Amani Toomer reflects on 9/11 in New York, 20 years later

Former New York Giants WR Amani Toomer joins Yahoo Sports to share his experiences being an athlete in New York after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and how it affected him, the Giants and the New York community.

Video Transcript

[BAT HITS BALL, CROWD CHEERS]

ERIC EDHOLM: Well, the start of the NFL season is a reason to celebrate. But week one also comes with an important and a somber anniversary. It's been 20 years that have passed since 9/11. And we wanted to welcome a former player who was right at the epicenter of the tragedy, former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer. Amani, thank you so much for joining us here on Yahoo Sports to remember this important day.

AMANI TOOMER: Hey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk.

ERIC EDHOLM: Yeah, no problem at all. And people might not recall this. The Giants actually played the final week one game prior to 9/11. I believe you guys were out in Denver the night before. Do you even recall what time you guys landed what would have been September 11, that Tuesday?

AMANI TOOMER: Yeah. We landed, I think, around 5:00, 6:00 in the morning. So we were in Newark on the Newark Airport, on the tarmac, getting ready to go back up to the stadium. But the flight right next to us on the tarmac was Flight 93, the flight that went down. So we passed right by the terrorists. They were in close proximity of us.

So it was a very emotional time for us. I remember the morning of 9/11, I was planning on going back into the city for something. And then I remember the F-16s flying up and down to the tip of Manhattan because I live right on the water.

So it was definitely a day where the world stopped. You totally reevaluated everything. And the day after, everything has changed ever since then.

ERIC EDHOLM: And when you first got the news, I assume sometime-- I don't know how much sleep you got that morning-- but sometime Tuesday morning, what was your first reaction?

AMANI TOOMER: Well, I was asleep because we had flown all night. So I woke up. And the person called me and said, a plane hit the towers. And I was like, oh, maybe like a Cessna or something hit it, like a little-bitty plane. So I went right back to sleep. And then she called again. And she said, no, another plane hit the towers.

And I looked out of my window because I could see it from where I was living at the time. And they were both smoking. And it was an image that I'll never forget.

Remember, in this area, the towers were prominent. You always knew where they were. And you could also see them from our practice field. So when we were practicing the week after, we were looking at this smoke billowing up throughout the entire season that year.

ERIC EDHOLM: I know on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, you kind of retold a story about how you were part of a large group of players who boarded a ferry in New Jersey filled with supplies. You were decked out in helmets and boots and ready to go to work and start kind of helping dig through rubble and do whatever was needed in the aiding process. What was that experience like?

AMANI TOOMER: Yeah, we thought we were going to go in there and start pulling rubble and all this stuff. But then you saw the enormity of it. I mean, it was 30 stories of just rubble. So we looked at it. And we're like, yeah, we're not going to be able to do anything. So we talked to the people, tried to uplift them because a lot of people had seen a lot of carnage over those days after the attack. And it was very traumatic. And we put some smiles on people's faces.

But you really realized the gravity of the situation when you saw the amount of rubble and the damage. And it was just-- lower Manhattan came to a complete standstill.

ERIC EDHOLM: It's an interesting Giants team in 2001. You guys had just come off the Super Bowl. There were a lot of big names on that team, you, Tiki Barber, Michael Strahan set the sack record. How did you guys come together as a group?

AMANI TOOMER: I think it was guys like Keith Hamilton, guys like Jesse Armstead. Kerri Collins was our quarterback. All those guys were like, look, this is a terrible situation. And we could just crawl up in a hole and kind of not play and just mope. But it's like we felt like our obligation was to try and be a positive influence, a distraction for people.

But the problem was, we as a team weren't ready. After training camp, you're totally focused on winning. You're totally focused on football. Nothing else really matters. And then you have a situation like this. And it kind of shows you, wait, there's a lot more to life than this. And I don't think we really got that sort of fire back.

The only thing that really brought us together in my memory was the fact that we were like, we're doing this for everybody else. We're doing this to try and distract and allow people to heal, even though I don't think our team was healed at the time.

ERIC EDHOLM: Always a tricky transition, of course. We transitioned to the 2021 season. There is a tie-in. The Giants are playing the Broncos week one, coincidentally, this time at home. As you look at the 2021 Giants big picture, where does this team stand in your mind right now?

AMANI TOOMER: Well, I know one thing about free agency. It's hard to get people to come together if you get a whole bunch of free agents. But I really like Coach Judge. I think he is a guy that I really admire, especially the way that he ended last year's season. I think he really brought them together in the last year and made a playoff push, which is great for Giant fans.

I mean, we haven't had any type of playoff push in a long time. So when I look at this team and I look at Daniel Jones, I look at Saquon, I think there's potential for great things to happen because anybody who's going to play for the Giants or any guy who's going to play in any team in New York, they're going to have to go through times where they're going to see the door closing behind them.

And they're going to have to find a way to deal with that pressure and come out the other side. And if you don't, you're never going to be accepted by New Yorkers. And I think this is an opportunity for Saquon, for Daniel Jones. I think he has a lot of talent. And he flashes.

But I want him to solve this problem with turnovers because I do believe he has the ability to be the long-term quarterback. But if he can't solve that problem, then there's nothing going to be able to save him. He's not going to be around long.

ERIC EDHOLM: Amani Toomer, folks, he still lives in New York. You can't take the New York out of him. He loves his city. 20 years later, he's joining us here to look back at a very difficult day in American history. And he played a small part in helping a lot of people get better, feel better about themselves. So Amani, thank you for joining us. And thank you for everything you've done.

AMANI TOOMER: All right, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.