Jason Garrett was groggy and grumpy when he arrived at his Upper West Side apartment following a cross-country flight from Denver.
Sleep was hard to come by as he thought about a season-opening loss to the Broncos, a potentially serious injury to a star receiver, and another injury that was likely to make Garrett the holder on place kicks _ for a left-footed kicker, no less, which would mean catching and placing the ball on the opposite side than he was used to doing.
Drifting off became even tougher because a slew of fire trucks were blaring their sirens as they sped through the streets below. He put a pillow over his head to try muffling the noise, but it was of little use.
Then came the interruption he'll never forget: a call from a former teammate letting him know the World Trade Center was burning.
Living just 5 miles from ground zero, Garrett _ then a backup quarterback on the New York Giants _ vividly remembers every detail of Sept. 11, 2001.
Memories of that day and the months that followed have surged back this week, and will again Sunday when Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys spend the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York. They'll be playing the Jets in a prime-time season opener wrapped in tributes to those who died that day and everyone else affected by the tragedy.
"It was a day like none other for anybody in our country," Garrett said. "Being there close to it, it was an emotional day, and it was one I certainly will never forget."
The following days and weeks were memorable, too, because of the recovery efforts that brought the city and nation closer together. For instance, Garrett recalls so many people donating blood that the blood banks said they had more than enough.
"I think that was the spirit of it," he said. "It was a tragic event, but my most distinct memories are how everyone rallied around after the event."
For Garrett and the Giants, their role in the recovery began that weekend. NFL games were postponed, so players went to ground zero to hand out water and show their appreciation for the workers.
He believes the Yankees' run to the World Series that September and October helped heal the community. He smiled while talking about going to games at Yankee Stadium and hearing Bob Sheppard introduce the bald eagle Challenger as it flew in from center field. Or hearing the Kate Smith rendition of "God Bless America" and other patriotic songs performed by the Harlem Boys Choir and Irish tenor Ronan Tynan.
"I just can't describe to you how emotional that whole thing was for so many people," Garrett said. "It's very different than the real-life situations going on. But hopefully in some small way the Giants, the Yankees and the Jets, and all the teams that were playing at that time, gave those people of that community who were so affected by this event an opportunity to get away from it for three hours."
Pro athletes understood the unique position they were in to help.
"We tried to take that responsibility very seriously," he said. "We met with the people from the NYPD and different fire departments in the city and just tried to in some small way support them. ... I absolutely think sports helped."
Now comes the anniversary, and the role Garrett and the Cowboys have.
In a way, they're the outsiders, the team taking on the New Yorkers. The local pride will be boosted by having children of first responders serving as honorary team captains, with bagpipers representing the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD performing "Amazing Grace."
However, Garrett maintains the boundaries on this extend well beyond the five boroughs.
"It was an international event," he said. "It was like none other in our planet's history, let alone our country's history."
Each fan entering the stadium will be given a U.S. flag.
"I certainly feel like the responsibility that we have as members of the Dallas Cowboys to be at our best is no less than the responsibility that the Jets feel to be at their best," Garrett said. "It's a responsibility that we have every week. But certainly there's going to be heightened emotions with this event, so we're going to try to calm our emotions to allow us to play and coach our best and represent ourselves as well as we can as a football team."