Clemson vs Syracuse

The American Flag is flown in on Military Appreciation Day. The Clemson Tigers played host to the Syracuse Orange at Memorial Stadium, Saturday, November 5, 2016. Gwinn Davis / The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — Seventeen years to the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, rocked the nation, Dabo Swinney found himself at a podium in Clemson on Tuesday sharing exactly where he was and what he felt that day as a young businessman in Alabama making sense of the world around him. 

The Clemson football coach — who has been known to passionately speak his mind on certain societal topics in the past — was asked to reflect on the tragedy from a personal standpoint as his press conference was in its dwindling moments Tuesday morning.

He dove into a six-minute, emotional tale of what went through his mind when the local sports radio program playing in his green Toyota Tundra was interrupted to deliver the news. 

From exactly what highway he was on, to every detail of that day, Swinney remembers it all. 

"I was driving from Tuscaloosa," he began. "It was about an hour and 15-, 20-minute drive every day from Tuscaloosa to (Highway) 280, where I was. Really, it was kind of near my hometown to be honest with you. Not too far. But I was on (Highway) 459. 

"That was prayer time. Quiet time. And then I'd just kind of catch up on what's going on and listen to the sports world. I wasn't coaching — my first time not to be coaching. I'd think about what I had to do that day at work or whatever. And I'll never forget it. I'll never forget it." 

When his sports program was interrupted and the radio announcers started to fill the listeners in on all of the updates from the attacks, Swinney found himself shell-shocked, unable to believe that what he was hearing was reality.

Once he arrived to his office at AIG Baker, the company for whom he worked at the time, he remembers no one did any work that day and instead the employees huddled around the television to watch the updates. 

It wasn't long before thoughts of his wife, Kathleen, and two sons at the time, Will and Drew, came to the forefront of his mind. 

"It was just heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and just incredibly emotional. I just remember thinking about my 3-year-old son and my 2-year-old and the world that they're going to grow up in," Swinney said. "It was just a very, very emotional time for everybody." 

To this day, Swinney still carries a red bandana in his briefcase to honor Boston College graduate Welles Crowther, who died trying to save at least a dozen lives. Crowther was a 24-year-old equities trader working in the South Tower at the time and went into rescue mode before firefighters could reach the scene. Having carried a red bandana to honor his father for years, Crowther wore a red bandana as a protective face mask when he ultimately lost his life trying to help others.

Clemson and Boston College honored him in 2015 when the two teams met on the football field and Swinney said he thinks of Crowther's parents every year on this date. 

The Clemson coach also encouraged all Americans to take a step back and spend some time reflecting on Tuesday. 

"I think it’s great to take some time today to pause and reflect on all the people who lost their lives, the impact that they had on all of their families, the children who lost moms and dads and then all of the unbelievably brave and heroic people who I saw that day," he said.

"The policemen, the firemen, the first responders that lost their lives trying to save others. I know there’s a lot of people out there today whose lives were saved because of the sacrifice of others. So that’s what I think about when I think about it.

"Hopefully it’s not something that we ever have to deal with again. It was a tough day. One I’ll never forget." 

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.