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Football: Anniversary carries extra meaning for Bailey, son of 9/11 first responder
Sean Bailey
Sean Bailey’s father, Steve Bailey, was a first responder in New York during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Photo courtesy East Carolina Athletics

Every game is important for Sean Bailey.

But East Carolina’s game Saturday against South Carolina will carry extra meaning.

That’s because Bailey will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with his parents in the stands, two decades after his father served as a first responder during one of the darkest days in American history.

“Every Saturday is important when we’re playing, but this day is obviously pretty impactful on my family,” Bailey said during media availability this week. “I’ve gotten to play on Sept. 11 once before, and it was pretty special back then. I think it’s going to be really special on Saturday with it being the 20th anniversary.”

Bailey, who graduated from Lambert in 2016, is now a redshirt senior and the Pirates’ starting right guard.

Twenty years ago, Bailey’s father, Steve Bailey, was one of thousands of firefighters who raced to the World Trade Center looking to rescue anybody they could find.

Sean was too young in 2001 to comprehend the magnitude of the event – he estimates he was around 3 or 4 years old – but he began to understand more as he grew older and his father would share memories.

“Growing up, I guess it was kind of the PG version – showing me his helmet and some other things he found when he was digging. That was kind of it,” he said. “As I’ve been getting older, I’ve been getting more and more of the rated R version. It’s amazing the hell that they went through and continue to live their lives afterward.”

Sean sports multiple tattoos commemorating 9/11 first responders, including one on his right bicep honoring Engine 84, Ladder 34.

Steve retired shortly after 9/11, and the family moved to Georgia in 2004.

Steve was diagnosed with cancer when Sean was in seventh grade, then four years later, was diagnosed with leukemia.  

“It’s brought us closer, me and my dad. Every moment that we share together is a little bit more special,” Sean said. “It was kind of a propelling factor into me trying to play college football. I always wanted to, but that moment when he got sick kind of pushed me to work a little harder and try to put a better show on for him on the field.”

Sean actually played on Sept. 11 once before, in 2015 during Lambert’s 45-36 win against Centennial. He was credited with 16 pancake blocks that game, as the Longhorns racked up 412 rushing yards.

Five months later, Sean signed with East Carolina and has been a force on the Pirates’ offensive line since.

Saturday’s home game against South Carolina will be Sean’s 19th start for the Pirates. He’s sure there will be plenty of emotion prior to the game, but after kickoff, it will be all football.

“It’s exciting and it’s special,” he said. “In pregame, I’ll probably be a little jittery and out of my mind, but once it’s time for kickoff, I think I’ll be able to shut it out and just play.”