas for a graduate from the opposing school, as a reminder not just of him, but also of what we all are capable of — sacrifice.
“That’s the classiest thing I’ve seen in sports,” Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo told the Orlando Sentinel after the game, during which Crowther’s younger sisters were presented with an inscribed bandanna.
That symbolic moment could have been just a kind gesture were it not for the magnitude of it all. In that instant in the third quarter, the entire stadium thanked a hero who helped them remember that despite the selfishness, scandal and corruption that seems to define us, there is some good left in this world.
In that moment, sport, that relentless winner-take-all clash of rivals, became like Crowther, bigger than dog-eat-dog competition, bigger than himself.