Redskins' Szott takes welcome break

Guard looks forward to some down time after a tumultuous week

September 14, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - For 12 years, Dave Szott has looked forward to suiting up on Sundays in the fall and getting into the trenches with the rest of his offensive line mates to get down and dirty.

But, as the NFL is taking its first regular-season Sunday off for reasons other than labor disputes, Szott, the Washington Redskins' starting right guard, will look forward to some down time to reflect on what has been a tumultuous week for himself and his family.

In addition to watching the destruction of the World Trade Center from his Morristown, N.J., home Tuesday, Szott spent two hours panicking over the temporary disappearance of his brother, Kevin, an insurance broker who worked in Building 5 of the World Trade Center. His brother is also legally blind.

In other words, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision yesterday to halt play for a week is just what Szott needed.

"I think it's a great decision," Szott said. "It was not an easy one, but it was admirable and the right decision. The more we've thought about it, the emotion doesn't leave.

"In fact, it gets stronger and stronger, as you hear more and more cases of what has happened. Literally [thousands of] people are missing. If you think about those families, hundreds of thousands of people are affected, and I can't see anybody cheering on Sunday for anything."

Szott got the call that many Americans received Tuesday: Two World Trade Center towers were hit by passenger planes.

But unlike most Americans who watched the scene on television, Szott, a New Jersey native who went home on his day off from football, was able to see the destruction from his front yard.

"I used to be able to see the twin towers from my front lawn, but not any longer," said Szott, a 6-foot-4, 289-pound Penn State graduate, and the father of a 6-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis.

"I couldn't believe it. I looked out from the front lawn and saw the first tower and then the second tower smoldering. Then to see that they're no longer part of the landscape and the skyline of New York is amazing to me. I grew up six miles from New York City, and I was able to see that from wherever I was."

As gripping as that call was, the next call from his sister-in-law was even more distressing. Szott's older brother, Kevin, who played football at St. Lawrence University, a Division III school, worked on one of the upper floors of Building 5 of the Trade Center complex, and had not yet checked in with his family.

While Kevin Szott's building was not one of the two that was struck by hijacked planes, debris from the collisions hit his window. Dave Szott and his family placed frantic calls to his brother's office and to his cell phone, but got no answer.

"We were praying. It was tough there for a couple of hours," said Dave Szott. "I was as panicked as I've been in my life, and I'm a pretty even-keel guy."

Further complicating matters is the fact that Kevin Szott, an insurance benefits coordinator for the Hartford, who has competed in three of the past four Paralympic Games, is virtually sightless.

A co-worker, who had worked in the World Trade Center complex eight years ago when a car bomb exploded in one of the towers, guided Kevin Szott out of the building upon feeling the impact of the first explosion.

Dave Szott said his brother and co-worker left the area and headed toward the Hudson River, where they took a ferry to safety away from Manhattan Island before it was sealed off.

"His friend said, `I know you can't see this, but people are jumping off the building.' " said Dave Szott.

After Tuesday's drama, the practice field was actually a place of refuge, said Dave Szott.

"I think the quicker we get back to normalcy, the better it will be. But at the same time we have to respect our fellow citizens and what has actually happened," said Dave Szott. "To think 2,000 people died at Pearl Harbor and then think of how many people lost their lives now. It puts it in perspective."

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