Florida Gators pay tribute to Sept. 11

Ten years ago today, our nation was ripped apart by the shocking news of two commercial planes full of innocent passengers crashing into the cold, hard steel of the World Trade Center towers.

As the horrific images of twisted steel, ash and sheer terror flooded TV screens nationwide and millions of Americans watched in agony as their brethren suffered a cruel and underserved fate, millions of children and young adults across the country wondered why such tragic events could even occur.

Will Muschamp, then a first-year defensive coordinator at LSU, had no answers for his players.

“It was all about circling the wagons and understanding why it happened, explaining it to young men why something like that happens,” Muschamp said. “You can’t. You can’t think rationally with irrational people. What happened was totally irrational.”

Gripped by fear, thousands of people scrambled and rushed to call loved ones to make sure they were okay, while thousands of others prepared to respond to the attack on our country.

America refused to let an act of terror define the country and vowed to respond, gathering the troops so a nation could live in peace without fear of attacks from gutless terrorists.

Loved ones in the armed forces grabbed their uniforms and proudly suited up to defend the America we all love.

Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters were called to arms, leaving friends and family behind to protect the one thing we hold most dear: freedom.

“The day of 9/11 changed my life as well as many other Americans,” Florida left tackle Xavier Nixon said. “Both my parents served in the Army, so when that day came they deployed. They both deployed several times.”

September 11, 2001 forever changed the lives of millions of Americans.

This day will forever be mourned by those who lost loved ones in the attacks. It will never be forgotten by those who lost loved ones in America’s response. The heroes from that day and each day in the 10 years since have not been forgotten and will not be forgotten.

For Nixon, then just a young kid in elementary school, Sept. 11 threw his world upside down.

His parents, stationed at Fort Bragg, were ripped away from him as a young child, and Nixon was forced to grow up faster than any child should.

“You’ve got to grow up fast and you’ve got to have tough skin because they’re counting on me back home to do the right things to progress in my life,” Nixon said. “It was just a weight on my shoulder that I had to carry.”

Ten years later, Nixon can reflect on what it all meant.

His mother is still serving in the Army, but his father retired earlier this year. Today will undoubtedly be an emotional day for the junior, who knows first-hand what it’s like to wonder every day if he’ll ever see his parents again.

So when Florida decided to pay tribute to Sept. 11 at Saturday’s night’s game against UAB, a wave of emotion came over the junior, nearly causing him to break down.

As Florida emerged from the tunnel, Nixon proudly held high an American flag and charged out onto the field with seven teammates who also have had relatives serve in the military.

“It was a great sense of pride for me, and I felt good, I saw my mom’s face,” Nixon said. “It almost brought tears to my eyes. I’m very proud of my parents for what they do.”

While Florida prepared to play against UAB, there were constant reminders of the tragic events of Sept. 11.

A video played on the jumbotrons in the Swamp, a painful but poignant reminder of the lives lost and the sacrifices made 10 years ago.

Red, white and blue ribbons were painted onto the walls of the Swamp in each of the four corners of the stadium.

The band played “God Bless America” as thousands of people in the stands, Florida and UAB fans alike, joined in unison.

Florida’s assistant coaches wore hats with F.B.I. lettering on them, honoring the bureau’s sacrifices and commitment to our country.

The idea to honor the victims of Sept. 11 and those serving in the armed services to protect our country came from offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

“I believe it was coach Weis, originally because he lost a lot of friends in the 9/11 incident,” Nixon said. “Once the idea went out, everyone pretty much agreed with it. It was unanimous.”

So 87,473 people in the Swamp joined in unison, cheering loudly as the red, white and blue flags entered the stadium.

Florida played a mere football game Saturday night, and the Gators wanted to be sure everyone remembered the heroism that occurred 10 years ago and every day since made that possible.

“Sept. 11 affected us all in different ways and certainly (it was) a very irrational occurrence that happened,” Muschamp said. “Very difficult to deal with, so we wanted to pay our respect to those people.”

It was a fitting tribute to those who have given up so much for us so that we can enjoy the small things in life like football.

Let us never forget those sacrifices.