NFL calls off weekend games, saying priority now is to 'grieve and reflect'

Thursday, September 13th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

The National Football League on Thursday called off all 15 games this weekend, saying it was a time for grief and reflection on the ``horrific acts of terrorism'' in New York and Washington.

The league said it was undecided whether to reschedule the games or go with a 15-game season.

``We in the National Football league have decided that our priorities for this weekend are to pause, grieve and reflect,'' commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a statement. ``It is a time to tend to families and neighbors and all those wounded by these horrific acts of terrorism.''

The World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on Tuesday have left the nation's sports leagues struggling with how to get back to business without offending a nation mourning its dead.

The decision from the NFL, which was criticized for playing two days after the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, had been anxiously anticipated.

The affected games include 14 on Sunday _ from Oakland, Calif., to the nation's capital and East Rutherford, N.J., near New York _ and Monday night's game at Baltimore.

At Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, where smoke from the trade center disaster is visible 10 miles away, New York Giants coach Jim Fassel called his team into a huddle and told them Sunday's home opener with Green Bay was off. The players went to the sidelines, took off their shoulder pads and resumed practice at a slower pace.

The postponement was the first for non-strike reasons by the NFL.

Tagliabue spent Thursday morning on a conference call with team owners to discuss the options. Afterward, he said: ``A decision on whether to reschedule this weekend's games or play a 15-game season schedule is under consideration and will be announced as soon as possible.''

Opinion among players and coaches had been divided, but many players wanted the games called off.

``If we do play Sunday, it looks like: 'Those damn football players. All they care about is their money,''' said Phil Hansen of the Buffalo Bills. ``You know what? I'll forgo my weekly paycheck. This is serious.''

Others thought the NFL should set an example for terrorists.

``From a personal standpoint _ not as a coach but as an American _ we want to play,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. ``I don't want cowards to dictate what we do in this country. That's where my anguish is right now.''

Said Tagliabue: ``We understand those individuals in sports who want to play this weekend. We also can empathize with those who want to take the weekend off and resume their personal lives and professional careers next week. We strongly believe that the latter course of action is the right decision for the NFL.''

Many players expressed a reluctance to fly after four planes were hijacked and three were crashed into targets. Others knew victims of the attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center.

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