Memory of 9/11 hits Broncos rookie 24/7
The Denver Post
Vail, CO Colorado
Time marches on through a maze of circled dates on a calendar: a birthday here, an anniversary there – dates that come back around each year to fill life’s chapters.
“And I know Sept. 11 will always be one of those for me,” Broncos rookie offensive lineman Eric Olsen said. “So many things happened, so many things could have happened. People say they’ll never forget it, and everybody has a different reason why.”
For Olsen, a Staten Island, N.Y., native, that day on the calendar will always be a time for him to balance his family’s good fortune in the sorrow-filled tragedy of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 that killed 2,752 people, including 343 firefighters.
Olsen’s father, Andy, is now a retired New York City firefighter. But without a promotion just three days before the attacks, Andy Olsen wouldn’t have seen two sons play high school football, wouldn’t have seen his oldest son play on autumn Saturdays at Notre Dame, wouldn’t be able to speak of all he is thankful for now.
“He got promoted to lieutenant Sept. 8, 2001,” Eric Olsen said. “If he wouldn’t have been promoted, he would be dead just like a lot of the guys he worked with. It saved his life. It’s the reason he’s still here.”
Because of his promotion, Andy Olsen was in officer training at Fort Totten in Queens, and not in Ladder 80, his Staten Island firehouse the day of the attacks. When he was called on duty shortly after the first plane hit one of the Twin Towers, he had to drive from Queens to his home in Staten Island to get his gear and then to lower Manhattan.
“When they called him in, he had to go all the way from Queens, to home, all the way down Manhattan, so that actually saved his life, because the second tower went down just before he got in there,” Eric Olsen said. “He was very fortunate. But he was digging through the rubble when he first got there and they found a (fire) truck that was crushed. It was from the (fire) house he used to work in. All of those guys didn’t make it, all of those guys he knew were dead. It was all pretty gruesome. I’m not sure he could talk about it all.”
“I’m like a cat, you know?” Andy Olsen said. “Maybe I used two or three lives on the job, maybe four or five really, but I’m still around. No, honestly, I feel very, very, very fortunate to be here doing what we’re doing, to be enjoying my family and my retirement.”
Eric Olsen was in the eighth grade in 2001 – at Intermediate School 24 – and the day of the attacks he said a neighbor pulled him out of school after the towers collapsed because his mother, an emergency room nurse, had also been called to work.
It was “30-something hours” before Andy Olsen’s family knew his fate.
“Cellphones weren’t working, things were crazy, they were digging through the rubble trying to find anybody alive. I was staying with my grandma and my younger brother (Drew), so we didn’t really know he was OK until he got home,” Eric Olsen said. “A lot of people we knew, kids I knew, their dads didn’t come home.”
Last season, Olsen’s senior year at Notre Dame, Andy Olsen and his wife, Joanne, lived in a condo in South Bend, Ind. They did it, Andy said, to enjoy “the whole experience” of their oldest son’s final year of college football.
Once a week the Olsens would have 12 Irish offensive linemen over for dinner, evenings Andy Olsen now says were among his favorites of the football season.
“Believe me, I couldn’t tell you how much meat I went through,” Andy Olsen said with a laugh. “You cook at the firehouse, you’re cooking for 11 (people) and 11 firefighters are going to eat more than the average person, but 12 offensive linemen? That’s a whole other level right there.
“You know we probably would have done it anyway if I was retired like I am now, lived in South Bend for the season, but sure the events of 9/11 impacted us some with that. I was just happy to be able to do it.”
Eric Olsen said his father, who retired in 2003 after being injured in a fire at a Brooklyn auto dealership, is already planning trips to the Front Range, already hoping to see what Denver has to offer.
“I think in a lot of ways watching me and my brother (now a safety at Gettysburg College) play football has been good for him. Maybe he’s been able to tell his story a little and not hold all that in,” Olsen said. “And all of his retired buddies who are still alive came out to watch me play at Notre Dame and they will all probably come out here.
“They’re already making plans about it, really excited about the Broncos, about the skiing, about Colorado.
“They’re going to be pretty mad if I don’t make the team. I can’t let them down. That’s pretty good incentive right there, you know. You don’t want to let those guys down.”