- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

The 31 NFL teams returned to practice yesterday in preparation for this weekend's scheduled 15 games (San Diego has a bye), but the sentiment from players and coaches was against playing in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue spent much of yesterday talking to officials from the league and various teams, including Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Some NFL insiders believe the games will go on as planned, but NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw said it would be "not appropriate" to keep playing and that none of his 31 player representatives want to suit up this weekend.

"It's tough to keep your mind on strategy … when you've got prayer thoughts," said Atlanta's Dan Reeves, the NFL's most senior coach.

The NFL played its usual schedule just two days after President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. Although several college football games and other sporting events also went on as planned, the NFL was the target of the most criticism. And the decision to play the games came to be the biggest regret of Pete Rozelle's 29 years as NFL commissioner.

So it's understandable if Tagliabue, Rozelle's successor and former counselor, waits to see what his college conference counterparts and baseball commissioner Bud Selig do before deciding. Tagliabue also might be awaiting a signal from President Bush, the former co-owner of baseball's Texas Rangers, about when to resume.

With baseball apparently leaning toward resuming tomorrow after a three-day break, the NFL wouldn't look unseemly by playing its games Sunday and Monday. Tagliabue will give himself a big headache if he calls off the games; he doesn't have the luxury of the usual week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl as a makeup weekend. Moving the Super Bowl, set for Jan. 27 in New Orleans, is extremely difficult given the number of hotel rooms that need to be reserved far in advance. So if this weekend's games aren't played, either they or the lucrative wild-card playoff round would almost definitely have to be canceled.

Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick wants the NFL to keep its schedule intact this weekend.

"From a personal standpoint not as a coach but as an American we want to play," Billick said. "I don't want cowards to dictate what we do in this country. That's where my anguish is right now… . It's a no-win situation for the commissioner. I have to be respectful of whatever decision is made, but there's going to be somebody that questions it either way."

Still, many would gladly settle for a 15-game season as was played in the wake of the 1987 players' strike rather than flying this weekend following the use of four commercial airliners as weapons in Tuesday's wave of destruction. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has yet to say when the nation's airports will reopen completely. Mid-air flights redirected Tuesday were allowed to reach their original destinations yesterday, and others were admitted to airports only to pick up luggage at baggage claims.

"The last thing we want to do is get on a plane and go to California for a game when all four of those planes that were hijacked were going to California," said New York quarterback Vinny Testaverde, whose Jets are scheduled to play at Oakland on Sunday.

San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said league officials have told him that the 49ers might have to fly to New Orleans on Saturday instead of Friday. Also, since United lost one of its 767s in Tuesday's disaster, the 49ers might have to find an alternative plane to charter, and their equipment might have to be driven cross-country.

The Redskins are supposed to open their home season Sunday against Arizona at FedEx Field, about 20 miles from the partially collapsed Pentagon. The defending champion Ravens are scheduled to play host to their first Monday night game the next day against Minnesota. Security at all NFL stadiums will be heightened if games are played.

"If the commissioner and the president of the United States say, 'You're not playing this week,' we'll certainly respect that decision," Mariucci said. "If they decided that we should play to help jump-start the nation back on a normal sort of track, then certainly we'll do that, too."

The New York Giants arrived back at Newark Airport from Monday night's loss in Denver just hours before the attacks began, but several Jets didn't make it to practice yesterday after flying out of New York on Monday to take advantage of the usual day off for players Tuesday. Green Bay is scheduled to play on Sunday at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were visible until Tuesday's attacks.

The Browns said they will bus instead of fly from Cleveland to Pittsburgh on Saturday, but surface transportation isn't feasible for the Jets, Packers, Falcons, 49ers, Buffalo (playing at Miami); Dallas (at Detroit); Denver (at Indianapolis), Jacksonville (at Chicago); Kansas City (at Seattle) and Philadelphia (at Tampa).

* This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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