Eight months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the FDNY football team suited up to battle the NYPD in their annual game for charity. But in 2002, the Finest versus the Bravest game would take place at Giant’s Stadium so 15,000 fans could honor them as heroes.
As they trotted out to the field, the men reached up to touch a replica of the Notre Dame Football team’s “Play Like a Champion Today” banner that once belonged to Durrell “Bronko” Pearsall. Bronko, a former team captain, was one of 22 of the team’s players who was killed in the attacks.
Football was the center of Bronko’s life. His mother nicknamed him after Bronko Nagurski, a Hall of Fame fullback who played for the Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Starting on the gridiron as a lad, Bronko spent his life living up to that legend. He attended Long Island University C.W. Post campus where he played offensive tackle from 1988 – 1991.
After graduation, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a firefighter. After serving as a volunteer at the Hempstead Fire Department where he earned two medals of valor—one for pulling a woman out of a burning building—he joined the FDNY in 1993.
He was stationed at Rescue Squad 4 in Woodside, Queens. Not surprisingly, he became a captain for the FDNY football team and played tackle once again. He also was a drummer with the FDNY Emerald Society’s Pipe and Drums band. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 280 pounds, Bronko was known best for his jovial spirit. He led the FDNY football team in singing “The Wild Rover,” a traditional Irish song, after every game.
On Sept. 11, he was finishing his shift when the call came in about the World Trade Center emergency. Bronko immediately volunteered and responded to the towers. He was one of the 343 FDNY members who gave his life in the line of duty that day. He was 34.
After losing to the NYPD team in 2002, the Bravest huddled up in the locker room. Honoring tradition, they sang “The Wild Rover.” This time, they sang for their fallen brothers and especially for Bronko.
The jersey that Bronko wore when he played for the FDNY team is now a part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s collection. In 2014, a new stadium at the C.W. Post Campus was permanently dedicated to Durrell “Bronko” Pearsall.
By Jenny Pachucki, 9/11 Memorial Content Strategist