- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue yesterday called off this weekend's 15 games, including the Washington Redskins' home opener against Arizona scheduled for Sunday, because of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"After two days of reviewing our priorities, we concluded that given the despicable acts of terror and the horrific loss of life, we should pause and take this weekend to support our neighbors, families, friends and even strangers, to grieve and to re-channel our energies," Tagliabue said in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

Tagliabue made the decision after an 11 a.m. conference call that included such owners as Baltimore's Art Modell, Wellington Mara of the New York Giants, Kansas City's Lamar Hunt, Denver's Pat Bowlen, Woody Johnson of the New York Jets and Jacksonville's Wayne Weaver.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder had a conference call with Tagliabue on Wednesday. Tagliabue said that from the start he had decided that the Redskins, Giants (whose stadium is within sight of what used to be twin towers of the World Trade Center) and Jets wouldn't play this weekend while other teams might, depending on community sentiment. But ultimately, the commissioner decided all games should be erased.

After the NFL made its choice, other organizations quickly followed suit. Major League Baseball which apparently had been planning to return to the fields today pushed that back until Monday. NASCAR called off the New Hampshire 300. All of tomorrow's college football games also were suddenly scrapped. And Major League Soccer canceled the remainder of its regular season.

"Some [NFL owners] wanted to wait to see what baseball was going to do, but we are the leading league and have been for a long time," Modell said. "I take great pride in what we mean to the country. We're not waiting for [baseball commissioner] Bud Selig to tell us what to do. We may have forced baseball's hand a little bit."

Tagliabue said the White House didn't try to influence his decision, but that he was affected by New York Gov. George Pataki's advice about not needing to rush back to sporting events at the first opportunity.

"It came down to playing football in the right way," Tagliabue said.

"It's kind of like a church on Sundays for America to watch the NFL," added Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie. "The church on this Sunday shouldn't be about cheering for one team over another. It should be supporting all the victims and their families and friends."

Tagliabue was joined on the conference call by NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, with whom he had been in constant contact since the attacks began.

"I know we made the right decision," said Upshaw, whose player reps reportedly voted 17-11 (three were absent) not to play during a Wednesday night conference call. "It was clear the players were not focused on the task at hand. We needed to stop and grieve and not play this weekend. Next week we'll play, and that will be part of the healing process."

Some, notably Ravens coach Brian Billick and Dallas halfback Emmitt Smith, wanted to start that process this weekend to provide a distraction for a wounded and grieving nation.

"The best way other than to give blood or money is probably to go out and play so people can get a break from what they're looking at and maybe watch this," said Smith, whose Cowboys were supposed to visit the Lions.

Detroit kicker Jason Hanson took the opposite tack.

"[Calling off the games] is an entirely appropriate decision," Hanson said. "The logistics and security issues [that were most raised by the Jets players, who didn't want to board a plane to Oakland] were important, but the most important issues are the magnitude of what happened and the need to mourn and grieve as a nation this weekend."

Thirty eight years ago, then-Cleveland Browns owner Modell couldn't convince commissioner Pete Rozelle to cancel games just two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Rozelle came to regret that decision, and Modell was pleased to see Tagliabue go the other way this time.

"I heartily endorse the decision," said Modell, who praised Upshaw and the players for raising their voices against playing. "A big factor was the profound effect this tragedy had on the Giants and the Jets and, secondarily, the Redskins. Wellington Mara said this morning that you could go to the upper deck of Giants Stadium and still see the smoke from Manhattan. It was a pretty terrifying sight."

For the first time in years, no off week exists between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, a slot to which games could have been moved. Tagliabue now must decide whether to make up this weekend's games during the first weekend of January which would eliminate the first playoff round and make for four fewer wild-card entrants or to play a 15-game schedule (although San Diego, idle this week, would play 16 games) as was done during the 1987 strike season.

Modell, for one, would prefer the first option in part because the Ravens would regain their nationally televised home game with the Vikings. That seems to be the general feeling around the league.

Since the extra wild cards were added in 1990, those teams have gone 10-34 in the playoffs with none reaching the Super Bowl. Only Indianapolis in 1995 and Jacksonville in 1996 made it as far as the conference title game.


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