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Lions coach Matt Patricia recalls the fear and concern of 9/11

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Like most Americans alive when the attacks occurred, Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia vividly remembers where he was on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as his emotions in the immediate aftermath. 

Patricia was born in New York, attended college in New York, and when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and a fourth in a field in Pennsylvania, he was in the early stages of his coaching career, working as a graduate assistant at Syracuse University. 

Lions head coach Matt Patricia was on the Syracuse coaching staff during 9/11.

"I remember exactly where I was. I was with one of the players and kind of the thoughts that went through my head initially when I saw it," Patricia said during a video conference on Thursday, one day before the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. "Then how quickly everything turned. I had some of my closest friends that lived in the city at the time and the concern and the fear, all of it that went along with it. I still think about it. Obviously (Friday), that will be a big part of that day and making sure that we do remember all of the people that were lost, all of those that sacrificed and certainly, that event and what that meant to the country."

Patricia wasn't the only one panicking about the well-being of those close to him. The Syracuse roster was packed with players recruited from New York City, northern New Jersey and Long Island. 

"The concern that everybody had, we all had family and friends down in that area and trying to get a hold of people," Patricia said. "That was certainly one of the scarier times, I would say, in the first 24 hours after it happened was you just couldn’t get a hold of anybody. You didn’t know where anybody was, and the amount of stress that I think that put on the players was high, and people were concerned for their families in that situation."

And for some, including Patricia, those connections were never made. Although the coach didn't elaborate, he acknowledged he knew at least one person who died that day in New York City. 

As part of that national shutdown, Syracuse postponed its game immediately after the attacks, moving a scheduled matchup with East Carolina to later in the season. But a decision was made to play the following weekend, just 11 days after the attacks. 

"I can’t really remember what the decisions were to play that weekend," Patricia said. "I do know that we did. I do remember that it was powerful. I do remember everyone just trying to hold each other close and make sure everyone was OK."

The game, which Patricia believes was the first held in the state of New York after 9/11, featured a pregame speech by then-Gov. George Pataki. 

"We New Yorkers are a strong people, and inhabitants of a strong nation," Pataki said. "Evil criminals have been able to break our hearts, but they haven't been able to break our spirit. The American people stand strong and more unified than ever before, inspired by our fallen heroes."

Syracuse went on to beat Auburn that night, 31-14, part of an eight-game winning streak and 10-3 season. It was the school's first season with double-digit victories since 1992 and its last until 2018. 

Patricia would continue to work at Syracuse for two more years before taking a job as an assistant with the New England Patriots in 2004. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers