To Play Or Not To Play, That Is The Question

September 12 – One day after the United States of America came under the devastating attack of terrorists, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started to prepare for their home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. But while the coaches and players are preparing for Sunday's game, they are also patiently awaiting the NFL's decision on whether or not to cancel this weekend's games.

After the tragic events that transpired on Tuesday subsided, President Bush asked all Americans to go about their business on Wednesday as usual and return to work. Like many Americans, One Buccaneer Place went back to work.

Tuesday is usually the players' day off during the regular season, but while coaches were preparing a game plan for Sunday's home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, New York City and Washington D.C. came under the attack of terrorists. Like all Americans, the coaches and personnel at One Buc Place could not help but watch Tuesday's tragic events unfold.

"It was a tough day," said head coach Tony Dungy. "A lot of us were watching TV and trying to take in what took place. We probably had to stay later and do more things than we normally have to do to catch up on everything. But our job was to put together a game plan and get ready and I think we did that well."

The National Football League is meeting on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of canceling all of this weekend's games. A decision is expected sometime Thursday afternoon. Players insist their opinion of whether or not they should play football this weekend is irrelevant. The players trust commissioner Paul Tagliabue will weigh all of their options and come to a good decision. Whatever that decision is, the players say they will support it.

"That's out of our hands," said Bucs punter Mark Royals. "We're preparing as if we will play and that's the way we will approach it. If somebody higher up makes a decision not to play, then we'll be notified of that in the next couple of days. But right now, we're getting ready to play."

Many of the Bucs players echoed Royals' thoughts at One Buc Place on Wednesday.

"It could go either way on that issue," said Bucs center Todd Washington. "We're not in charge of the NFL. We're understudies compared to the headman. What he says goes. So, that's how we have to prepare."

"It's not our decision," said Dungy. "Our job is to go out and be ready to play when they tell us to play. Whether that's Sunday, three weeks from now, next month or next year, it's our job to be ready."

Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp was quick to point out that assuming the league will cancel this weekend's games could hurt the team if their assumption turns out to be wrong.

"I'm going to prepare myself as if Philly's coming to town," said Sapp. "If I don't, and they come to town, then we're in trouble. So I'm preparing myself for a ballgame this weekend.

"If they say it isn't going, it isn't going. It's just that simple. But if it is, it's got to go down, and it's got to down our way. For it to go down our way, we have to be prepared, and that's what this team's going to do."

Bucs strong safety John Lynch echoed Sapp's thoughts.

"We trust the commissioner and the decision he makes," said Lynch. "I'm sure a large part of that decision will be made in communication with the White House. It seems like the message coming from the White House is to go about our business. That would lead me to believe that we may very well play."

Even if the NFL decides to go ahead and play this weekend's games, there will inevitably be distractions from the horrific events that took place on Tuesday and the events that might follow in the days and perhaps weeks to come.

"You have distractions in all shapes or fashions," said Dungy. "But this is probably the biggest one we've had since we've been here. It's going to take your focus away to a certain extent. We have to go as if we are going to play."

"You're going to be faced with distractions every day," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "It's just that this is such a tragedy for the United States and the human race…it's tough. But we've got to be professionals about it, and while we're on the field for these two hours today, the concentration is on Philadelphia. When practice is over, then you try to catch up with what's going on. Hopefully, many more people will be found alive."

Many other Buccaneers players shared Brooks' sediments.

"There's no doubt about it that this is a distraction," said Lynch. "Obviously our hearts are somewhere else right now. We're preparing as if we're going to (play).

"I think the important thing for people to remember is that we are people, too. We're just like anyone else right now. We're in a state of shock. We're grieving for our fellow people of this country. Our prayers and thoughts go out to them."

Center Todd Washington says the team will somehow, someway, find a way to move forward as a team and as a country.

"It's a big distraction," said Washington. "You can't sit here and brush it off like a little fly. This is huge and it's going to be a big distraction. But we're going to find someway to get around it go about our everyday lives."

Although the players' hearts and minds may be elsewhere, the team did acknowledge playing on Sunday could possibly be a way for America to get a recess from the ongoing events in the United States.

"Maybe," said Lynch. "I know that is one thought that will go into that decision. It seems as though our President is setting a tone that he wants us to go about our business. Whoever did this terrible tragedy, that is what they probably wanted us to do was see us halt. Football on Sundays are a big part of what this country is all about, so that's a thought."

"It could," said Washington." But once again, we have to get there first. We have to get through this day and then find out what's going to happen."

Perhaps Coach Dungy's comments sum up all of these uncertainties best.

"I think it puts everything in perspective," said Dungy. "We've got an important job and one we take very seriously, but it's not the most important thing in the world. Obviously yesterday's events brought that to the forefront."

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