Tom Rinaldi dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Thursday to discuss his new book, “The Red Bandanna: A life. A choice. A legacy,” which tells the story of Welles Crowther, a former Boston College lacrosse player who lost his life while saving dozens of others on 9/11.
Crowther was working on the 104th floor of the south tower when the first plane hit.
“It tells the story of his heroism that day, but also the development of his character prior to that day and the natural spread of his legacy,” Rinaldi said on Tiki and Tierney. “Making his way down from the 104th floor after the second plane hit, he came to the 78th floor, the sky lobby, which was a transfer point between express elevators from the ground floor and elevators going to the highest floors on the tower, and he encountered just a terrible scene of up to 200 people dead and dying. He carried one woman cross his back down nearly 20 flights of stairs while leading a group. He then implored them to go on and then went back up. He led a second group into the stairwell towards safety. He ultimately made his way down to the lobby and did not leave. He went instead to the command post set up by the FDNY, and when his remains were found months later, they were recovered surrounded by about a dozen FDNY firefighters and him – a civilian.”
The red bandanna was the clue used to determine Crowther’s identity.
“There were countless acts of heroism performed that day, but Crowther had been using a red bandanna to cover his nose and mouth from the fire and the smoke on the 78th floor,” Rinaldi explained. “It was something given to him by his dad when he was just seven years old on the way to church. When his parents heard the accounts of survivors moths later taking about this man emerging out of the smoke to help lead them to safety with a red bananna, that’s sort of the third act of the book – a detective story, if you will – to find out whether this was, in fact, their son. And it was.”
Crowther, Tierney observed, sounds like a saint.
“He’s not,” Rinaldi said, “and I think that’s one of the things tat hopefully people find resonance in. He was not a saint. He was a good athlete, good enough to play Division I lacrosse at Boston College. He was an excellent student, but he was a kid who was small initially, who got picked on and bullied a little bit. He was a guy that got into a brawl in college where he broke his hand beating up another bully who he felt was harassing fellow freshmen. The book really traces where a hero comes from, how one is made.”
Rinaldi, who has covered a wide variety of sports, often touches people’s souls with his storytelling. He was asked which sports figure he would most like to interview if he or she promised to give an honest, truthful, poignant interview.
“It’s got to be Tiger,” Rinaldi said. “It’s got to be Tiger. He remains a perennial fascination, but obviously I’m biased. I cover golf. But not just Tiger, there are so many I find (interesting). I find Saban fascinating in college football. I find Rafa maybe the most compelling athlete in all of sport. He’s a tremendous guy to talk with, a very honest guy, a very, very heartfelt (guy). No matter how many times you interview him, he’s a guy that walks in the room . . . and he still shakes every single person’s hand. He knows the crew’s name. He’s remarkable.
“But there’s an endless list,” Rinaldi continued. “At the end of the day, two things are most compelling to me to cover: greatness, and the line between living and dying. Fortunately the latter is not all I do, but I do a lot of stories that do explore that line. The Red Bandanna certainly does probably to a deeper degree than any story I’ve ever told, but greatness is compelling in nearly every way. From Serena to Usain Bolt to LeBron to Coach K to Saban to Jeter to Kobe – all the people I’ve had an opportunity to sit down with – it’s such a lottery-winning gig. It just is.”