The huge rugby player, the former high school football star and
the onetime college baseball player were in first class, the
former national judo champ was in coach. On the morning of Sept.
11, at 32,000 feet, those four men teamed up to sacrifice their
lives for those of perhaps thousands of others.
Probably about an hour into United Flight 93's scheduled trip
from Newark to San Francisco, the 38 passengers aboard the
Boeing 757 realized they were being hijacked. The terrorists
commandeered the cockpit, and the passengers were herded to the
back of the plane.
Shoved together were four remarkable men who didn't much like
being shoved around. One was publicist Mark Bingham, 31, who
helped Cal win the 1991 and '93 national collegiate rugby
championships. He was a surfer, and in July he was carried on the
horns of a bull in Pamplona. Six-foot-five, rowdy and fearless,
he once wrestled a gun from a mugger's hand late at night on a
San Francisco street.
One was medical research company executive Tom Burnett, 38, the
standout quarterback for Jefferson High in Bloomington, Minn.,
when the team went to the division championship game in 1980.
That team rallied around Burnett every time it was in trouble.
One was businessman Jeremy Glick, 31, 6'2" and muscular, the 1993
collegiate judo champ in the 220-pound class from the University
of Rochester (N.Y.), a national-caliber wrestler at Saddle River
(N.J.) Day School and an all-state soccer player. "As long as
I've known him," says his wife, Lyz, "he was the kind of man who
never tried to be the hero--but always was."
One was 32-year-old sales account manager Todd Beamer, who played
mostly third base and shortstop in three seasons for Wheaton
The rugby player picked up an AirFone and called his mother,
Alice Hoglan, in Sacramento to tell her he loved her. The judo
champ called Lyz at her parents' house in Windham, N.Y., to say
goodbye to her and their 12-week-old daughter, Emmy. But in the
calls the quarterback made to his wife, Deena, in San Ramon,
Calif., and in the conversation the baseball player had with a
GTE operator, the men made it clear that they'd found out that
two other hijacked planes had cleaved the World Trade Center
The pieces of the puzzle started to fit. Somewhere near Cleveland
the passengers on Flight 93 had felt the plane take a hard turn
south. They were now on course for Washington, D.C. Senator Arlen
Specter (R., Pa.) believes the plane might have been headed for
the Capitol. Beamer, Bingham, Burnett and Glick must have
realized their jet was a guided missile.
The four apparently came up with a plan. Burnett told his wife,
"I know we're going to die. Some of us are going to do something
about it." He wanted to rush the hijackers.
Nobody alive is sure about what happened next, but there's good
reason to believe that the four stormed the cockpit. Flight 93
never made it to Washington. Instead, it dived into a field 80
miles southeast of Pittsburgh. All passengers and crew perished.
Nobody on the ground was killed.
In the heart of San Francisco's largest gay neighborhood, a
makeshift memorial grew, bouquet by bouquet, to the rugby player
who was unafraid. Yeah, Bingham was gay.
In Windham, a peace grew inside Lyz Glick. "I think God had this
larger purpose for him," she said. "He was supposed to fly out
the night before, but couldn't. I had Emmy one month early, so
Jeremy got to see her. You can't tell me God isn't at work there."
In Cranbury, N.J., a baby grew in Lisa Beamer, Todd's wife,
their third child. Hearing the report last Friday of her
husband's heroics, Lisa said, "made my life worth living again."
In Washington, a movement grew in Congress to give the four men
the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian
At a time like this, sports are trivial. But what the best
athletes can do--keep their composure amid chaos, form a plan
when all seems lost and find the guts to carry it out--may be
why the Capitol isn't a charcoal pit.
My 26-year-old niece, Jessica Robinson, works for Congressman
Lane Evans (D., Ill.). Jessica was in the Capitol that morning.
This Christmas I'll get to see her smiling face.
I'm glad there were four guys up there I could count on.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"I know we're going to die," Burnett told his wife. "Some of us
are going to do something about it."