In our third episode of UCF Throwback Classics, on September 10, 2011, one day before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the UCF Knights hosted the Boston College Eagles in what could arguably be the most patriotic football game in UCF history. The Knights completely overpowered the Eagles en route to a 30-3 blowout win. The win also was UCF’s first home win against a BCS conference team.
What made this game truly special isn’t what happened on the field. It’s what was happening around it. With it being a day before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a story came out about a Boston College alum named Welles Crowther.
Crowther was an equities trader, and before that, a volunteer firefighter in New York City. He worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
On September 11, 2001, Crowther saved as many as 18 lives before the building collapsed, taking his life. It wasn’t until a year later that his family learned what he did that day and he became forever known as the man in the red bandana. That red bandana, which Crowther always carried with him since he was a child, helped multiple survivors identify the man who saved them from certain death.
Crowther’s red bandana has become a symbol at Boston College.
It was a story run by ESPN in 2011 that caught the attention of UCF freshman Neal Surrena. Surrena mused about the week leading up to the game.
“About a week or two into my freshman year at UCF, I was watching ESPN and a special feature about Welles Crowther came on. Welles’ bravery, determination, and selflessness brought so much emotion to me that day,” Surrena said. “I texted a few classmates of mine at UCF the ESPN video and said we should wear Welles’ signature red bandanas to the game that weekend. I ended up starting a Facebook event and invited about 30 friends of mine to honor Welles by wearing a bandana. That was Sunday morning, September 4th.”
Word spread like wildfire. What started as a small group event ended up with thousands of people by the next day, myself included. Surrena was asked to do interviews with local TV and radio. Local stores ran out of red bandanas and people were rush shipping them in. The school joined in, bringing Crowther’s sisters to the game and having them honored. As you can see from the clip below, a lot of fans joined in.
I was at this game, sitting in my old seats near the 40-yard line about nine rows back on the visiting side and wearing a red bandana of my own. This was by far the most emotional game I’ve been at and I’ve been to many over the years. It was a moment that transcended UCF football.
UCF’s efforts to honor Crowther did not go unnoticed.
Oh yeah, Neal’s story gets better. He somehow managed to get Paige Crowther’s cell phone number. As one of Welles’ sisters who was honored, she was hoping to meet up with him at the game.
“We all know the trials and tribulations with sending a text at The Bounce House, especially back then. Long story short, I couldn’t get ahold of her at all during the game. I was bummed...Walking back to dorms after a big UCF win, a random Boston College fan stopped my group of friends and asked for a picture. We all said sure & smiled with our bandanas on. Very appreciatively, she thanked us and said, ‘I’m Paige Crowther, Welles’ sister.’ I was speechless. Out of the tens of thousands of fans there, we run into the one person I was trying to meet that day.”
“She ended up telling us a little more about her brother and one thing stuck out to me. It was one of his favorite sayings that he lived by that she shared with us, ‘Be courageous. Care for others. A hero lies in you.’” Welles’ motto still lives with Surrena and he still gets goosebumps when talking about this game.
The game itself was a defensive struggle until the fourth quarter. Coming into the game, UCF was 1-0 after a 62-0 thumping of FCS Charleston Southern and feeling the pressure as the reigning Conference USA champions. The Knights’ offense behind quarterback Jeff Godfrey struggled to get points on the board while going up against linebacker Luke Kuechly. After BC took a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter, UCF would tie it with a 36-yard field goal by Nick Cattoi near the end of the first. Cattoi would add two more field goals in the second of 35 yards and 32 yards. The Knights would drive but just could not convert those drives into touchdowns. After a scoreless third quarter with both teams failing on 4th and short opportunities, UCF started a sustained drive late in the third and scored the game’s first touchdown early in the fourth. The Knights took advantage of a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter and converted each of them into touchdowns to put away the Eagles.
UCF outgained Boston College 422 to 141. On the ground, UCF outgained BC 235 to 57. Jeff Godfrey was a very accurate 20-25 for 187 yards, but he also ran the ball 13 times for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The second of those touchdown runs had Godfrey run through Kuechly. Latavius Murray added another 72 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. Luke Kuechly ended up with 17 tackles, ten more than the next closest player. No Knight had more than six tackles. It should be noted that Kuechly ended up winning the Butkus, Lombardi, Lott IMPACT, Bronko Nagurski, and Jack Lambert Awards. He was a first-team All-ACC, was ACC defensive player of the year, and first-team All-American in 2011. Yeah, he’s pretty good.
Sometime after the game was played, Boston College started having an annual Red Bandana game. They’ve even created red bandana-based alternate uniforms. A documentary was made called Man in Red Bandana(Note: it began production before the football game, but was finished years later). The legend of Welles Crowther continues to grow and a warm late summer evening in Orlando, Florida will forever play a part in it.
“Be courageous. Care for others. A hero lies in you.”
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