- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) The NFL will not play its 15 games this weekend following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

League vice president Joe Browne did not say whether the games were canceled or postponed.

Pat Hanlon, vice president of communications for the New York Giants, said: “I wouldn't use the word canceled, but we're not playing this weekend.''

The postponement was the first for non-strike reasons by the NFL, which played two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Commissioner Pete Rozelle said that was the worst decision he made in 29 years in office.

Opinon among players and coaches had been divided. But many players wanted the games called off.

“If we do play Sunday, it looks like: 'Those damn football players. All they care about is their money,''' Phil Hansen of Buffalo said yesterday. “But we don't have a choice in the matter. The NFL's going to decide. You know what? I'll forego my weekly paycheck. This is serious.''

Others thought the NFL should set an example for terrorists.

“From a personal standpoint not as a coach but as an American we want to play,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. “I don't want cowards to dictate what we do in this country. That's where my anguish is right now.''

Many players expressed a reluctance to fly after four planes were hijacked, three of them crashed into targets.

Others knew victims of the attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center.

I got a couple tough calls this morning,'' Tennessee quarterback Neil O'Donnell said yesterday. “We'll wait and see. The people who I knew up top didn't have a chance, from what I'm told.''

The NFL did not immediately explain if transportation and security were among the reasons for its action.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue spent this morning in a conference call with NFL owners to discuss the options.

The first indication of the decision came from Giants Stadium, which is being used as a staging areas for rescue and recovery vehicles from the attacks that leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Smoke from the disaster can be seen from the stadium, about 10 miles away.

Around 11:20 a.m. EDT, John Mara, the team's executive vice president, came running from his office in the stadium to the practice field, where he talked for about five minutes with coach Jim Fassel. A few minutes later, Hanlon told reporters that Sunday's games were off.

Fassel then called his team into a huddle and told them that Sunday's home opener with Green Bay was off.

Tagliabue spent yesterday conferring with owners, aides and members of the Bush administration. Gene Upshaw, the president of the NFL Players Association, who also spoke with the commissioner, and said he thought the final decision would be based on what the president advised Tagliabue to do.

Upshaw, who lives in the Washington area and saw the damage done to the Pentagon, said he talked with all 31 player representatives, almost all of whom wanted Sunday's games called off.

Tagliabue had several factors to consider.

One was Rozelle's decision after Kennedy's assassination 38 years ago.

Another was that there is no off week between the championship games and the Super Bowl this season, making it unlikely for the league could make up games. That could mean that 30 teams would play 15 games, with San Diego, scheduled off this week, playing 16.

A third was the reaction from some coaches and players who said that calling off the games would be giving in to terrorism.

Others simply thought it was too dangerous.

The Jets, Giants and Redskins were particularly affected by the attacks.

“It's something you would expect to see in a movie, but it's real life,'' offensive tackle Lomas Brown of the Giants said. “It makes you sick to your stomach. Every day, I would wake up and see the skyline. Now it's not the same skyline. It's a weird feeling.''

Like O'Donnell, some players and coaches knew or were related to people who worked in the World Trade Center. Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin's son was one of those who managed to escape.

Cleveland cornerback Lewis Sanders' father worked on the 70th floor of the building. He too got out safely, but Sanders spent two hours pacing until he heard his father made it.

San Francisco offensive tackle Dave Fiore, who grew up in New Jersey, also was worried.

“I've been on the phone trying to find out if my friends and family are all right,'' he said Wednesday. “There are still a lot of people that hopefully we can get in touch with.''


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