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'You don't know what to do': Lions' Dan Campbell arrived home in NYC hours before 9/11 attack

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, many Americans are reflecting on their memories and emotions from that day. Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell just happened to be closer to the epicenter of the tragedy than most. 

In his third season with the New York Giants, the team had played its season-opening game Monday night in Denver and had returned home to New York the morning of the 11th at approximately 6:30 a.m. 

Campbell arrived home shortly before the first plane flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. 

Lions head coach Dan Campbell.

"I had just laid my head on the pillow when everything started," Campbell said Friday. "My wife woke me and that was when the first (plane) had hit. We lived on the Jersey side of the Hudson River bank, so we kinda overlooked Manhattan. We thought we were under attack. It was pretty scary. You didn't know where it was coming from. Then you hear the Pentagon had been hit. You don't know what to do. You're trying to call people, nobody's got answers, everybody is a little bit scared. It was tough."

Living and playing in New York, Campbell had co-workers and friends who lost loved ones in the attacks. And two days after the towers fell, the Giants, as a team, went to Ground Zero to offer what support they could.

The desperate efforts of first responders, running on little to no sleep as search and recovery efforts continued, along with the smell in the air, are things Campbell said he'll never forget. 

"We were down there and there are things that you just, you wont ever forget it," Campbell said. "It was tough, it really was."

Campbell is also able to reflect fondly on the country's response, particularly the way New Yorkers softened toward their neighbor during a collective time of need. 

"I'll say this, it was probably the best of humanity, too," Campbell said. "To see the first responders and to see New Yorkers come together, everyone in Jersey and that whole area, to come together and help each other out, man. If there was a positive to come out of it, it was that."

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Twitter: @Justin_Rogers