TE Marco Battaglia (in visor) gives a pep talk to the NYPD football team before it's 41-0 blanking of the Tampa Bay Posse
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Marco Battaglia, who grew up in the shadow of the World Trade Center, felt the effects of September 11th more acutely than some. If there is lingering pain over the events of that day for Battaglia, some of it was eased on Saturday, when he served as honorary captain for the visiting New York City Police Department football team in their game against the Tampa Bay Posse.
Battaglia was joined at the game by Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King, a St. Petersburg native who captained the Tampa Bay Posse. The game was a part of the National Public Safety Football League (NPSFL), a union of public safety agency football teams from around the United States. The teams in the NPSFL compete against one another to promote a positive image in the public and raise funds for charity.
Even before Saturday's game begin, Battaglia made sure everyone knew where his loyalties lay, even though he became a Buccaneer earlier this spring. "I came out to support the NYPD, because New York's Finest is home for me," said Battaglia. "These guys are heroes and this is definitely a heroes' game out on the field today."
Obviously supportive of the NYPD as well, King nevertheless made it clear which side he was pulling for, as he mixed freely with the Posse players. "I know about 10 guys out here today (on the Tampa Bay Posse)," said King. "Some from high school and some from around the neighborhood, so you know who I'm rooting for."
With the battle lines drawn and the game underway, King and Battaglia were both impressed with the quality of play and the level of intensity on the field.
"It's good to see guys out here playing just because they love the game," said King. "There are some quality players on the field today."
Battaglia was quick to second King. "It just shows you how, when you take the game and its bare essentials, how much fun it can be and how much passion people have for it," said an impressed Battaglia. "I've been talking with a bunch of the (NYPD) guys and they are just so pumped up about this game. It's great."
The events of September 11th were also a subject of conversation between Battaglia and the men on the NYPD sideline. Each player had a different story about where they were that morning and how the events had affected their lives.
"Growing up in New York I knew a lot of people who worked in the Towers and were in and out of there constantly," said Battaglia. "I was fortunate not to be there when it happened, but I still have the same feelings about that day as any New Yorker. The first time I went back, it was amazing to see the skyline without those buildings, I grew up with those buildings, seeing them every day. It was a very weird feeling."
The passion on the field may have been equal on both sides, but the score was somewhat lopsided at halftime, with the NYPD ahead 28-0. Even with that deficit, however, King kept his hopes up for a possible Posse comeback. The native Floridian suggested that the oppressive heat might wear the NYPD players down.
"Hopefully, the weather will work out for us," said King at the intermission. "Right now it doesn't look too good, but you never know what can happen in the second half."
On the other sideline during the break, Battaglia was confident that his team could hold on to a four-touchdown lead. That was good for the Buc tight end, as there was a little more at stake than just pride.
"Shaun and I made a gentleman's bet before the game," said Battaglia. "So it looks likes he is going to owe me a dollar tomorrow."
As the game progressed and the players got more comfortable with Battaglia, the talk turned to the lighter side of things and the pizza in the Tampa Bay area compared to New York.
"My dad owns a pizzeria in New York (Nino's), right near the 103rd Precinct," said Battaglia. "So obviously, I think my dad makes the best pizza. Nobody makes pizza like my father. I also told the guys to keep an extra eye out for his place and stop by and have a slice."
Stephen McAllister, the general manager for New York's Finest, as the NYPD is known, was excited to have Battaglia come out to support his guys.
"We got a big kick out of having Marco out here," said McAllister. "He's a true New Yorker, from Howard Beach and we have a bunch of guys that went to the same school as he did and grew up in the same neighborhood. It's just great to have a guy come out and show support for his home team."
In the end, a comeback wasn't in the cards. The NYPD team, with the word 'Finest' emblazoned across the chest of uniforms that resembled the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, eventually walked off with a 41-0 victory over the Posse.
On this day, the NYPD proved that they were, indeed, the Finest on the field.