NEW YORK – Overwhelming.
That might best describe the Dallas Cowboys' trip to One World Trade Center Friday evening, an organizational and team-bonding side trip here prior to meeting the New York Football Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The emotion standing alongside the 1-acre pools at Memorial Plaza while visualizing what used to be the World Trade Center Twin Towers prior to the terrorist attacks that shook the nation on 9/11.
The emotion while touring the newly-opened One World Observatory, a 102-story memorial to not only the 3,000 people who perished during those attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when two planes smashed into the Twin Towers, but also to a nation's strength to rebuild such a monumental structure out of pride and defiance.
The emotion riding up the elevators to the 102nd floor at 23 mph, taking just 48 seconds to elevate from the ground to the top, seeing the history of New York City pass before your very eyes on the elevator video-screen walls.
The emotion of looking out over bustling Manhattan at night, Broadway, the Hudson River, New Jersey, the lit-up Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where many of our ancestors first landed when immigrating to the United States.
The emotion while watching the 12-minute Voices video, the stories and feelings of the multitude of people who helped erect this $4 billion structure, from the engineers in charge right down to the guy who probably pounded the last nail into what one of the guides called "a tough building."
And the emotion generated for the some 150 Dallas Cowboys players, coaches, staff and some family members when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett spoke to the group during an organizational dinner about the significance of the building, the trip, the people who perished and those who rose up again to construct this building just off the shores of Lower Manhattan, all a forerunner to the Cowboys' 3:25 p.m. meeting with the New York Football Giants on the other side of the Hudson Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
"I think we had expectations coming up here, but nothing like this," said Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, no more than a 19-year-old on 9/11. "We all remember it, but just seeing this, being reminded of it, unbelievable.
"Can't put into words what this means."
Garrett and Jones moved outside the extremely regimented box that encompasses an NFL team during the season. Instead of traveling to an away game on the traditional Saturday afternoon for a Sunday game, the Cowboys came up a day early so they could not only afford the players this historical opportunity, a first for most in the traveling party, but also create a team bonding experience instead of traditionally all going their separate ways on Friday after practice and the final meetings.
The Cowboys did conduct their normal Friday practice prior to leaving, but the inclement weather forced them to work out at Coppell High School's indoor facility during the morning's torrential downpours in North Texas. Then, upon returning to a darkened Ranch, with the entire Valley Ranch neighborhood experiencing roughly a three-hour power outage, showered basically in the dark and headed off to their charter flight.
After landing at Newark Liberty International Airport, the team bussed to the landing in Jersey City, N.J., across from the team hotel to ride the Festiva ferry across the Hudson to what has become known as Ground Zero. From there, it was a short walk and a few elevator rides out to Memorial Plaza where the names of every person who perished during the most devastating foreign attack on our country were inscribed on the back-lit top of the pool's surrounding walls.
Seriously, took your breath away.
"It's a big deal," said quarterback Tony Romo, making the trip despite not being able to play while his fractured collarbone continues to heal. "I think anybody who lives in our country understands the significance of this. You know where you were that day . . . .
"Just a lot to digest, and you hurt for the loved ones who were lost – a pretty unique experience I'm blessed to be part of."
As Garrett explained earlier in the week, the idea for this early-arrival team trip was hatched this summer when he and his wife Brill visited the One World Center during a stay in New York. And remember, they were living just up the way in Manhattan while playing for the New York Giants during the 9/11 catastrophe. He saw the smoke. He saw the people. He felt the tears.
And he explained while talking to the team how he decided that day during their visit this summer that this is something he wanted his team to experience, the Cowboys becoming the first professional organization to visit the Center and have dinner atop the observatory.
"What happened here on Sept. 11 was one of the great tragedies in our country's history, and when you go down to that memorial, they did such a great job commemorating those events, losing 3,000 people" Garrett said. "But the reason we're here is more for the response of the people of this area and really the response from our country, and it's manifested by this building.
"If the tragedy of 9/11 is the punch in the gut, this building is the fist-pump, and I thought it was very important for our team to know the history of what happened. A lot of our guys were young, they were 4, 5, 6 years old at the time and I'm not so sure they fully understand and comprehend the events of that day. But I also wanted them to see the response, the resilience demonstrated by the people of this area and the resilience of our country. And in a lot of ways it's beyond resilience, it's a relentlessness to come back, come back stronger than ever, and I'm not so sure anything manifests itself quite like this building.
"We wanted to show our team that, the emotions of the event and the emotions of the response. It's very inspirational."
Mission accomplished if the looks on his players' faces, the questions they posed to the guides were any indication of how captivating the experience was. Think about it: safety Barry Church remembers being in 8th grade at the time. Cole Beasley recalled being in 6th grade in Little Elm, Texas "of the United States," as he said. Why a rookie like Lucky Whitehead was all of 9 years old at the time.
A great experience of touching history right before their very eyes.[embeddedad0]
Jerry Jones equated the trip to the time about 40-50 years ago while he and his wife Gene were visiting New York going over to old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. No game that day. No one really in the stadium. He just wanted to see the place he had heard so much about, read so much about, saw on TV so many times.
"I just came out and put my hand on Yankee Stadium," Jones said, "and I said, 'Yogi, I know you're in here. Mickey Mantle, I know you're here.' And I had such a feeling about the historic nature of baseball at that time, the Yankees.
"Well I pinched myself, and I want all these players and everybody to pinch themselves, they're part of this . . . . so this is a little bit of a triumph to have our football team here."
Well Jerry, consider all of us after this night pinched by the emotion created at the historical enormity of this site.
See some images from the team's visit to One World Observatory