Remembering Lehigh's Rob McLaughlin on the Anniversary of 9/11


Rob McLaughlin, a defensive midfielder at Lehigh University in the early 1990s, died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Eagle McLaughlin.”

Those two words invoke so many thoughts, emotions and memories of former Lehigh men’s lacrosse midfielder Rob McLaughlin ‘93, who was one of 2,977 people who were tragically killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Thinking back to McLaughlin’s time at Lehigh… “Eagle” was a call used by the coaches when calling for a substitution. However, there were oftentimes Rob – more of a defensive midfielder – didn’t come off.

“He was just dog tired and everybody was screaming Eagle McLaughlin,” said Mark Wilson ’94. “He was either consciously brushing everybody off or literally didn’t hear it. It became a team joke to get Rob off. If you say his name, every single player of our generation will laugh and say Eagle McLaughlin.”

Wilson went as far as saying it was his legacy.

“Rob’s legacy is endless effort and energy to the point where he didn’t want to come off the field. Endless heart and hustle.”

A significant aspect of McLaughlin’s identity was as a lacrosse player, but he was much more than that (he even ended his Lehigh career on the rugby team).

“He was very focused,” said Kevin McCaffrey ’93, who was also McLaughlin’s big brother in their fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon. “We grew up in college together and starting out in New York [after college], things were kind of fun and games on my front, frankly. I was making some moves, but I didn’t take it too seriously. He also had a way of not taking it seriously, so I didn’t suspect that he had such intense focus on the things that he achieved.”

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Incredibly focused, McLaughlin lived with McCaffrey in three different settings (both during and post-Lehigh), including for a period of time in New York City in the Upper West Side on 89th Street.

“He took the smallest room,” said McCaffrey. “It was all that was available; it was a glorified closet, but he’d be up at 3 in the morning doing calls to Czechoslovakia. He was starting the Emerging Markets practice at Cantor Fitzgerald. To my knowledge, he was a big part of starting that out. At the time when I couldn’t imagine doing anything more than renting a place, he was exploring buying a place with his then-girlfriend Liz, who he married and had his son Nicholas with.”

Rob was taken away from his son at a far-too-early age (just 29 years old). At the time of 9/11, McLaughlin was Vice President of Emerging Markets at Cantor Fitzgerald (a financial services firm) and based in the company’s corporate headquarters – the North

Tower of the World Trade Center. The plane that hit the North Tower crashed between floors 93 and 99.

The Cantor Fitzgerald offices were located between the 101st and 105th floors.

Every Cantor Fitzgerald employee who reported for work that morning was killed, including McLaughlin.

“I was living and working in Red Bank, New Jersey at the time and was busy shuffling my construction and landscaping crews around,” said McCaffrey. “I was told by someone that there was an attack and managed to catch a bit of coverage in my office. I worried about a number of my friends, including Rob. When I did find out that Cantor Fitzgerald was, I hate to say it, around the bull’s eye in terms of where the plane hit the North Tower, it was an immediate reaction of isn’t that where Rob works?”

Those worst fears came true.

“All of it seemed so surreal at that point,” said Wilson. “You wouldn’t connect it to someone you knew was a young, vibrant person who would be lost forever. And in the days following, as the names started to get reported in the news, first I remember seeing him listed as one of the missing. Then later, that he was gone.

“That was tough.”

Former teammate Michael Metzger ’95 was an intern at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia on that tragic day.

“I heard in the days and weeks after that Rob was one of the victims,” said Metzger. “It was heartbreaking and sobering, which brings everything home. It was really an emotional hit. I certainly still get emotional talking about it or thinking about it.”

Something Metzger does like thinking about is a visit to the World Trade Center Memorial.

“I didn’t make it to the 9/11 Memorial until just a few years ago,” he said. “I was really looking forward to going and naturally, he was on my mind. I went there, got off the subway and was walking up to the memorial. I was walking towards the reflection pools where the actual towers were, but looking up at the new freedom tower… just taking it all in.”

The reflection pools are the actual foundations of where the two towers had been.

“They’re excavated out and filled with [very dark] water,” said Metzger. “The borders of each of the buildings are engraved with every victim’s name. I swear to God, I approached the pools looking up at the tower, I had no idea where I was. But when I looked down, I was right in front of Rob’s name. The odds of that are ridiculous – one in more than 2,900.

“It gives me chills every time I share this story.”

Ironically enough, Wilson had a similar story from a different memorial.

“My wife is from West Orange and we happened to be at the 9/11 Memorial at West Orange,” said Wilson. “It was my son or daughter who walked up to the memorial, said ‘look at the names’ and pointed to a name.

“It was a few names away from Rob’s,” he continued. “Those things really hit home years later.”

Now 20 years after that tragic day, McLaughlin’s memory lives on.

“I always remember Rob to be a positive, great guy who always had a smile on his face and an infectious laugh,” said Jeff Jenkins ’94.

“Rob was just a thoughtful person and a really nice kid,” said former Lehigh head coach John McCloskey. “[On the field], he had good size and good speed… an all-around athlete.”

McCaffrey was around McLaughlin quite a bit, on and off the field, and regrets not spending even more time together.

“September 11 was a horrible moment in our history, but he puts a smile on my face,” said McCaffrey. “I was a year ahead of him, but we graduated the same year because he went into an accelerated study program. About a year later, he ended up living with me for a brief period in New York as he was getting started at Cantor Fitzgerald. He was always a fun guy to have around.

“It makes you realize how important that time is and you don’t get it back.”

McLaughlin was always a great source of guidance, according to Metzger.

“He was a good behind-the-scenes mentor for me, an upperclassman,” said Metzger. “Little pep talks here and there. Not a massive team ra-ra guy, but just behind the scenes with a pat on the back or tips of coping with whatever’s happening on and off the field.

“My other memories of him as a player are just endless energy. He epitomized what midfielders do. Good midfielders don’t always get in the scorebooks, but do the right things with groundballs and team defense, and just being a big-time hustler.”

As McCaffrey said, McLaughlin was just “one of the guys.”

“He was the youngest guy in the house we lived (off campus), so he had a maturity and an ability to fit in that most younger people did not,” said McCaffrey.

“I miss him and I hope his story keeps a lot of people going through these difficult times. He’s an inspirational character. I hope his son appreciates what a fun guy he was and what he stood for.”

What McLaughlin stood for was an energy and passion for everything he did, on and off the lacrosse field.

“Rob definitely lived life to its fullest and experienced a lot of things,” said Wilson. “[September 11 reinforced that] nothing is promised and everything is finite. You have to enjoy every day.

“Rob is the type of person who definitely did just that.”

Justin Lafleur is the senior assistant director for sports communications and multimedia at Lehigh University.

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