Zamir Amin was in the midst of an All-American season in the fall of 2001.
As the star quarterback of then-NCAA Division III Menlo College in California (now an NAIA school), Amin was in the process of tearing through the school record books. A year earlier, he had ripped apart the Cal Lutheran defense for 731 yards in a single game, the most by any quarterback at any level of college athletics in NCAA history. His uniform from that game was sent off to the College Football Hall of Fame.
There was no doubt that Amin was a star in small-college football. No one gave a second thought to the fact that he was from Afghanistan.
That changed in September of 2001.
On the sun-splashed morning of Sept. 11, the nation watched in horror as two hijacked passenger planes slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington while the fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania instead of its intended presumed target, either the White House or the Capitol, because of the heroic efforts of the people aboard the flight.
Extremists had just pulled off the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil. The terror group responsible for the attack were based in Afghanistan.
Suddenly, Amin, who was just a baby when his parents fled the country in 1979 because of the Soviet invasion, grabbed attention for reasons that had nothing to do with football. There was concern for his safety because of potential backlash, and yet, Amin took everything in stride.
“I was never worried,” Amin said. “I am a calm person and so I didn‘t worry too much. I didn’t let the thought of what people might say bother me. I knew in my mind that I had nothing to do with it, just as other people in this country from Afghanistan had nothing to do with the attacks. I was as shocked about the events as everyone else.”
But while many sporting events were canceled that week because of the attacks, including NFL games, Menlo still had a game to get ready for, a date with Humboldt State on the road that Saturday. The players from both teams voted to play the game, and because it was only a five-hour bus trip to Arcata for Menlo, air travel wouldn’t be an issue.
“Our athletic directors conferred Wednesday morning, the day after the tragedy, and quickly made the decision to go on with the game,” HSU Sports Information Director Dan Pambianco said. “Soon after making the decision, our athletic director at the time, Mike Swan, was reassured by the community support and the fact that President Bush had urged Americans to forge ahead without allowing terrorists to disrupt our normal lifestyles.”
Frank Guidici was an assistant coach at Menlo at the time. He is now the head football coach at the school and said the team had little trouble focusing on the game. Guidici said he was a little worried about how Amin would handle everything, but in the end, it was business as usual for his quarterback.
“We had some concern because of Zamir being on the team, but he did a great job of handling the whole experience. He is an unbelievable person” Guidici said. “It was interesting to see how normal everything was for us that week. The support from his teammates was second to none. They were all there for him.”
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Amin was thankful he had teamamtes who were there for him.
“A lot of them asked me if I was OK with everything and if I needed anything. They were concerned with my safety and I appreciated that. I had a great group of teammates and we all got along great.”
As it turns out, there were no problems on game day. The teams lined up together for a tribute to the rescue workers on the East Coast. The national anthem was played and the game was played without any problems.
Amin didn’t have to deal with any backlash, although he said his teammates had heard things in the stands.
“I didn’t personally hear anything, but a few of the other guys said they heard things being said about me,” Amin said. “My parents even came to the game and I had talked to them before it about everything that had happened. They didn’t have any problems either at the game. Everything was fine.”
Menlo found itself in a 26-0 hole in the second half before Amin put together one of his most memorable performances, throwing four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including a six-yard scoring strike to Eddie Miller as time expired in overtime. Menlo won the game 36-29.
“His performance was amazing,” Guidici said. “He didn’t let being down bother him at all. He stayed focused and led his team to a great comeback. It was a special day.”
Humboldt’s wide receiver Dustin Creager, a freshman at the time, wished the game would have ended differently. At the same time, he knew losing a game wasn’t the end of the world.
“The mood and feeling on the field were very different than any game I ever played in,” Creager said. “It was hard after the game because we lost in overtime, but everyone had their minds elsewhere. The feelings and mood of the game were dull and somber.”
Amin finished with 427 yards that day, and while he will never forget the magic of that game, which provided a moment of happiness for the Oaks in a world that was now changed forever, there was something else he will never forget.
A few years ago, Amin took a trip to Kabul, the city where he was born, and he had a chance to see the changes that came about as a result of the United States attacking Afghanistan in retaliation for the attacks on Sept. 11.
Yes, there was still poverty and there were still suicide attacks, but he came away with the feeling that it was a good thing that the United States went to war there.
“I talked to my relatives over there about how things had changed in their country and they said it was much better than it was before. They said they felt safer and more secure,” Amin said. “It was special having a chance to see where I was born and meet other members of my family. I’m glad I had the chance to do it.”
The same goes for the game Menlo played on that first Saturday afternoon after Sept. 11.
“It was a different feeling on a game day because of everything that had happened in our country, but honestly, we felt privileged to be out there playing. We felt like we were playing more than just a game. We were playing for our community and doing what we could to keep things as normal as possible.”
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