When The Gladiators Feel Helpless

LAKE FOREST, IL — The Bears felt as helpless and angry as everyone else in the country in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that led to the cancellation of Week 2 in the NFL, including a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"We feel as an organization that this is the right way to go,'' Bears president Ted Phillips said. "It's time to have a weekend where we can pause, reflect and be with family and think about the people who lost their lives. Our hearts go out to the families who have lost people, for those who have passed away and for those who are missing.''

The team had begun its normal practice routine on an anything but normal week when the NFL announced the decision to cancel or postpone games on the Thursday before the game. It was a relief to players around the league, who expressed in unison a desire not to play, especially players with the New York Giants, who were scheduled to host a game against the Green Bay Packers.

"I have a feeling no matter what would have been decided, I have a feeling we wouldn't have played,'' Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said. "The stadium, No. 1 has been used as a staging area all week. There have been ambulances here because you can't get them all in the city and there are trailers--I don't know what they have been used for, I don't want to ask.''

There are also automobiles in the Giants stadium parking lot owned by commuters who will never return to collect them.

"If you are on our practice field you have a full view of the New York skyline,'' Accorsi said. "Our players did not have their heart in it this week. We all have trouble focusing. It's just too much for these guys to bear and I don't think anyone felt like football.''

Many Bears players echoed the same thoughts. Receiver Marcus Robinson said he had no family or friends touched by the tragedy, but like the rest of the nation he felt numb when watching endless news reports that he somehow couldn't draw himself away from.

"You don't want to be out here on the practice field missing anything,'' Robinson said. "You want to be there at the TV with your family watching as America. And doing the things we're supposed to do in this tragic situation.''

Robinson said at first he felt the games should go on. The league needed to play in order to send a message to the terrorist that they were not going to change American life. But when he saw a report on one family killed in New York he changed his mind.

"There was this little girl and her mom on the plane,'' Robinson said. "They were supposed to be going to Disney Land. I'm looking and I'm thinking about my little girl and my wife. It was very sad. I think all of us as Americans right now are looking at it and saying it could have been my family.''

Shane Matthews described the events as "something that is going to change everybody's life.''

It certainly led to an NFL first. The league has only stopped play in season two other years--1982 and 1987-both times due to a players strike.

"Our priorities for this weekend are to pause, grieve and reflect,'' commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in announcing the games were off. "It is time to tend to families and neighbors and all those wounded by these horrific acts of terrorism.

"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.''

Tagliabue said the NFL will return on Sept. 23 "stronger than ever.''

Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian said the NFL was "trying to do the right thing.'' The league played games two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, a decision the late Pete Rozelle called his worse in 29 years as NFL commissioner. Tagliabue didn't want to make the same mistake, even though there was some political pressure to help the country return to normalcy.

While the decision was applauded around the league, it was far from unanimous. According to one written report a conference call vote among player representatives of the league's union went 17-11 in favor of not playing before the group finally settled unanimously on recommending that the games be cancelled or postponed.

There was similar disagreement among the owners with the N.Y. Giants Wellington Mara and Baltimore's Art Modell leading the call to cancel or postpone games, while other owners, including Washington's Daniel Snyder expressed the opinion that the games should go on for the good of the country.

In the end, the combination of sensitivity to victims and their families, security concerns, logistical issues and the will of the players proved too much for the NFL to overcome.

"I think we all need a chance to pause and reflect because this is something, obviously, that has made an impact on all of us,'' said Arizona coach Dave McGinnis, whose team had a bye in Week one and is the only NFL team yet to play.

Bears coach Dick Jauron said he could imagine all the difficulty teams were having around the country because the Bears had a couple of players who could not make it back after flying out Monday night for Tuesday's off day.

Ted Washington was in South Carolina; unable to rent a car in order to return to Chicago, while Autry Denson flew back to Miami to get some of his belongings.

Jauron wanted to play because he felt it was a way for the Bears to help.

"Under the circumstances it's been very difficult for everyone to concentrate, to stay focused on football,'' Jauron said. "This is really the only thing we have, the only way we can contribute.''

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