September 11, 2012

Eamon McEneaney: 1954-2001

Remembering Cornell's wild Irish rose, lacrosse legend and American hero

Three-time All-American Eamon McEneaney, a 1993 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee, reportedly helped 63 people to safety after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that year. Eight years later, he was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, the 10th anniversary of which will be memorialized Sunday.

by Brian Delaney |

This article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your monthly subscription.

December 1975. Long Island

It was the start of intercession when Cornell men's lacrosse coach Richie Moran called Dr. Louis Schimoler at his veterinary practice in Greenvale, Long Island. Moran wanted to check up on one of his top players, sophomore Eamon McEneaney, who helped Schimoler paint the interior walls of the hospital. It was the first of three daily jobs —waiter and bartender were the others — McEneaney had picked up that break.

It's also one of Moran's favorite recollections of the former three-time All-American.

"Oh, he's doing great," Moran recalled Schimoler telling him a few days into the arrangement. "He shows up at 7:30 every morning with buns and hot rolls and coffee."

Moran wondered, knowing the approximate 10-mile trek to the North Shore from McEneaney's home near Floral Park, then asked: "How's he getting to work?"

Schimoler assumed McEneaney drove.

"That can't be right," Moran said. "I know he doesn't have a license, and I know he doesn't have a car."

Soon after, Moran got his answer. McEneaney got a ride from a neighbor to the main thoroughfare nearby, and then hitchhiked — sometimes more than once — to Schimoler's practice. After painting, he would hitchhike back to the restaurant and bar closer to his home for jobs two and three.

All this, so he could meet his tuition requirements for the following semester at Cornell.
To those who knew McEneaney, particularly those who played against him, that anecdote would be met with an understanding nod. Talk to someone who knew McEneaney, and they'll have their own favorite story to tell.

Another Moran favorite came when he recruited McEneaney, who received major scholarship offers but surprised Moran on his scheduled visit by showing up the wrong weekend. He arrived at the bus station downtown and, unassumingly, walked the two-plus miles uphill to Moran's office, stopping to ask directions along the way.

Later in the trip, McEneaney told Moran not to worry: "I learned a lot about Ithaca."

He's also the guy who would later meet his future wife, Bonnie, in a popular Ithaca bar called The Nines after participating in a streaking rally. He walked up to the bar in a towel. Bonnie looked at him and remarked, "Nice outfit."

May 28, 1977. Charlottesville, Virginia.

Defending national champion Cornell had advanced to the NCAA Division I final with a chance to repeat against Johns Hopkins. Early that morning at the team's hotel, McEneaney, a senior, was restless. His nervous energy spiked. He left the hotel and, in 80-degree heat, crushed a three-mile run.

Later that afternoon, as the temperature climbed to 100 degrees, McEneaney scored three goals and dished five assists in a lopsided 16-8 victory. It was Cornell's 29th straight victory and capped a second consecutive undefeated season — not to mention what still stands as one of the great individual careers in lacrosse.

"He was an extremely competitive guy," said Mike French, a 1976 Cornell graduate who spent two years teaming with McEneaney and Jon Levine. Some say it's the best attack line ever. "I was similar. We came from different backgrounds, but both extremely blue collar — me from Canada and a big family, him from Long Island and a big Irish family. He was a tremendous competitor. He would put his foot on the gas pedal and not take it off."

McEneaney finished his illustrious career as a three-time first-team All-American in an era when Ivy League freshmen could not play varsity. He amassed 96 points in 17 games as a sophomore, 81 in 16 games as a junior and 79 in 13 games as a senior.

McEneaney defied his 5-foot-10, 155-pound frame with exceptional athleticism. He could reverse dunk a basketball with two hands. He had quickness, vision and an indomitable spirit. He spent two years on the Cornell football team and earned All-Ivy accolades as a receiver. After graduation, he nearly made the New York Jets' roster as a punt returner before being cut in the last round. In 1993, he was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

McEneaney wrote about his experience at Cornell for a university-published book called "Wearers of the C." It opened: "I was elated when I was accepted at Cornell. I told the Maryland coaches, who were also interested in me, that we would win the national championship. They laughed, and I lied: we won two titles."

