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09-11-01 Perspectives

By MARC TOPKIN, BRIAN LANDMAN, DAMIAN CRISTODERO, ROGER MILLS and ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2002


The Rays managing general partner was flying during the attacks. He still frequently flies but with a wary eye.

* * *

Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli, a very frequent flier, was flying from Tampa to Cincinnati en route to an owners meeting in Milwaukee one year ago.

What transpired during that flight left him, like others, with an extra sense of awareness.

"When we got to Cincinnati, there were some through passengers, but the pilot came on and said everyone will have to get off the plane because there has been something that has happened in New York. We didn't know until we went down to the (Delta) Crown Room and saw these surreal scenes -- the replays of the planes hitting the buildings and the buildings collapsing. It didn't seem real. People were basically in shock."

Naimoli decided to rent a car and drive on to Milwaukee, stopping in South Bend, Ind., where his daughter attends Notre Dame. "I got there just as they were having this mass on campus, about 10,000 people, it was very touching," he said. Naimoli got to Milwaukee and talked with baseball officials, but the meeting was canceled. So he drove back to Cincinnati the next day and turned in his car, hoping to fly home. With the airlines grounded, he rented another car the next day and drove back to Tampa, navigating through a hurricane along the way.

Naimoli has been to New York several times since, but said he can't bring himself to visit ground zero. He said the events of Sept. 11 have not deterred him from traveling, but he did acknowledge one significant change. "I probably watch people more," he said.

-- MARC TOPKIN

Jesse Stein

A Florida State kicker, formerly enrolled at the Air Force Academy, feels an enormous pull to support his military friends.

* * *

TALLAHASSEE -- The television set would normally be on as Florida State placekicker Jesse Stein filed into his 9 a.m. finance class. He'd get there early, in fact, so he could see how the international markets were faring as well as the futures here.

But last Sept. 11, he lost all interest in the streaming numbers of the morning trades. Like so many others, the former Shorecrest Prep standout sat transfixed by the plumes of smoke from the burning World Trade Center.

"At first, I thought it was an accident; I thought it was a Cesna that accidentally hit the tower," he recalled. "Then we watched the other tower get hit and I knew it was act of war."

His thoughts turned to his older brother, Kurt, who worked in Manhattan and his older sister Heather, who lived there. Both were okay. He felt the tug of friends and former classmates at the Air Force Academy. Stein, now 21 and a junior, spent the first eight months of his college career there before transferring to FSU.

He realized that his friends might be called up to fight back.

"Most of my friends who have graduated are in flight training right now. They're still in the states, but in about six weeks when their flight training is over, they'll be sent off to Europe or the Middle East," he said. "It was a shock for me then knowing that some of my old friends, my old teammates, would be putting their lives on the line and I was here playing football and having a good time. It opened my eyes."

In the year since, he has read about both Islam and the culture in the Middle East to better understand the animosity toward the United States. He also has visited the beaches at Normandy, where he gained a better appreciation for the sacrifices made in the name of freedom.

"I've been thinking, "How am I going to get back in it (the military tract)? How can I help?' " he said, adding that attending officer's candidate school after his graduation is a possibility. "I need to do something. A lot of people have come before me and given their lives so we can have this freedom, and I feel like I owe them something."

-- BRIAN LANDMAN

John Tortorella

With his brother unaccounted for, the Lightning coach had an anxious start to last year's training camp before joy and relief set in.

* * *

BRANDON -- John Tortorella thought it would have been inappropriate to talk about his family's joy and relief while so many others were going through so much horror and despair.

So the Lightning coach kept to himself the story of how his brother, Billy, avoided -- by just minutes, perhaps -- the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York.

A year later, the coach told how getting to work later than usual may have kept his brother out of harm's way.

"It was frightening to me," Tortorella said. "My brother was underneath (the towers). He had just gotten off the PATH trains from New Jersey."

Tortorella said Billy was behind schedule because he spent part of his morning at the doctor's office rehabbing a surgically repaired knee. He was walking through the underground train station at the Trade Center when the first plane hit.

Billy, who Tortorella said worked on "I think it was the 70th floor. I'm not too sure," was sent, along with thousands of others, out of Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Tortorella was at the Ice Sports Forum for the opening of Lightning training camp when he was telephoned by one of Billy's friends, asking if he had heard from him.

Tortorella tried to call his brother's cell phone but could not get through. He called family members. His parents called back an hour later.

"They spoke to him and he was out of the building," Tortorella said. "It shook me up a little bit. No one had said anything had happened to him, but he wasn't accounted for. I'm sure that was going on with a host of people."

-- DAMIAN CRISTODERO

Joe Jurevicius

Athletes in New York saw history before their eyes, and it was a life-changing experience.

* * *

TAMPA -- Joe Jurevicius was driving to work when the world changed.

