Ravens dazed by N.Y. visit

Ground zero shocks players, D. Modell

October 03, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- This time, the Ravens huddled in silence.

Four players from the Super Bowl champions -- Ray Lewis, Tony Siragusa, Peter Boulware and James Trapp -- and team president David Modell canvassed the ruins of the World Trade Center yesterday and took a moment to reflect.

Joining city policemen, firemen and rescue workers in a small circle at ground zero, the players bowed their heads for a moment of prayer amidst the twisted metal and piles of rubble.

"Father, I pray we never forget," team chaplain Rod Hairston told the group.

The Ravens went on a full-day mission of comfort and encouragement.

They shook hands at a police station and firehouse, autographed hard hats of rescue workers and gave hugs at the family center, where people are awaiting word of missing loved ones.

"This will forever change my life," said Boulware, a starting outside linebacker. "When you come down and see the mass destruction with your own eyes, that's when it hits you. To know I'm at ground zero and up under my feet, there's still a thousand people right there, it really puts our life and our priorities into perspective."

The reality of the trip hit within minutes of arriving in Manhattan, as they walked into the family center and viewed hundreds of photos of those still missing plastered on a wall.

Basil Thorpe was just about to put up a picture of his 23-year-old daughter, Nichola, when Trapp came up and put his arm around him.

"For the first time, we see there is so much love," Thorpe said.

The wall contained wedding photos, prom pictures and portraits of fathers and mothers holding their children. But the handwritten messages like, "Have you seen my Daddy?" and "I miss my wife," truly tugged at the Ravens' emotions.

"People don't understand what's going on here," said Lewis, the All-Pro linebacker. "This is a tragedy. I've cried five times literally just reading the wall."

The mood of the people there seemed to make a more lasting impression than the crumbling buildings around them.

"From the families to the counselors to the people serving food there, all had this deflated, distant look in their eyes," Modell said. "It was so heartbreaking."

The Ravens chatted with hundreds of family members and city workers, handing out T-shirts and offering their thank you's.

They consoled Richard Caproni, whose son was working on the 98th floor of the first World Trade Center tower and remains missing. And they listened to Phil Burns, the commander of the firefighters' 11th division, which has lost 51 men.

"All I can do is shake a hand and try to encourage," Boulware said. "I really don't think I'm doing anything special. I'm just happy to say maybe I brought a smile to somebody today."

Said Lewis: "You light up their day because they're around death everywhere. And we know that."

Siragusa lightened the atmosphere in typical fashion. Approaching the policemen and firefighters, he asked, "So, where's the Giants' fans?"

The Ravens defeated the New York Giants in last season's Super Bowl, and Siragusa was more than happy to flash them his ring. At a fire station a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site, the players sat and ate doughnuts while Siragusa passed around his ring.

"I think it's very uplifting for all of us here," said John Codiglia, a New York City policeman assigned to ground zero. "It takes our mind from work here. Sometimes we need diversion from this tragedy. It helps you to reattach to the normal world. There's not a lot of smiles usually."

A feeling of helplessness touched the Ravens when touring the World Trade Center wreckage. While workers continued their search for bodies, the Ravens received a closer look than previous visitors, coming within steps of one of the gaping holes left by a World Trade Center tower.

The Ravens gazed in amazement as one of the workers pointed to the spot where they recovered the bodies of 14 firefighters the other day.

"It was a thousand times worse than I thought it was," said Siragusa, who grew up about 20 minutes from the city. "I've been to the World Trade Center a hundred times, and I looked up and there's nothing there. It was sort of sad to see the buildings gone, but it was encouraging to see all the people coming together.

"I've felt like I wanted to jump on something and start digging."

Before the players left the World Trade Center site, each signed a flag hanging on the side of a construction trailer.

Lewis wrote: "Words won't do it. Let's make a change."

By the end of their visit, the Ravens hoped they did that in some way.

"A lot of people said it would be hard to go there," Siragusa said. "But it was harder to leave."

NOTE: Because of increased security at the stadium entrances, the Ravens are asking fans to arrive early for Sunday's game against Tennessee. Gates open at 11 a.m. Bags, backpacks, large purses, fanny packs and large camera cases will not be permitted inside the stadium. Fans arriving with these items will be asked to return them to their cars.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

The line: Ravens by 3 1/2

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