Memories of 9/11 still fresh for Andruzzi

In a recent poll of American adults, 98 percent of the respondents said they can remember precisely where they were when they heard about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The family of Cleveland Browns guard Joe Andruzzi can do even 2 percent better than that.

"It's not the easiest thing to talk about, especially for my brothers," said Andruzzi, whose three siblings are all members of the New York City Fire Department, and played varying roles in responding to the attacks on the World Trade Center. "But at the same time, it's too hard a thing to forget. You think that maybe the [passage of time] kind of numbs things some. But it doesn't, really, not all that much."

Over the weekend, as the league kicked off its 87th season and the nation neared Monday's fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, NFL teams and players recalled the date in different ways. Everyone seems to have a story to tell or a loss to grieve over -- one staffer in the league's Manhattan offices lost her husband that day -- and for many, the wounds have not healed over very well at all.

Five years later, the memories are still fresh for Andruzzi, who was playing for New England at the time, and in the middle of a dental appointment on the Patriots' usual Tuesday off day when he heard about the jets hitting the two World Trade Center towers. He rushed home to watch the horrifying events on television with his wife, and then spent several hours attempting to contact his brothers.

One can only imagine for Andruzzi's three brothers -- Billy Jr., Jimmy and Marc -- how raw the emotions remain, even five years removed from what was arguably the darkest day in the history of this nation. One can only imagine because, for the most part, the Andruzzi brothers don't speak much about Sept. 11. And when they do, it is equal parts anger, bitterness and sorrow.

"It's not the easiest thing to talk about, especially for my brothers. But at the same time, it's too hard a thing to forget. You think that maybe the [passage of time] kind of numbs things some. But it doesn't, really, not all that much."
Joe Andruzzi, Browns OG

In just about every way possible, Sept. 11 is a scab America does not like to pick at. And the NFL, being the most American of sports, is hardly immune to that. For the Andruzzis, the most American of families, it's hard to look back, and on some days, just as difficult to look ahead.

There were 343 New York City firemen who perished at the World Trade Center that day, and by their estimates, the Andruzzi boys knew more than 200 of New York's bravest, making them far more than just nameless statistics. Jimmy Andruzzi was the first of the brothers to become a firefighter and a first responder at the World Trade Center's north tower after battling a relatively innocuous kitchen fire earlier that morning. He heard the first jet scream overhead as they returned to their station at Engine 5 in lower Manhattan, and escaped the collapsing rubble of the first tower by less than a minute.

Jimmy Andruzzi was on the 27th floor of the north tower, climbing a stairwell, when the south tower crumbled, and he was ordered to evacuate.

Bill Andruzzi Sr., a retired New York City policeman who obviously passed on his penchant for serving others to all of his sons, isn't a particularly complex man. But he understands that with the memories of Sept. 11, some too gruesome for his sons to retell (especially the recovery of body parts weeks after the towers fell), he and his family are dealing with a complex issue.

"I'm not a psychologist," Bill Sr. told the Akron Beacon-Journal a year ago. "Billy went through counseling and it helped. We tried to get it for Jimmy. He supposedly told us he went, but we really don't know. You do worry about it. You worry about it every day."

The Andruzzi boys are consummate New Yorkers, raised on Staten Island. And they are smart guys, all of them college educated. But college diplomas, a love for their hometown and its rhythm and diversity, and a close-knit family can't help them explain how Sept. 11 changed their lives.

At Super Bowl XXXVI, the championship game delayed for a week after commissioner Paul Tagliabue postponed the regular-season schedule following the terrorist attacks, the Andruzzi brothers were guests of the league. Weeks before that, they were cheered at Foxboro Stadium when play resumed following the postponed weekend of games. They are considered heroes, especially by their football-playing brother, Joe, but heroism comes with a price sometimes.

"I can always go back to playing football," Joe Andruzzi said. "But what these guys had to go back to, not just my brothers, but all those [firefighters], wasn't easy. And I don't know that, even with the time that has passed, it's gotten much easier."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.