Tagliabue still undecided on NFL games

Thursday, September 13, 2001

NEW YORK -- NFL players and coaches are reluctant to play this week's games following the attacks in New York and Washington and several said Wednesday they were afraid to board airplanes.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue spent the day talking with owners, coaches and those outside the NFL, including members of the Bush administration. The league said a decision could be made today.

The consensus among those on the field appeared to favor calling off the games, even if it would mean a 15-game season. There is only one week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl this season, leaving little room for makeup games.

"There's a safety factor, whether it's flying or security at the stadium," Bengals tackle Willie Anderson said. "There's a lot of risk for having NFL teams traveling this weekend. ... To think about playing a game this weekend -- that's kind of hard."

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players' Association, said he had not heard from a single player who wanted Sunday's games to go on. He said he had talked with player representatives from all 31 teams.

"We're still going through a state of mourning," Upshaw said.

Tagliabue's decision may involve one made by his predecessor 38 years ago. The late Pete Rozelle often said that the choice he regretted most was the one to play NFL games two days after President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

"I heard about what happened when JFK got shot and how the NFL continued to play," Jacksonville receiver Jimmy Smith said. "Just going by that, I would maybe cancel this week's games and resume the following week, just out of respect for those who were hit by this."

But beyond that was the reaction of players and coaches who said they couldn't concentrate on football or were simply afraid of more terrorism -- either in the air or at stadiums filled with 60,000 or more fans.

"I think all the games should be canceled this week," said Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, whose team is scheduled to fly across the country to Oakland. "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."

"I'm sure it will be in the back of all of our minds, even though the planes are chartered and the whole nine yards," Smith said. "Still, just the fact of getting on a plane will be in the back of our minds. It will be tough."

But Baltimore coach Brian Billick said he thought the games should be played.

"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."

Some players and coaches knew people who worked in the World Trade Center. Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin's son was one of those who managed to escape.

Others players were stranded. Several members of the Jets flew elsewhere Monday night for their Tuesday day off and were unable to return.

"It's not hard to read the team," Jets center Kevin Mawae said. "Everything we've talked about in here is not the Raiders. It's, 'Who saw what?' 'Who did it?' That's the main focus."

That sentiment was expressed all over the NFL.

"It's tough to keep your mind on any kind of strategy as far as football is concerned," said Atlanta coach Dan Reeves, who said a friend who worked in the World Trade Center was missing. "Gosh, I'm 57 years old, and I've never come close to having anything like this happen. Its just unheard of.

"Its hard to think about football when you've got prayer thoughts, people that you love and care for, children, its tough."

Logistics also appear to be a factor, particularly with planes grounded Tuesday and Wednesday.

San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said he had been told that the team might have to fly Saturday instead of Friday to New Orleans. He also said that the United Airlines 767 the team normally charters might not be available because one of the airline's fleet of 10 was hijacked and hit the World Trade Center.

Mariucci also said the league had told him the team would have to be at the airport three hours before the scheduled departure time. And he said they might not be able to take their equipment on the plane with them, forcing them to drive it to New Orleans.

But Mariucci said he will do whatever he's told to.

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

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