Last Thursday, on the 13th anniversary of the day their son, Welles, died while saving many people inside the South Tower of the World Trade Center, Alison and Jefferson Crowther left their house in Nyack, N.Y. They drove to Clarkstown South High School, to talk to kids about why their son kept bringing people out of the tower and going back into it on 9/11.
Then they headed down to Queens, and Jefferson threw out the first pitch at the Mets game, and the people at Citi Field cheered Welles and their city’s resilience.
On Friday morning, they drove up to a middle school in New Canaan, Conn., and talked about the curriculum they’ve built around the life and death of their son. Then they drove to Walpole to work on the trust in their son’s memory.
From there, they drove to Waltham, for dinner with their daughter and her fiance.
On Saturday, they headed to Chestnut Hill, to Boston College, where Welles graduated in 1999. BC was playing the ninth-ranked USC Trojans. The Crowthers spent the pregame handing out 6,000 red bandannas, because that was Welles’s trademark. His dad gave him one when he was 6, and he always had one. In his pocket when he rode his bike. Under his hockey and lacrosse helmets in high school. Under his helmet when he played lacrosse at BC. Across his face when the South Tower blew up.
They didn’t know it, but BC coach Steve Addazio had just shown his team the ESPN documentary about Welles, “The Man in The Red Bandanna.” The film was produced by Drew Gallagher, one of Welles’s BC buddies. The USC team watched it, too.
Alison and Jefferson Crowther were introduced during the game. Jefferson Crowther realized he only had a blue bandanna in his pocket. That was the deal: His was blue, Welles’s was red.
He ran over to the stands and asked one of the kids for one of the red bandannas.
“Keep it,” the BC student told him.
“No,” Jefferson Crowther said. “I’ll bring it back.”
Five minutes later, the ceremony over, he went over and handed it back.
“He held it close, like a relic from the saints,” Jefferson Crowther said.
They met with Pete Frates, the BC grad who is battling ALS and who inspired the Ice Bucket Challenge. Frates struggled to express verbally how much inspiration he took from Welles. His brother read out a tweet that Frates wrote about Welles, and at this point Alison and Jefferson Crowther were overwhelmed.
It wasn’t supposed to be much of a game. BC was a 20-point underdog. Nobody gave the Eagles a chance. But someone did.
When it was over, and BC won in the dying minutes on a Tyler Murphy touchdown run, the Crowthers found themselves hugging all these thirtysomethings, everybody that went to BC with Welles. They found themselves shaking hands with a BC grad named Marty Walsh.
“This is so great,” the mayor of Boston told them.
Coach Addazio brought them in the locker room, and after handing out game balls to the defense and Murphy, he handed a third game ball to Alison and Jefferson Crowther.
Jefferson Crowther stood before a bunch of sweaty, exhilarated football players, looking at their uniforms — their helmets, shirts, shoes, gloves — emblazoned with red bandannas. He almost didn’t know what to say, and then he said, “I can’t get over those frickin’ cleats.”
The locker room exploded in cheers.
After the Crowthers left the locker room, they were approached by two BC players. One, whose name they didn’t catch, gave them his game shoes. The other, Malachi Moore, who is 6 feet 7 inches and wider than the Pike, told them the only reason he came to BC is because Tom Rinaldi, who wrote the script to that ESPN documentary, visited his high school in New Jersey and told Welles’s story.
“I just wanted to tell you how much your son means,” Malachi Moore told them.
There was nothing else to say.
•BC football uniforms to honor 9/11 hero