A New York City firefighter who became a surrogate dad to the children of his best friend and fellow firefighter who died on Sept. 11 was today recognized for his selflessness by the star players of his most beloved sports team, the New York Jets.
"From one dad to another, I want to wish you an early Happy Father's Day," former New York Jets superstar Joe Namath said to Lt. Larry Mack in a taped message that aired during a live surprise event today on " Good Morning America."
Mack was surprised at his firehouse this morning with an ultimate tailgate party that featured New York Jets' cheerleaders, former Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, his own two children and the six children of his late friend, Lt. Vinnie Halloran.
"I'm just blown away," Mack said on "GMA," which threw the tailgate party to kickoff its "Big Daddy of All Surprises" week to honor outstanding fathers.
After Halloran died, Lt. Mack stepped in to help his friend's family, who lived near his own in Putnam County, New York. He took the Halloran children camping with his own family, spent time with them on weekends and shared with them the love he and their father shared for the Jets, whose home games they attended together often.
"I love those kids like my own," Mack said.
At today's tailgate party, Chrebet saluted Mack for his exemplary fatherhood and told him the team was throwing him the ultimate fan experience.
The Jets will host Mack, his family and the Hallorans in a private luxury suite for the New York Jets game against the Chicago Bears Monday, Sept. 22.
Jets' Center Nick Mangold will also personally give the group a private tour of the team's practice facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
'He Helped Keep Everything Together When We Couldn't'
The Hallorans are grateful to Mack for all his support through the years since their father died.
"After my father passed away, he was someone who really stepped in," Kieran Halloran, now 24, said. "He drove over, picked up a priest along the way to comfort my mom."
Connor Halloran, now 26, said his family went through a tough time.
While many people sent notes of condolence or a casserole, Mack "was there in a much more real way," Connor Halloran said. "And he helped keep everything together when we couldn't."
His brothers, Declan and Jake, said Mack was a kind of father to them. Not only did he take them on trips and hockey games, but he was a role model for them and their siblings.
"He's done so much for everyone around him and he has his own family through all of this. And for a lot of people managing your own is a lot," Jake said.
Mack's own children, 25-year-old Bryan and 22-year old Candice, are proud of their father for helping the Hallorans, and the Hallorans say they will never forget what Mack has done.
"I love him … his smile is like contagious and you just can't help be happy whenever you're around him," Phelan, the 12-year-old daughter Vinny Halloran never met, said of Mack.
"I used to call him Uncle Larry when I was younger and I didn't even know that if he was or wasn't my uncle," she added, laughing.
Jake Halloran said Mack is happy when he's giving to others. He called Mack's selflessness "an incredible example" to him and his siblings. "He himself is the gift and he gives that to my family … and so many other people," Jake Halloran added.
Kieran Halloran says he knows Mack never had to do what he did for them. "I'd like to thank him for being around," added Declan Halloran.
Mack is loved by her entire family, Marie Halloran said.
"The kids might not say it and I might not say it but he's important to us and he's a great example for his children," she said. "He's a great example for my children … we're better for knowing him and having him in our lives."