By Donnie Webb The Post-Standard
Earlier this year, Chris Byrne took his family to ground zero in New York and the site of the 9/11 Memorial. It was the first time since October 2001 that Byrne had set foot on the grounds of the former World Trade Center towers. It was the first time he’d been back to the place where his brother was killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
It was a powerful moment. And yet Byrne found peace in looking at the footprints of the two towers transformed by the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. As the Byrnes circled the reflecting pools, they searched the bronze panels edging the waterfalls that contain the names of more than 3,000 victims killed in the attacks.
They found the name they sought — Timothy G. Byrne. They created a paper impression of Tim’s name. The sound of the water was soothing. Chris felt a light mist of water on his face. It was if Tim was reaching out.
“It was something I needed to do,” Chris said about going back to ground zero. “It was very reassuring to the families of everyone who worked in those towers who were so proud to work there, Tim, especially.”
The Byrne family will gather in Syracuse today and tomorrow for another powerful moment. Tim Byrne is a former walk-on football player and graduate of Syracuse University. The school and the Syracuse Football Club are honoring Tim as the 2012 recipient of the Zunic Award.
It’s named in honor of former SU football player Mike Zunic and his wife, Judy, who were killed in a 1989 plane crash in Sioux City, Iowa, and is presented annually to a person or persons displaying courage, self-sacrifice and spirit.
Chris Byrne said the family is overwhelmed and touched by the honor.
“It’s probably the proudest moment we’ve had regarding Tim’s legacy since we lost him,” said Chris, 44, who lives in Northport and works in pharmaceutical distribution. “This August when I got the email that he was the award winner, I got chills. In the spirit of Mike Zunic and what he’s all about, it’s so fitting for Tim.”
In addition to being recognized on Saturday during Syracuse’s home football game against Louisville, there is a Zunic Award Dinner tonight at the Ramada Inn on Buckley Road. The cost is $25 and seats are available.
Byrne was a walk-on wide receiver at Syracuse under head coach Dick MacPherson from 1983 to 1986. He was a teammate of current Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone.
Byrne gave up football prior to his senior year in order to concentrate on graduating after the death of his father, Patrick. He returned to his home in Oyster Bay to be with his mother, Charlene. He completed his master’s at St. John’s and began working at Merrill Lynch.
Byrne took a job as a bonds salesman with Sandler O’Neil [sic] and worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower. He phoned his mother after seeing the first plane fly into the North Tower. She urged him to leave.
Chris said some fellow employees did evacuate, but Tim stayed, perhaps because the building was targeted in 1993 by a bomb and because emergency personnel were instructing workers to stay put. About 15 minutes later, a plane crashed into the South Tower between floors 77 and 85.
Chris said his brother’s work badge and wristwatch were recovered in the salvage and have been donated to the memorial.
Marrone invited Chris Byrne and his family to speak with the Syracuse football team before last season’s game against Rhode Island. Chris said he and his brothers were able to share with the Orange how much football meant to Tim and how the experience helped shape his character.
MacPherson saved several letters Tim sent him while he played football at Syracuse. Byrne would offer his coach updates about his summer training, his goals, his outlook. MacPherson returned the letters to the family. Chris said they were like messages in a bottle, a window into his brother’s life.
“We knew Syracuse football was everything to Tim,” Chris said. “It wasn’t until we lost him that it meant much more than we ever thought. It prepared Tim for much more than just football, and his experience at Syracuse was much more than football and more about the game of life and how he excelled in life because of being on that team. He cherished that opportunity.”
Byrne had nine brothers and one sister. He said his brothers Sean, Brian, James, Joseph, their families and a niece will be in Syracuse this weekend.
Tim would be 47 years old if he were alive today. Returning to the Carrier Dome, where Tim was a member of the Syracuse football team, and where he graduated in 1987, brings more peace to the members of his family.
“Since we lost Tim, we’ve had the burden of children and nieces and nephews, but in terms of Tim’s legacy, this is the pinnacle,” Chris said. “This is recognition and the highest tribute ever received by Tim, and it’s something we really believe is deserving of Tim because of the type of person he was. We’re absolutely thrilled to accept this award on his behalf.”
For further information about the awards dinner on Friday, contact the Syracuse Football Club at 884-4444.