As he pulled his Toyota Sequoia into Giants Stadium about 10 a.m. a year ago, he watched as one of the World Trade Center towers fell.

"Being horrified is what comes to mind, just thinking of the magnitude of what happened and to have actually seen with my own eyes one of the buildings collapse," said Jurevicius, now a Bucs receiver. "To be an American and have that happen on our own soil, in buildings that every day we took for granted. These were buildings we watched from the practice fields, buildings we saw on Sunday's and then suddenly seeing them all gone? It was a horrific experience.

"I was pulling into the Meadowlands and I sat there and actually saw it fall. I watched it. There isn't much more I can say about that."

Even before the NFL decided whether or not to play games five days later, Jurevicius made up his mind.

"There was no way I was playing," he said. "The New York Giants weren't going to play, I wasn't going to play. They would have had to take my game check, or whatever the case may have been but I wasn't playing.

"It put things in perspective. Football is an important part in our lives, but it's not the most important thing. For that to happen and for someone to even contemplate playing football, even for a little bit was very upsetting to me. Here are guys having a hard time tearing themselves away from the television looking for updates then to be having to think about X's and O's. No way."

Like many athletes, Jurevicius visited ground zero to support rescue worker and victims families, but that took a toll.

"To be there in person and to see the sweat and tears of all those rescuer workers, of fellow New Yorkers, of the people affected," he said, "to see in person the photos of people being put up and people coming up to you and asking you, "Have you seen this person?' It's something you'll never forget."

-- ROGER MILLS

Carlos Perez

The Florida receiver cherishes the brothers who worked in the danger zone of attacks in two cities.

* * *

GAINESVILLE -- Carlos Perez never will forget the double sense of dread that nearly overtook him when scenes of the terrorist attacks began dominating the airwaves last Sept. 11.

As the World Trade Center Twin Towers burned and crumbled, he thought of his brother who worked there. As a gaping hole at the Pentagon spewed smoke, he thought of his brother who worked there.

A sibling for each symbol.

Today, Perez will be among the millions who will mourn and remember the victims, but he also will be among those saying an extra prayer of thanks because he is among the grateful families loved ones were spared that day.

Had Danny Perez not decided to take the day off, he would have been in the World Trade Center. Euris Perez, a marine who works in the Pentagon, also was away from the office.

Carlos Perez, a junior from Hoboken, N.J., via the Dominican Republic, insists it was faith, not fate, that saved his brothers' lives.

"I don't call it fate," Carlos Perez said. "I call it Jesus. That's what saved his life."

Like many families that day, Carlos Perez suffered many anguished hours before finding out his brothers' fate.

Finally, Danny Perez got in touch with Carlos.

Danny and Carlos Perez spent this past weekend together in Gainesville, and went out to dinner after Saturday's game against Miami. Carlos said the two did not discuss the events of last September 11th because it's still too painful.

Carlos Perez said he's sure today will be an emotional day for all Americans. Especially the Perez family.

"It's going to be a lot of flashbacks for everybody, even the people that didn't get affected by it," Carlos Perez said. "I'm just grateful. I thank God. There are a whole bunch of people who are mourning or thinking about where their family is at or what happened to their family. I'm just going to be thankful on Sept. 11 that I didn't have to go through that."

-- ANTONYA ENGLISH

Shelton Quarles

The Bucs linebacker knows that celebrating his birthday will never be the same.

* * *

TAMPA -- For his 30th birthday, Shelton Quarles had a full day planned.

Even though it was a Tuesday and the Bucs had no practice, he was due to give a speech as an honorary chairman for the American Heart Walk.

"That morning I had to get up about 6 a.m., so I could make it to one of the events," Quarles said. "I had to dress up pretty nicely having to give this speech and then I'm out there throwing out balls into the crowd and having a good time. My birthday started out real well."

The day ended for Quarles the way it did for everyone else, in state of complete shock and horror. Along the way, Quarles and his family experienced a birthday like never before.

"When I got home, my wife (Damaris) was just standing in front of the television, staring at it, talking on the phone," Quarles said, after returning home in the morning giddy about a long day of birthday festivities with family and friends. "It was a little bit after 9 a.m., so I sat down to watch it and I remember asking her, "What the hell is this?' "

He remained glued to the television, canceling his birthday plans.

"Some friends of mine had invited me out to dinner, ... and we had reservations," Quarles said. "I just couldn't. No one could go. I just sat there watching TV and getting more and more depressed. It was a bad day for me and a lot of people also. Of course, not as bad as it was for some other people."

For Quarles and his family, Sept. 11 remains his birthday but no longer means the same.

"It won't be a good day for me again," Quarles said. "It will be a lot of things to a lot of people, but it won't ever be (just) my birthday again."

-- ROGER MILLS

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