Tears, patriotism as NFL resumes
Monday, September 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
Kansas City Chiefs fans cheered the New York Giants. The secondary of America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, ran onto the field carrying the stars and stripes.
Rain-soaked fans in Chicago waved the mini American flags they received as they entered Soldier Field. Even the Cleveland Browns' dog-masked fan ``Big Dawg'' was subdued.
The NFL returned Sunday after a week off because of the terrorist attacks, with fans and players remembering the victims while getting back to the game they love.
``You have to have a life,'' said Atlanta Falcons fan Ginny Wehunt, who had a black team logo spray-painted on one cheek, and a red, white and blue ``USA'' on the other. ``You can't just stay at home and live in fear.''
Bears fan Tom Suchland said: ``Football will take your mind off the attacks, but it's going to stay in your heart.''
The fans willingly submitted to stringent security checks, which included bag searches, and many of them shed team jerseys in favor of the country's colors.
In Chicago, Ron Bernady shelled out $52 for two tickets to the Vikings-Bears game and $50 more on an American flag he wore around his shoulders like a cape.
Even the networks shed their jolly facade. Fox Sports' Jimmy Kimmel wore an ``FDNY'' T-shirt and talked of rescue efforts.
``I've never been more proud to be an American. I've never been more proud of our people,'' John Madden said.
One of the most moving ceremonies was in Kansas City, largely because of the Giants, whose practice field is about 10 miles from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center used to stand. Players could see the smoke from the attack site for days.
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue were among league and team officials wearing navy blue New York fire and police department caps. The officials, newly returned after their salary dispute was settled last week, also wore the caps before the game.
Once the game started, Giants coaches wore the hats on the sideline.
Tagliabue, born in New Jersey and a New York resident, thanked fans for their support.
``I know I can speak for the firefighters, police and safety officials when I thank all of you today who are honoring them, and most importantly who have supported them in such public and extraordinary ways in the last 10 days,'' he said.
Giants players received at least two loud ovations from Chiefs fans _ once as they headed back into the locker room after pregame stretching, and again when they took the field just before the game.
Most fans didn't seem to mind the inconvenience of tighter security.
``I think it's great,'' said Jody Rudd, who was asked to open her small purse by four security men wearing yellow jackets in Cincinnati. ``I'm glad that they're doing this.''
Not everything went perfectly.
Fans were told to come early. So in Jacksonville, Fla., Justin Wright and his father arrived about 9 a.m. and entered the stadium unfettered well before the security points were manned. A security guard found them and told them to leave.
``The security guard wasn't too forceful or wasn't real concerned that we were in there,'' Wright said. ``He was pretty lax about the whole matter.''
Some other fans found little difference.
``The security check was less than I expected,'' Suchland said in Chicago. ``We got here early figuring there would be long lines. But we got to our seats earlier than we ever do.''
In Cleveland, John Thompson, aka ``Big Dawg'' and one of the enduring symbols of Browns football, wasn't as enthusiastic as usual because of the circumstances.
``It's really hard to get into it,'' he said.