Lleyton Hewitt, Michael Jackson and Western Bulldogs running loose on an end-of-season footy trip.
It sounds like the kind of dream you’d expect Western Bulldogs legend Luke Darcy to have in his hungover footy trip state — but the story is very real.
Darcy on Thursday night revealed his run-in with the prince of pop on a New York street on the same day the World Trade Centre was attacked.
The terrorist attack claimed the lives of 2977 people and while it remains a day of tragedy for Darcy, it is also the most bizarre day of his life.
Darcy was in New York as part of a group of six Western Bulldogs letting their hair down in New York following the after Bulldogs’ 2001 AFL season.
The story starts with Darcy and teammates including Tony Liberatore, Craig Ellis and Nathan Brown attending the US Open tennis final where Hewitt defeated Pete Sampras on Arthur Ashe Stadium inside the iconic Flushing Meadows precinct.
Darcy says he believes it is a story that has never been told before, but teammates have previously divulged some of the details of the bizarre 24-hours they shared together.
It starts with a dispute between Brown and Liberatore over which of the Bulldogs players ended up kicking or throwing a Sherrin football onto the Arthur Ashe Stadium surface as Hewitt was celebrating his US Open grand slam victory.
The cheeky projectile caught the eye of Hewitt from the court and next thing they knew, the Bulldogs players had been invited to join Hewitt and his family as they celebrated his big win.
“Lleyton waved up and caught our eye and invited us to the afterparty, which was very generous of him and it was a really fun night, you can imagine,” Darcy told foxfooty.com.au in April.
“Lleyton was pretty disciplined and a pretty focused young man, he took off well before we did. We celebrated maybe a bit more into the night than him was my memory.
“Incredible sporting performance and one of the great nights afterwards. I always look back on that with a great smile own my face.”
Liberatore said: “We went all the way down to the very, very back and there was this sort of table as long as a wedding table.
“And there’s Lleyton Hewitt … back in those days they had the bricks for the phone and he was talking to his mates back in Australia saying: ‘You wouldn’t believe it, the Bulldogs boys are here, we’re having drinks with them!’”
After waking up from their extensive celebrations the night before, the group of six players woke up to the horror scene of planes crashing into the Twin Towers.
“We were walking down there, it was the perfect day. I remember 27 degrees, perfect blue sky and then all of a sudden everything started to get dusty and it was just something that was out of this world,” Brown said earlier this year.
“About an hour later there were tanks rolling through the street and this busy New York everybody knows was just deserted.”
“It was surreal,” he said.
“We stopped for breakfast halfway. There’s a lot of people with those sorts of stories that ‘could’ve, maybe, would’ve been there’ – but certainly a couple of moments you never forget.”
Now, for the first time, Darcy has revealed the cherry on top of the dramatic day — Liberatore casually engaging in conversation with pop icon Jackson as they retreated from the scene of the collapsing towers in New York.
“The US Open happens that night and then the next day tragically is September 11,” Darcy told Channel 7’s Front Bar on Thursday night.
“So we had a huge night, we were on our way down to the World Trade Centre when that tragic event happened 19 years ago.
“A bizarre story, I don’t think it’s ever been told. So the building has obviously collapsed and we’re standing two blocks away. There’s six of us, teammates, and we all walked up to the upper east side where my brother was staying and we hadn’t spoken to each other.
“We were in total shock obviously at what we’d seen and Tony Liberatore was standing there and it might have been Craig Ellis as well. After that two and a half hours of not speaking to each other because we were just walking back, we hear these girls screaming. ‘What another plane has hit another building?’ But, Michael Jackson walks out of the Waldorf Astoria (luxury hotel), literally three feet from where I am standing and Tony Liberatore casually says, ‘Hi Michael’.
“And I am thinking I’ve just seen the two biggest buildings in America collapse and Tony Liberatore is having a conversation with Michael Jackson. I will never live a stranger day in my life.”