February 26, 1993. New York City.

McEneaney was brash, confident, loyal, fierce, tough, hot-tempered and a prankster. But his soul had depth too.

Terrorist Ramzi Yousef parked a Ryder truck filled with 1,500 pounds of explosives in an underground garage at the World Trade Center's North Tower. The blast killed six people and left thousands scrambling to exit a structurally unsound building. It was later reported that McEneaney, who worked in the building, helped guide 63 people to safety down 105 dark staircases by orchestrating a human chain. At each landing, he performed head counts to ensure no one was left behind.

As a two-sport athlete, McEneaney drew praise in different ways. He was brash, confident, loyal, fierce, tough, hot-tempered and a prankster. But his soul had depth too.

McEneaney evolved into an accomplished poet and writer. The youngest of seven siblings of Edward and Mary McEneaney, he obsessed over Irish history. As Moran told it, McEneaney during downtime on trips to Ireland enjoyed settling into a pub to engage locals on topics such as the history of the Vikings in Ireland. Some naysayers placed bets on the accuracy of McEneaney's impromptu lectures. Much like his college days, he did not lose often.

McEneaney held a reverent respect for lacrosse's Native American roots. Long after wood sticks gave way to plastic and metal, he kept his original wood cross.

September 11, 2001. New York City.

Eamon McEneaney was the senior vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald when a hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 11, slammed into the World Trade Center's North Tower on a blue-skied Tuesday morning. McEneaney's office was on the 105th floor. No one above the impact zone, floors 93-99, survived.

A family member filed a missing persons report at the New York Armory, his picture among those of thousands missing in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But McEneaney never surfaced.

Over a thousand family and friends from across the world, including the Cornell lacrosse and football teams, and glee club, attended his funeral services shortly thereafter. Ben DeLuca, currently in his second season as Cornell men's lacrosse head coach, lived in New York at the time and worked in the financial sector. The repercussions of that day and the turnout at McEneaney's funeral struck a profound chord.

"Absolutely. Oh God, yes," DeLuca said. "When that went down, it really, as I'm sure it did for a lot of people, changed my perspective on life."

In 1993, McEneaney (left) accepts his framed Hall of Fame certificate from his college coach and fellow Hall of Famer Richie Moran.

In 2004, the Cornell University Library published a book of McEneaney's poems called "A Bend in the Road." Last year, spurred by years of discussions and spiritually meaningful occurrences with other 9/11 widows, Bonnie McEneaney published her own book, "Messages, Signs, Visits and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11."

Eamon McEneaney is survived by Bonnie and four children: Brendan, Jennifer, Kevin and Kyle.

Plaques memorializing three Cornell lacrosse players — McEneaney, former captain Jay Gallagher, who died in 1992 of melanoma at age 39, and former captain George Boiardi, who died in a 2004 game against Binghamton after being struck in the chest with the ball — reside at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca.

"It gave the Cornell family a real backbone," French said. "Sometimes you're brought closer together as teammates, but also different eras of Cornell lacrosse have been brought closer together because of tragedy."

McEneaney's plaque lists his athletic accolades. But in the foreword of "A Bend in the Road," distinguished literature professor Kenneth McClane made note of the tribute inscribed below those honors.

Dedicated Husband and Father, Loyal Friend, Prolific Writer and Poet and an American Hero

February 1, 2012. Schoellkopf Field, Ithaca, N.Y.

Cornell will take its home field for the first official practice of the 2012 season, weather permitting. The scoreboard will be lit, the clock ticking down time left in each drill, flanked by two numbers that don't change.



Boiardi and McEneaney. Cornell's only two retired numbers, they symbolize individuals lauded for more than just their lacrosse exploits.

Not a day goes by that Moran does not think of McEneaney, of painting jobs and hitchhiking, of streaking rallies and poems, of goals and assists and championships, of friends and laughter, of family and love.

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