The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

September 11, 2011

WVU pays tribute to former quarterback

MORGANTOWN — You’ll pardon West Virginia University linebacker Doug Rigg if his mind wandered for just a moment before the Mountaineers took the field to play Norfolk State Saturday as a C-130 from the West Virginia National Guard roared by overhead.

He went back to another moment when he looked skyward and saw a plane fly right over his elementary school in northern New Jersey. It seemed innocent enough and, as he looked back on it now, he recalled, “We didn’t pay any attention to it.”

The teachers in the school did. They mentioned to the kids it was “flying lower than usual.”

The calendar on the wall marked the date: Sept. 11, 2001.

“Fifteen minutes later, they told us the plane hit the twin towers. It was like, ‘Wow! That was the plane that just flew over us,’” he said.

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As the National Guard plane flew over Milan Puskar Stadium, Tim Gray stood and watched.

He was part of the ceremonies West Virginia University was holding to recognize the day the twin towers fell, the day the world changed and, everyone will admit, the day the lives of all Americans changed with it.

Among the 2,977 who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, was a former WVU quarterback.

Tim Gray knew him. He was his brother.

To honor Chris Gray, West Virginia made him an honorary captain for this game.

His brother, Tim, had the privilege of filling in for him.

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James Gray, the father, could not be present for the occasion.

It wasn’t, as you might believe, because it was too hurtful, thinking back on this 10th anniversary of the untimely, inexplicable death of his son, who had simply gone to work at Cantor Fitzgerald that morning and became one of 658 of the firm’s employees who died that day.

Not that there isn’t hurt.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” James Gray admitted earlier in the week. “Fortunately, we have family and friends and support.”

He has spent his past 10 years channeling his energy into projects to make sure that what happened that day stays fresh in the minds of Americans, and while his son, Tim, was in Morgantown, he was in Jersey City.

“There is a memorial there dedicated to the victims, and I will be one of the people reading the names,” James Gray said.

In a way, he wanted to be here with Tim, who is now 36, married, a lawyer in New York and father of a son named Thomas Christopher in memory of his brother. James almost never wants to be apart from Tim, for he is almost Chris’ twin.

“They look alike, tall and blond, have the same mannerisms. They even talk alike on the phone,” he said.

West Virginia did not forget Chris Gray or his family, even after he went off and began to create his life as a professional.

“I can’t believe how important the West Virginia family has been to us,” James Gray said. “They have been gracious and kind. Players, his former teammates, call us, and everyone treated my son so well. There was nothing more important in Chris’ life than being part of that team. He loved it there; he loved the program. I believe he would have moved back there if he had lived.”

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Greg Hunter can tell you about Chris Gray, the person. Sort of a reluctant celebrity due to putting out the Blue and Gold News and his connection with the statewide talk show on WVU sports, Hunter will speak about it if pushed.

In fact, according to a WVU release on the 9/11 ceremonies, Hunter tried to call Gray and e-mail him that day after he heard the news of the plane crash into the twin towers.

He knew something was terribly wrong when he got no reply.

Hunter and Gray had become friends through softball in Morgantown, and the last time he saw him was in the summer of 2001 at his own wedding. Gray was engaged to Kelly Gangwar, of Morgantown, and was planning to be married the next summer.

She since has married and lives in Lexington, Ky., with her physician husband and children. She still remains in contact with the Gray family.

“She has been gracious,” James Gray said.

“It’s sad to think about the situation he died under,” Hunter told WVU. “I still can’t watch any documentaries about 9/11. I’ve tried to block it from my mind. I remember him as the person he was — a happy-go-lucky guy. I think of that instead of the tragic situation.”

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Steve Dunlap coaches the safeties at WVU and was a coach at the school when Chris Gray was a Mountaineer.

“He was like a basketball player, real tall, blond hair, bubbly, always enthusiastic,” Dunlap said. “Football was important to him, and he gave his best. He was a smart kid. He was going to be really special.”

He was a good player, too.

“He was going to start, and then he broke his hand in practice,” Dunlap said.

At the time, he thought it was the worst thing that could happen to him.

How wrong we can be.

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Dunlap thinks about 9/11 a lot. He wasn’t coaching at West Virginia the day the towers came down.

“I was at Syracuse, my first year, and we were getting ready to play Auburn. It’s four hours from New York City, and there was a ton of Syracuse grads working there. It was a serious thing,” Dunlap said. “I just could not believe that happened, that we could be attacked like that. There were a lot of good people who died for nothing. What was the purpose?”

The attacks were felt hard in Syracuse.

“It was devastating to the Syracuse community; some ridiculous amount of people were killed. It was a bad day for America,” Dunlap said.

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It was a bad day in New Jersey, too, as Doug Rigg, the linebacker, remembers it.

“People were scared. I definitely remember that. People were on like high alarm. They thought maybe something else was going to come,” Rigg said. “People were running around. Me, I wasn’t that concerned with it. I didn’t know what was going on. I do know some kids stayed out of school for like a week. It was just like a crazy week.”

For those as young as Rigg, it was hard to comprehend, but it certainly affected the way they looked at things, things like first-responders and the job they do.

“It changed it a lot,” he said. “For them to just go in and take people out, risking their own lives to save the lives of other people they don’t even know, says a lot about them. I have a lot of respect for them. They saved a lot of lives.”

And now, when he’s home and sees the towers being rebuilt, what is the emotion and the reaction?

“It feels crazy,” Rigg said. “I have a lot of family around there, so we actually drive past the spot, and every time my mom says, ‘That’s where they were.’ I remember when I was younger, when they were standing, you would say, ‘There’s the twin towers.’ Now you don’t see nothing coming up, just the memorial there. All those lives ruined from that. You look at life a different way.”

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