McGraw's Twist of Fate on September 11

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USA Today - September of 2001, and the national champion women's basketball coach at Notre Dame is planning a recruiting trip. She needs to get from one coast to the other, and her travel agent finds a non-stop, Boston to Los Angeles.

United Flight 175. Tuesday morning, Sept.11. Book it, Muffet McGraw asks.

A few days later, her assistant, Kevin McGuff, mentions he has planned to leave out of Providence instead, so why don't they fly together, instead of him driving through traffic and dropping her in Boston?

They ponder, they debate. She really likes the Boston non-stop. "He was pretty stubborn," she would later be quoted. "Had it been another assistant, I would have gotten on the plane."

She cancels her seat on United 175. That morning, she and McGuff happen to see Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey at the Providence airport. They're aghast at the horror pouring from the TV screens and get the last Hertz rental car to leave Providence, for the 13-hour drive home to South Bend. Before they leave, the newscasters are identifying the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Something about United 175 ...

Come Sunday, we'll all remember where we were 10 years ago. You, me. And most certainly, the basketball coaches at Notre Dame.

What is there to say about the narrow ledge that fate has us all tiptoeing upon?

"It was a little eerie," Brey said this week by phone. "I'll never forget, Kevin drove the whole way, Muffet was in the back, I was in the front. All of what you saw over and over again, we just got a glimpse of in the airport. We're listening to the radio reports all day and they're describing things, and I can't picture them. I can't picture the towers falling down.

"I don't think any of us talked for an hour. It was like, 'What the hell is going on?'"

McGraw has not spoken much publicly about the matter, and won't now, said the Notre Dame sports information office. The exception was in the epilogue of a book by Jeff Goldberg, Bird at the Buzzer: UConn, Notre Dame, and a Women's Basketball Classic. That was the 2001 Big East title game, won on a shot by Connecticut's Sue Bird.

"I was pretty shook up," McGraw was quoted. "I just didn't want to talk about it. It felt funny. The three of us drove home. And I was a little shaky. I was transfixed by it ... and then I put it behind me."

Her husband, Matt, told the South Bend Tribune then, "A little part of me died that day."

The 10th anniversary beckons, and McGraw still wants it behind her.

"In my memory, she mentioned it briefly and said she didn't want to elaborate on it," Brey said. "So it was like, 'Let's not revisit that. Let's talk about some other things. We're safe, we're in a car on the way home and we're doing pretty good right now.' ... We actually talked about our teams and recruiting and Notre Dame. We were both very sensitive to her after she explained she was on that flight.

"I remember Muffet saying from the back after about an hour, 'You know what, I need snacks.' I said, 'We'll take care of you. We've got you covered. You've got the whole back seat; you can tell us what you need.'

"We pull into South Bend, and Kevin drops me off. I remember standing in my driveway giving Muffet a hug. It was like, 'Don't say anything, but we made it, and God bless you.' You really felt for her."

Time marches on. McGraw's team made it back to the national championship game last April. Brey was Big East coach of the year. McGuff is head women's coach at Washington.

Has McGraw ever mentioned the stunned ride home that will always connect them?

"Never has," Brey said.

Some days you talk about. Some, you just remember.

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