Local sports leaders reflect on somber anniversary

Everyone has a story today, a memory, a flashback. It is that way 10 years later and will be so 10 years from now and 10 years after that.

A decade after 9/11 changed our nation’s world forever, three sports personalities with Las Vegas ties recount where they were when terror struck:

Jim Livengood, UNLV athletic director and former Arizona athletic director:

“That morning, I was in Tucson at a staff meeting at the (University of Arizona). It happened that our son, Jeremy, was working in Washington, D.C., and had just been at a meeting at the USA Today building, not far from the Pentagon. I reached him on his cellphone right after the plane hit. He said, ‘Dad, I’m OK, but there are people hollering and the smoke from the Pentagon is bad …’

“Man alive. It takes me back to as if it happened two seconds ago. The horror. I remember we had a bye in football that next week. I could see both sides of playing sporting events that soon after. I could see the side of people who wanted to play sports right after it, who feel the need for a release and an engaging atmosphere that games could bring in such a time. I also saw the side of honoring those who died and taking a step back from games at such a horrible time for our county. I absolutely didn’t feel any games should be played.”

Bill Hambrecht, United Football League founder and Las Vegas Locomotives owner:

“I was in the air flying from Hong Kong to San Francisco when the pilot came on and said we were returning to Hong Kong due to terrorist attacks in New York at the World Trade Center. We had an office on the 32nd floor of the South Tower. I explained that to the stewardesses, and they did their best to get me as much information as possible.

“Once we were back in Hong Kong, it took me a day to finally get through and learn all that happened. Hong Kong has some of the most varied television coverage in the world, so they were showing all sorts of things. Our office in the Trade Center was for sales and trading and an auction business. We had about 28 people in it, but many had been to a ‘Monday Night Football’ party the previous evening and were coming in late, on subways and in taxis and on their way to work when the planes hit.

“Our manager that day did a great job getting all of our staff that were in the building — I think there were 10 in the group — down and out. We were extraordinarily lucky. There was security that did not want our people to leave, but our manager wanted them out and got them out against the wishes of security. After the second plane hit and the fuel began to pour down from above, those security people were killed …”

Billy Johnson, president of the Las Vegas Wranglers:

“I was president of the Nashua Pride baseball team, and we were scheduled to play a game across the river in Newark (N.J.) on the night of the 11th. So we are driving down from New Hampshire in this old bus that breaks down around 3 a.m. on an exit ramp next to a motel. I finally fall asleep at 5 a.m., and a few hours later, our manager, Butch Hobson, is waking me up saying, ‘Have you seen this stuff on TV?’ At first, we thought a small prop plane had hit one of the towers.

“My then-wife and her parents were in the city that day, and we couldn’t reach them the entire day. Here I am, wondering if they had gone to breakfast at Windows on the World in the Trade Center. Finally, at 6:30 that night, we reach them, and they were safe. They had been in Midtown and never got near the towers. That was a really long day.

“Later that night, I had tickets to see my all-time favorite artist, Buddy Guy. So there I was, in the front row, at what had to be the only concert not canceled in the country that night, watching Buddy Guy and B.B. King play the blues.

“It was one of the most somber performances you could ever imagine. There was a single American flag on the stage, and they were spot-on that night. Phenomenal. They played the blues in a way I never heard before or since. It was a remarkable period to a very long sentence that day.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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