Those of us who live in New York City have been invited to attend the funerals of firefighters lost in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack, since the sheer number of funerals has made it impossible for the full complement of traditional mourners — other firefighters, city officials, and so forth — to be present. And so I found myself at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Nov. 8 for the funeral of Firefighter Durrell Pearsall of Rescue 4, a big man who, I learned, was known as Bronk.
I also learned, in a eulogy of stunning eloquence delivered by Fire Lt. Mike Myers, that few things in life meant more to Bronk than the University of Notre Dame and its football team.
“Notre Dame was like the Vatican to Bronko,” Myers told the packed catherdral.
It wasn’t until two years ago that Pearsall made his first visit to the campus, and he and Myers quickly found their way to the football stadium.
“Before you knew it,” Myers said, “he’d made friends with the equipment manager, and not long after that he talked his way into the Notre Dame locker room. Bronk might as well have been in heaven. He was in absolute awe as he thought of all the great football heroes who had suited up there and couldn’t believe it when he got to slap the famous ‘Play Like a Champion Today’ sign. And then still more. He actually got to walk onto the playing field, which was a dream come true for him.”
Myers paused a moment, before he concluded: “We know now that on Sept. 11 Bronk showed what it really means to ‘Play Like a Champion.’ And that day, too, he proved that he was as great a hero as ever walked on the field at Notre Dame.”
Jerry Costello is president of The Christophers, New York City.