Discover more from Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness
On the Boston Marathon, memories from 10 years ago and a dream achieved by a Pacers staffer
A recent three-part docu-series on Netflix shared the story of the Boston Marathon bombings. The Pacers were there that day and, thankfully, unaffected.
Now in the offseason, I have a little bit of free time and so over the weekend, I opened up Netflix and a docu-series immediately caught my attention.
“American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombings.”
It sticks with me for two reasons. First, it was toward the beginning of Twitter and I remember following it closely on my favorite social media platform. That was one of a handful of specific newsy stories I remember following to conclusion on Twitter. The raid to capture Osama bin Laden in 2011 also comes to mind.
I remembered the final pursuit, how one of the bombers was hiding in a boat that was in the backyard of an individual in Watertown, Mass. And then there was this tweet from Boston Police.
“CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
I was surprised to realize it’s been 10 years, that’s probably why the documentary was produced now and then went live just ahead of Monday’s race. I didn’t remember that it took five days for the second individual to be found. I thought it was more like just a few days.
Second, longtime readers of mine may remember how the Indiana Pacers weren’t just in Boston at the time of the bombings, but a rookie player’s craving for chicken and biscuits prevented four Pacers players from being around the finish line at the time of the two explosions.
Then-head coach Frank Vogel gave the Pacers the day off, and had purchased tickets for players and staff to attend the Boston Red Sox’s afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
About halfway into the game, many of the players requested to leave. Four players stuck together as they returned to the busy downtown area as the marathon was going on. Paul George, Orlando Johnson, Sam Young and David West went exploring and walked beside the race path around 1:20 p.m. ET — about 90 minutes before the two bombs went off. They stood a few rows back to watch the runners and soak in the electric atmosphere.
George then pointed out a Popeyes fast-food restaurant and Johnson, a rookie guard, spoke up and said he wanted to go. So then did, instead of heading toward the finish line as they had originally planned.
“It was just crazy that a couple of us were there to watch the Boston Marathon,” George said in 2013. “Had we not decided to leave, we would of been caught in that mess. It’s just unfortunate that people do things like that.”
The Pacers’ first-round playoff series against Boston overlapped with the race once again in 2019. I was on that trip and used that time to watch the race first-hand for the first time and to get several staff members to share their memories from that day. No players remained, but 10 staff members were still with the team.
Like how the team hotel is on the path and the memorial is right outside.
“It’s weird looking down out my window and seeing the memorial,” former assistant coach Dan Burke said.
The coaches stayed for the entire game in 2013. Some players left and then enjoyed their day off. Chris Denari was back at the team hotel. The late David Benner was walking around by himself. Athletic trainer Josh Corbeil, who is from the area, left to visit college friends.
“I was on the train two stops from the finish line when the bomb went off,” Corbeil said. “I had no idea what happened when they evacuated us. All the phones were jammed so I walked back to the hotel.”
Fortunately, the Pacers had a veteran FBI agent of 33 years leading team security for them at the time. Here’s what he told me about that day.
“Police radios are crackling and everything else,” John Gray said. “With the contacts we checked in with, they said we’ve got a bomb that just went off at the finish line. Immediately, we had to kick into our emergency planning, which we had already established with the Pacers that in situations like this. We have to account for everybody because we were getting phone calls from Indianapolis like, ‘Where is everybody? Is everybody all right?’
“Luckily, we had the text system set up just to verify with a simple message response. As a backup system, I specifically made them call me personally so I can check them off.”
And there was one player they had trouble connecting with, Tyler Hansbrough. But he was with his brother, Ben, so in less than a half hour, Gray had confirmed that everyone in the traveling party was accounted for while staying in contact throughout the day with officials back in Indianapolis.
“I remember a policeman with military rifles were looking through every garbage can along the street,” Burke said. “The city was so damn quiet. The whole two days were weird. I don’t know how to explain it because you’ve never experienced that before.”
A Dream Achieved
Monday was a surreal experience for one member of the Pacers staff, someone who is as behind the scenes as you can get. That’s how he prefers it.
In fact, I know he’s going to be shaking his head because I’m writing about him … but it needs to be written. Because not only did Zach Eagle race in the Boston Marathon on Monday, the 10th anniversary of the bombings, but he completed it while averaging six-minute miles.
He finished in about two hours and 44 minutes. That 26.2 miles.
“He’s a champion in every way,” assistant coach Jenny Boucek wrote, sharing my post on Instagram about Eagle. “We are all continually inspired by him.”
Eagle is an Indiana University grad who started with the Pacers in 2016 as an intern, then returned in a full-time role in 2018. His official title is manager of sports medicine operations — but he does so much, whatever the team needs.
Like during the pandemic, he was their Covid leader. It was his job to keep track of player and staff testing, and ensure that they were following all the protocols. A thankless, tedious yet necessary task. He also helps with equipment, player requests and whatever is asked of him.
On Monday, it was his time to shine and he delivered.
More than 26 miles in less than three hours. Remarkable.