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NFL presses on after tragedy

By Andrew Mason

Audio: Commissioner Tagliabue's teleconference

(Sept. 13, 2001) — National healing comes in different forms at different moments, and in the days following the unprecedented terrorist attack on the United States, the league and its players generally felt the best path to healing was to stay off the playing field.

By Sept. 23, when the league plans to resume its operations with the scheduled slate of Week 3 games, both the NFL and its players believe healing can be best achieved by playing.

"At a certain point, playing our games will contribute to the healing process and our players recognize that," NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said at a teleconference less than six hours after the league announced that there would be no games the weekend of Sept. 16-17.

"I saw some footage of Brian Mitchell and other Eagles players on TV saying that this weekend — if they could — they would like to help work with the victims and people who have been severely hurt, but that by next weekend they can contribute to the healing process by playing."

NFL Players Association president Gene Upshaw and his organization concurred with the league's final decision.

"I know we made the right decision and the players support the Commissioner 110 percent on that decision," Upshaw said. "We needed this time; everyone needed this time.

"It was clear … that they were not focused on the task at hand that we needed to stop, we needed to pause, we needed to grieve."

Prior to this year, no full weekend of NFL action had been lost since the 1987 strike, when Week 3 was cancelled and not made up, leading to a 15-game season. The league played on in 1963 following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and on Dec. 7, 1941, as the league's games kicked off minutes after the Pearl Harbor attack, an incident unknown to many Americans until hours later.

Tagliabue confirmed that he did use the past as a guide, particularly the 1963 decision by Commissioner Pete Rozelle to play two days after Kennedy's death.

"I knew from conversations with him that (Rozelle had) spoken with (then-Kennedy aide) Pierre Salinger and others and had little time to make a decision," Tagliabue said. "I emphasized from our first conversation with owners that this was unprecedented and we had to take the time to understand why it was unprecedented; the loss of life and the magnitude of it among citizens."

The first crystallized portion of the decision to not play Week 2 regarded the teams in the cities most affected by Tuesday's series of disasters — the New York Giants, New York Jets and Washington Redskins.

"From the beginning it was clear we could not have games in New York or Washington or games involving the Giants, Jets and Redskins," Tagliabue said. "Other decisions were at the margin of what we concluded."

Tagliabue discussed the two alternatives for the games scheduled in Week 2. One choice involves playing the scheduled games during what would have been Wild Card Weekend — Jan. 5-7, and reducing the number of playoff teams from 12 to eight, eliminating the wild-card round and reverting to the playoff format used from 1970-77, with the playoffs being comprised of all division winners and two wild cards, one from each conference. The Commissioner acknowledged that many within the league and its teams believe following this plan is "important for competitive fairness."

The second alternative is to cancel the week, as was done in 1987, leaving a 15-game schedule. The absence of a bye week between the conference championships and Super Bowl XXXVI render these the sole two choices for resolving the schedule.

"We're looking at both options," Tagliabue said.

The choice the league makes remains utterly insignificant in the scheme of recent events, and while the league works toward a decision regarding the schedule, its focus remains with that of all Americans — in a collective state of grief and reflection the likes of which may be unparalleled in the nation's history.

"We should pause and make this a weekend to support our neighbors, friends, families, even strangers," Tagliabue said. "(We need to) grieve, gather our energies, become more resolute in what we do and become stronger as football players and citizens of the United States."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision garnered the full support of players and teams.
• Tragedy moves players to help

• The right choice: Reflect now, play later

• Players and coaches react

• Audio: Tagliabue's teleconference

• Media conference call transcript

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