Photo Credit: Eric Francis

A Game Day to Remember as Huskers Pay Tribute on 9/11 Anniversary

September 10, 2021

Barrett Ruud remembers exactly where he was on Sept. 11, 2001. Having just finished an 8 a.m. English class, Ruud—who was a freshman at Nebraska in 2001—walked back to his dorm and turned on the television. As he got himself settled on the couch, he debated taking a nap before practice.

“And then I saw it,” he said.

That morning, as students like Ruud sat in classes all over Nebraska’s campus, an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Eighteen minutes later, a second Boeing 767 struck the south tower. At 9:45 a.m. CT, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Approximately 15 minutes later, the south tower collapsed. By 10:30 a.m. ET, the north tower did too.

All of this played out on television sets across the country. One of those watching was Ruud.

He remembers picking up his phone and calling a few people. “Is this real?” he repeated as each answered. He felt he was in a daze, so much so that he doesn’t recall much more about that day. In fact, Ruud spent most the week that followed in a blur.

Nebraska was scheduled to play Rice on Saturday, Sept. 15. As most major sports postponed games, Nebraska and Rice quickly followed suit. The game was moved to the following Thursday, which is when Ruud’s memory catches back up.

“I feel like I kind of came out of my daze on game day,” Ruud said.

Nebraska-Rice was one of the first major college football games to take place following the Sept. 11 attack, 10 days afterward. Part of that game day included a special Tunnel Walk, one that did not include the team as usual. Instead, the Huskers were already on the field as law enforcement and fire officials made the walk carrying an American flag.

“I definitely remember the Tunnel Walk because the Tunnel Walk as a player is so loud, it’s so deafening so a lot of times you don’t hear anything, you just walk out,” Ruud said. “With that one, being on the sideline and watching one fireman and one policeman come out and how appreciative the stadium was, it was a cool moment.”

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez wasn’t even two years old when the Sept. 11 attacks took place. Born in 2000, Martinez learned the history of the day through school and trips to New York City.

“It is an important part of our culture and something we grow up in schools with every year,” Martinez said. “I got the chance to visit New York and the twin towers memorial which is very special to me. It is huge and they have just thousands of names across that structure there and it is a big part America.

“I am thankful we get to represent in some form and hopefully make those proud who served.”

Nebraska football is set to wear patriotic-themed uniforms on Saturday for the Huskers’ matchup with Buffalo. The uniform is designed to thank veterans and first responders of the Sept. 11 attacks. Nebraska faces Buffalo on Saturday, Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack.

The Huskers announced the uniforms in a video featuring Nebraska defensive lineman—and former Navy SEAL—Damian Jackson walking through Lincoln’s historic Havelock neighborhood. Nebraska fans joined Jackson as well, with signs thanking first responders in the background. Jackson said he was “pretty emotional” when filming the video in a recent interview on FOX.

“I don’t like doing stuff for the cameras and I don’t really like the whole interview type of thing but when they told me it was for 9/11, to remember those guys and remember the sacrifices, then it got me on board,” Jackson said. “All of the first responders, all of the military, it was for all of them for all these years that they have been sacrificing for us.”

Twenty years later, Ruud is in a different role than he was that day in his dorm room. He’s now responsible for leading the young men on Nebraska’s team. While he hasn’t spent much time talking with them about the specific events of Sept. 11, he appreciates that Nebraska and Buffalo will pay tribute to the lives lost and the first responders on the 20th anniversary.

“Obviously, you have a guy like Damian and it’s hard to speak for him because he’s lived the life, but 9/11 for a guy like Adrian is like Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy Assassination for us. It’s a staple in history now where you learn it in school, where as we lived it in real life. It’s interesting to hear some of these players’ perspectives. Honestly, I haven’t asked them a lot about it because I hadn’t thought about it.

“But it is history for them and history that I lived.”

And it’s that history that he hopes will never be forgotten.

Nebraska and Buffalo are set to kick off on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 2:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. BTN also aired a special on Nebraska’s 2001 Tunnel Walk earlier this week.

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