February 2, 2002

Super Bowl Tribute to Fallen Son

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 3:09 p.m. ET

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Sundays were a tradition of family and football for the Ottens. Especially Super Bowl Sundays, when they really whooped it up.

This Sunday, the tradition continues at the Super Bowl, but New York City firefighter Michael Otten, killed in the World Trade Center, will be there in memory only.

``Super Bowl was always a big family thing to us,'' said Michael Otten's father, Dick Otten, 65. ``We have a family pool -- 50 cents a square. Somebody would make chili, somebody would make sandwiches. We always dreamed of going to the game, really being there.''

Michael Otten, 42, a third-generation firefighter, was one of 11 firemen from Manhattan's Ladder Co. 35 that responded to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and never returned. He's officially listed as missing.

This year Dick Otten, his son Richard, 32, and Michael's sons, Christopher, 12, and Jonathan, 9, will be at the Super Bowl. The family was brought to the game by American Sports Partners, which provides corporations with hospitality packages at sporting events. The move was to honor all the firefighters lost in the terrorist attacks.

The Ottens arrived two nights before the Super Bowl, wearing jackets and baseball hats from Ladder Co. 35. Dick Otten will wear his son's official company jacket to the game.

``This means a lot to us, especially the kids,'' Dick Otten said. ``There were people around at first. Then there were things happening. They renamed the street (in Deer Park, N.Y.) we live on for Michael. Then the holidays came and they were tough, and since then, it's been pretty much down for us.''

On Saturday Michael's sons fidgeted in a hotel lobby, waiting for a riverboat trip planned for the day -- and waiting for the game.

``That's the best part, going to the game,'' Christopher said. ``I want it to be time for it now.''

Dick Otten and his sons went to Tampa in 1991 for the Super Bowl.

``We thought we'd be able to get tickets from a scalper and go to the game,'' he said. ``We couldn't, so we ended up going to an Irish bar and watching it on TV.''

Dick and Richard Otten still fight back tears when they talk about Michael or about Sept. 11.

``I know he's gone, that doesn't surprise me, because he's the kind of guy that would have rushed there even if he'd been off that day,'' Richard Otten said. ``But it's still hard to believe he's gone.''

Michael Otten would hate having a fuss made over him, Richard Otten said. He'd be uncomfortable with the tributes, the honors, the flowery praise and complimentary rhetoric. He would have loved a chance to go to the Super Bowl, though.

``It's the kind of thing Michael and probably everyone of those guys that walked into that building would have loved,'' Richard Otten said.

So, at gametime, the Ottens, wearing gear from Ladder Co. 35, including Michael's jacket, will be very much aware of the man missing from their celebration.

``He would have been the loudest and the happiest one of us there,'' Dick Otten said. ``I still miss him everyday. I'll miss him at the game most of all.''