- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

The NFL completed security planning yesterday for its return to action this weekend, and league officials pledged an "unprecedented" commitment to fan safety in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
The league will not force most fans to go through metal detectors as it did during Super Bowl XXV in 1991, played against the backdrop of the Gulf War. But a number of other restrictions are now in place, including a ban on the immediate flight space over stadiums that will ground even the famous Goodyear blimp, heavy parking restrictions in or near stadiums, searches of all bags brought to stadiums and a vastly increased show of police and stadium security personnel.
Similar to Major League Baseball and the NHL, the NFL is urging fans not to bring coolers or large bags and is reserving the right to send fans back to their cars to drop them off.
Also mirroring the other leagues, the NFL will not use metal detectors extensively. But a few stadiums likely will use portable detectors on a limited basis this weekend.
The heightened security could add as much as 30 minutes to the time fans need to enter an NFL stadium, said Milt Ahlerich, the league's senior director of security and a former FBI assistant director in charge of counter-terrorism.
"Security is now our No. 1 priority," Ahlerich said. "We think our fans are more than willing to put up with a little inconvenience to feel safe."
Though pro football is far and away America's most popular spectator sport, this weekend will test Ahlerich's remarks. In 36 baseball games played Monday through Wednesday the first since the Sept. 11 attacks the average attendance of 26,212 trailed the pre-attack average by 13.5 percent. Actual crowds for the already beleaguered Montreal Expos have failed to reach 1,000. And turnouts for NHL preseason games also have significantly trailed historical norms.
The Federal Aviation Administration-imposed flight restrictions, which apply to all major sporting events, will require that all planes within three miles of a stadium fly at an altitude of at least 3,000 feet.
The league plans to keep its security measures in place for the entire season and likely will increase them further for Super Bowl XXXVI, scheduled for Jan. 27 in New Orleans.
The NFL plan was created in conjunction with the FBI, FAA, Secret Service and other federal organizations.

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