September 12, 2011
Ten years after a television-show booker persuaded John Thompson Jr. not to take the hijacked 9/11 plane that crashed into the Pentagon, the former Georgetown coach finally had the chance to thank the man who saved his life.
Thompson was sharing the story on Monday of how he switched his flight just a few days before the Sept. 11 attacks when national radio host Jim Rome surprised the legendary coach by connecting him on air with Danny Swartz.
It was Swartz who cajoled the notoriously stubborn Thompson into flying to Los Angeles a day later than he originally planned to appear on Rome's former TV Show, Fox Sports Net's "The Last Word." Thompson originally refused to make the appearance on the 12th instead of the 11th because he wanted to make it to Las Vegas the night of the 12th for a birthday party the following day, but Swartz managed to assure the former Georgetown coach he'd arrange the travel details.
"He told me, 'Coach, if you promise me you'll come on the 12th, I will get you back to Vegas immediately after we do the taping and I will make certain you get there in time,'" Thompson told Rome. "I'm sitting there saying, 'Oh hell, I don't want to do it,' but the guy was nice.
"Without this kid doing his job in a professional manner, I would have been in trouble. I mean, it would have been over. It really would have been over. But the way you did your job, particularly dealing with a person like me ... I certainly do appreciate it. And I'm telling you, if you ever come to Washington, boy, look me up. I'm going to make time for you."
It didn't initially occur to Thompson that it could have been his plane that hit the Pentagon even after he felt the crash miles away at his condominium in Arlington, Va. Only after Georgetown academic adviser Mary Fenlon called and told him later that day that was supposed to be his flight did Thompson realize how close he came to dying.
"[She said], 'Look at your itinerary. You were supposed to be on that plane,'" Thompson said. "'That plane was the plane you were booked on. If that kid hadn't talked you out of it, you would have been on that plane.'"
Thompson smoked a cigar on his patio and said a few prayers after his phone conversation with Fenlon, but he said it was hard to be too jubilant because of all the lives that were lost that somber day. Nonetheless, he was very appreciative of the chance to learn Swartz's name and properly thank him for saving Thompson's life.
"I commend you on how you did your job because I was antagonistic in those days," Thompson told Swartz. "I've mellowed some. I'm an old fart now. But how you handled it saved my life, and I appreciate that."
(Thanks, Eye on College Basketball)
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