Team Handball Profile: The Fitzgerald Brothers

Oct. 23, 2008, 12 a.m. (ET)

Thomas and Joseph Fitzgerald have lived the American dream. Although some people would recognize them as Olympic athletes, the Fitzgerald brothers shared the same international stage in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games as Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Johnson, and many other famous athletes.

The two brothers grew up in New York in a Catholic family. Their parents, Thomas and Grace Anne, worked in the church and the boys were altar boys until their senior years of high school.

It was during their high school years that they were introduced to the sport of team handball, thanks to competition of the Empire Games in New York State.  Tom, six years older than Joe, went on to play basketball for St. Bonaventure. Joe played quarterback and won a national Division III football title for Ithaca College.

After their collegiate athletic careers ended, Tom worked in business for an accounting firm in Atlanta. He eventually became a manager at Assante Life Management solutions in New York.

Joe, however, followed his faith and is now a father in the Catholic church. He still keeps himself in tip-top shape outside his religious duties, as he has recently completed the New York Marathon.

When Atlanta received the bid for the 1996 games, the brothers had the once in a lifetime chance to compete in the games as teammates USA Team Handball. It marked the last time the United States qualified for the sport in the Olympics.

Joe relished standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the 1996 opening ceremony in Atlanta with fellow U.S. Olympian Shaquille O'Neal. He also scored a goal against silver medalist Sweden in the openings rounds.

Tom, who has competed in over 277 international games, remembers Hall of Fame NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon coming to a team handball training session and commenting on how physical it was when he played handball growing up in Nigeria, and that he was glad that he played basketball instead.

Tom said of his Atlanta experience, "Having many of my family and friends able to share this experience with me was a dream come true!"

Unlike the lavish lifestyle the "Dream Team" basketball experienced, most members of the USA team handball took sabbaticals from their
regular jobs  and paid their own way to train and compete for their Olympic experience. They even cleaned their own latrines in their modest housing arrangements.

This humility has maintained with them as the lights faded since Atlanta. When asked to conduct an interview featuring the most dominant
player in U.S. men's team handball history, Tom replied, "I think it is more interesting to feature some of the new and upcoming players. I would rather read about them and their new energy to the sport."

And so the Olympic torch is being passed to new and unknown handball careers yet to be named with upcoming players in a possible 2012 London Olympics berth. The torch had to start somewhere, and did with a humble beginning of a priest named Joe and his older brother Tom, the accountant.