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'New England Strong' exhibit looks at role sports play in tragedy

Sporting events have a way of bringing people and communities together, especially in the aftermath of tragedy and loss. From 9/11 to the 2013 Boston Marathon, stadiums have served as common ground to help begin the long and difficult healing process.

"New England Strong," an exhibit in The Hall at Patriot Place, takes a look at the role Boston sports play in helping people cope with tragedies, both on the national and local level. The exhibit goes back to the first game at Gillette Stadium after September 11, the Bruins and Red Sox games after the Boston Marathon bombings and local stories of triumph. 

Executive Director of The Hall Bryan Morry said while the displays are powerful, they are designed to reflect, not relive, the tragedies.

"I just think this exhibit, it evokes emotion, but the intent was not to do it in a way that made you go back to September 11 and the actual tragedy, but to look at the aftermath of the tragedy, whether it was here at then Foxboro Stadium, and now Gillette Stadium, or even at Yankee Stadium," Bryan said.

With the main focus of "New England Strong" the aftermaths of the terror attacks in 2001 and 2013, former Patriot Joe Andruzzi's connection to both incidents brings them even closer to home. 

When the Twin Towers were struck, Joe's three brothers, all of whom are New York City firefighters, were among the first responders. Jimmy Andruzzi was in the North Tower when the South Tower collapsed and made it out less than a minute before the second building fell.

All three of Joe's brothers and his father took part in an emotional pregame ceremony in the Patriots first game back after the attacks. The game was at Gillette Stadium against the Jets, and Bryan said it was a powerful moment.

"You had the Jets and the Patriots out there with the Andruzzi brothers on the field, and it was almost like at that moment that rivalry didn't matter. It was about the players, the first responders, the real heroes all together at midfield with a sold-out crowd that was basically one big American flag," Bryan said. "I think in the aftermath of these things, athletic events and our local teams can have such a dramatic impact both by being a place where people can come to gather and by reaching out and taking initiatives, helping victims."

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Years later, Joe found himself in the midst of chaos. Joe was at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 and carried an injured woman to safety. That act of heroism was one that was echoed following the attack.

"When these things happen, we see the best in people," Bryan said. "When bombs go off at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, people spring into action."

In the days following the Boston Marathon, some of the most powerful "Boston Strong" moments came at sporting events, whether it was the crowd at the Bruins game singing the national anthem or David Ortiz proclaiming that Boston is "our [expletive] city."

"In any other city he would have been roundly criticized for doing what he did on the field in public at Fenway Park, but in that moment, it was a resounding collective, 'Yes, this is our city.' The athletes can convey that message because they represent the city," Bryan said. "You know, I'm just a piece of the puzzle here. No one knows who I am, but when David Ortiz or these players or Tom Brady stand up and convey a message on the city's behalf, that's powerful. It's been throughout history."

Despite the name of the exhibit, it stretches beyond the New England limits, including Whitney Houston's rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV and the New Orleans Saints in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 

"New England Strong" will be on display until July. For more information, visit http://www.thehallatpatriotplace.com/.

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