Margiotta still at the game

Margiotta still at the game

 Margiotta still at the game
Monday, September 12, 2005

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The dead fire lieutenant's father was a little wobbly going over the railing.
Charlie Margiotta was plenty tough, as tough as he had to be, when he was playing for the old Clover Club in the early days of the Staten Island Touch Tackle League, and holding the new league together with his wit and his wits and a stiff backbone, when that's what it took.
Now he's 69, with an old catcher's knees, and a hole in his heart. His son Mike, the dead firefighter's brother, was quicker, even on two artificial hips.

But two hours before Giants-Cardinals, first day of football season in the old neighborhood, nothing was going to keep the old man from scaling that railing in a near-empty ballpark, and getting his first look at the bronze plaque affixed to a concrete wall behind the seats his family has occupied since the day they opened Giants Stadium:

"On Sept. 11, 2001 the New York Giants lost a fan
and the world lost a hero.
"Lt. Charles "Chuck" Margiotta F.D.N.Y."

For the Margiottas, the first day of football season has been a mixed bag since the day the highjackers drove the planes into the buildings, the way it has for a lot of people. Even on the days when the brothers and sisters of the dead aren't gathered on the other side of the river, taking four hours to read the roll of absent siblings, their voices quivering when they came to the names of their own loved ones.

When Dick Lynch, the old Giant defensive back who lost a son when the buildings came down, isn't holding the Stars and Stripes for a halftime salute to firemen, cops and soldiers; when the kid quarterback, Eli Manning, and Giant punter Jeff Feagles aren't breaking out the FDNY and NYPD baseball caps that the Mets and Yankees wore four years ago; when Tiki Barber isn't talking about playing for New York City, his adopted hometown.
"When you turn on the TV and see those people reading the names, it all comes back and hits you," Michael Strahan was saying after the Giants bottled the emotional residue from that red, white and blue halftime, and rode it to a 35-point second half and a 42-19 victory; the closest thing to a laugher the Meadowlands has seen in a long, long time.

As much as anybody, the Margiottas know what Strahan's talking about.
For them, whichever way the game turned out, it was going to be about two guys who wore number 40: Pat Tillman, the Cardinal defensive back who walked away from a million-dollar NFL contract to join the Army Rangers, and was killed in Afghanistan; and their own number 40, who wore that number in tribute to his 40 Truck Co. in Harlem, and whose jersey was retired at the first FDNY-NYPD football game after Sept. 11.

"For people like us, the wound is open every day," the father was saying.
"This is very hard. But those kids should all be remembered.

"They were all heroes, every one of them."
And now the Margiottas have that little bronze reminder, all because the dead fireman befriended an old man in an adjacent seat; and because the old man's grandson remembered, and did something about it.

That was Chuck Margiotta, too. He was the tough guy with the tattoos, who plowed every sidewalk on the block when it snowed, and ran into the street in his pajamas to help an old woman who had fallen; the hunter who once gave mouth-to-straw-to-beak resuscitation to a bird that had fallen from its nest.
"He's my strength," Charlie Margiotta was saying. "His life ... who he was ... his memory are what gets me through this life.
"Like a strong wind, pushing me from behind," he said.
By the end of the day, up in the last row of Section 125, the Margiottas were doing their best to lose themselves in the game.
"Chuck wouldn't want it any other way," his brother said, as the Giants heaped big play on top of big play -- a 95-yard kickoff return by Willie Ponder for one touchdown, a 52-yard punt return by Chad Morton for another -- each one generating its own momentum, creating a little more separation between them and the Cardinals.
Like a strong wind, pushing them from behind.

 Jay Price / Staten Island Advance