DENVER (CBS4) – On first week of the NFL season there were plenty of tributes to Sept. 11. Ten years ago Americans’ lives, their country and the world changed after the attacks on the World Trade Center. But the night before most of the attention in Colorado was on a football game and an injury to one of the Broncos’ best and most popular players.
On Sept. 10, 2001, the Broncos were playing their first regular season game ever at their new home, Invesco Field at Mile High. Ed McCaffrey was having one of the best nights of his outstanding career against his former team, the New York Giants.
“I honestly felt the best I’d ever felt in my life. I felt like I was absolutely at the highest point in my career,” McCaffrey said. “I felt so rested and so good I was on Cloud 9. It’s the most relaxed and probably the best I ever felt in a game.”
McCaffrey caught six passes that night for 94 yards and a touchdown. He and the Broncos were cruising to a win, but midway through the third quarter everything changed for McCaffrey.
“I remember jumping up, making a catch. I remember severe pain in my leg. I thought I just got kicked in the shin. I looked down, all the trainers thought I got hit in the head because I’ve been known to get hit in the head, and that’s where the hit actually took place, up top,” McCaffrey said. “I looked down at my leg and it was bending in the wrong direction.”
McCaffrey said at that moment he thought his career was over. He suffered a compound fracture of his leg. He said the pain was excruciating.
“I was actually as much responsible as the (defensive back). I kicked him above his leg as I was trying to continue running after the catch and it’s one of those freak things that happen,” he said. “When I was laying on the field everything just all of sudden focused in on my leg and I was just really concerned with being able to wriggle my toes.”
He said his whole career flashed before his eyes.
“I figured that was it, it was a good career, thank goodness I caught the ball.”
It was obvious to the more than 76,000 fans that McCaffrey was severely hurt. He was carted off the field and a few hours later was in surgery. When he woke up in the morning, Sept. 11, he wasn’t sure if he was having a dream, or really, a nightmare.
“So I turn on the television and Bryant Gumble is talking and there’s smoke coming out of the towers and I’m thinking it must be a movie. I have a morphine drip in my arm, so I’m drugged up to kill the pain, and as he’s talking I see a second plane fly into the tower and I think everybody in the world instantly knew this is real, this is not an accident.”
McCaffrey said all he wanted to do is be at home with his family.
“I’m alone in a hospital bed, can’t do anything, I have a broken leg, completely helpless. I called my family in Pennsylvania and New York; phone lines were going down. It honestly felt like the end of the world.”
McCaffrey said he thinks about Sept. 11 all the time.
“Personally and as a nation hopefully it was the most tragic event we’ll have to live through.”