NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 31, 2002) -- The NFL will unfurl a patriotic-themed Super Bowl presentation Sunday bursting with stars, stripes and spirit. Former United States Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford will participate, as will superstar performers ranging from the Boston Pops to Paul McCartney. Less conspicuous, but perhaps more powerful, will be the presence of Joe Andruzzi's brothers.
Billy, Jimmy, and Marc Andruzzi will watch their brother play in America's biggest game from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's suite in the Superdome. The league invited the brothers to attend the Super Bowl before Joe's New England Patriots completed their unexpected trip through the AFC playoffs.
As the starting right guard and his teammates prepare for the biggest game of their careers, Joe may be the only player looking forward to the distractions that go along with the big game.
"It's going to be a great feeling when my family arrives," Joe said. "They'll be able to put everything behind them for a couple of days, so they don't have to think about things."
With the exception of Joe, the Andruzzi brothers all found their way into the Fire Department of New York. Jimmy, 30, was the first to join in 1995. Billy, the oldest brother at 32, joined in 1999. Marc, 24, is just beginning his career. Joe, 26, sought out a career in the NFL.
On Sept. 11, all were drawn to Ground Zero in Manhattan in body or mind.
Jimmy was one of the first firefighters to arrive at Ground Zero after the first plane struck Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. He and members of his Engine 5 squad remained in Tower 1 amidst explosions and mayhem, trying to work their way upstairs, even as Tower 2 collapsed. When radio calls urged Jimmy to get out, he escaped just seconds before Tower 1 collapsed. Many of his friends and more than 300 of his fellow firefighters did not make it out.
After hearing of the attack, Joe rushed to his Massachusetts home and watched the buildings collapse.
"It was a Tuesday. That's our off day," Joe said. "Actually, I went to the [dentist's] office. I heard about it and came home. My wife and kids were home and we turned on the television. I kept calling and calling but couldn't get a hold of anybody because the phones were down. I found out [that Jimmy was safe] about five hours later. I finally got a hold of somebody. My brother gave a number to somebody on the street and he called my parents. The guy was nice enough to call and tell them he was okay."
Jimmy was safe, but he had to return to Ground Zero to help in the massive rescue and recovery efforts.
When the NFL returned to action on Sept. 23, the Andruzzi brothers and their father Bill, a retired New York City policeman, were featured during the emotional pregame ceremonies and the National Anthem prior to the Jets-Patriots game.
Joe got back to football. His brothers went back to recovering their comrades.
Since Sept. 11, Joe Andruzzi has become one of the NFL's touchstones to the tragedy. As a result, Andruzzi has been asked few questions about playing the Rams. He has become the media's go-to guy for stories remembering the tragedies and triumphs surrounding Sept. 11. During Super Bowl media sessions, he is asked few questions about the Patriots' game plan and many about the game's role in furthering America's recovery.
"Yeah, I think so because of what happened afterwards when they canceled the first weekend [of games]," Joe said. "The following weekend, when sports came back, it was just about getting everybody back together, getting peoples' minds off of things. It should be a good thing and a big thing for our country."
An undrafted free agent out of Division II Southern Connecticut State, Joe took a roundabout journey to New England, including a stint in NFL Europe and an inactive role during Green Bay's appearance in Super Bowl XXXII before joining the Patriots in 2000.
On Sunday, he'll take the field for the biggest game in his life, but part of him will be with his brothers in that Superdome suite. After the game, Jimmy, Billy, and Marc will return to New York City -- back to the recovery effort, the memorial ceremonies, and the funerals.
"Time will heal all wounds, but it's going to take more time than usual because it's still going on down there," Joe said. "They will go a couple of days or a week and then find someone down there. It's not something you can easily put behind you. All of my brothers are still trying to do what they can for families that have lost loved ones. These guys are the real heroes."