In the end, caution and compassion won out in the National Football League.
Two days after the horrifying terrorist attacks on America and 38 years after his predecessor, Pete Rozelle, made the regrettable decision to play games in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue Thursday postponed the 15 games scheduled to take place this Sunday and Monday. There is no word yet on whether or not this week's games will eventually be made up.
Tagliabue's statement read in part: "We in the National Football League have decided that our priorities for this weekend are to pause, grieve, and reflect. It is a time to tend to families and neighbors and all those wounded by these horrific acts of terrorism."
The decision comes as a gigantic relief to the Jets, who were almost unanimously opposed to traveling to Oakland for Sunday afternoon's game. Center and player representative Kevin Mawae informed NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw on Wednesday that the Jets did not want to play Sunday, and quarterback Vinny Testaverde eloquently spoke out against even preparing for a game nobody wanted to participate in.
Coach Herman Edwards, owner Robert "Woody" Johnson and wide receiver Wayne Chrebet spoke at length Thursday about the NFL's decisions. Here are excerpts from their comments:
Edwards: "I think this is more than an accident or a fatality. It's an attack on our country. I think it's important that we pay tribute to the people that died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. This is an attack on our country - this isn't business as usual.
"I think it's an emotional game we play. I think players emotionally live on that when they play. It's one thing for a coach to coach and not have to go on the field and play. I think our players were drained yesterday, and I could tell in their eyes they were drained. They did the best they could, but they couldn't stay focused with the job at hand.
"Some people say you need to get on with your life, and that might be true, but playing a sporting event is a little different. Players have to go compete in an emotional game. "When there is a tragedy in our country, things go on. But this country was acted. That is different. We have aircraft carriers out there."
Johnson: "Our nation and city have received a terrible blow. What we need to do at this point in time is to pull together as a country and a people to honor the memory of those who have perished in this horrific tragedy, and to help all the incredible people risking their lives to bring this city back to a sense of order. Football, as other things in our lives, will have to wait until the appropriate time to resume their normal activity."
Chrebet: "I give them a lot of credit for doing that. I think out of respect to the people we lost, and people that are still missing, it was the right thing to do. Sports at this point are not that important. It shows the whole NFL respects what happened."
Enough influential people within the NFL agreed with Testaverde, who on Wednesday said "I don't even understand why we're here today. I don't think anybody wants to play this week."
And now they won't, unlike Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, when, just two days after Kennedy's assassination, the NFL went on with its full schedule of games. Kennedy hadn't been gone 48 hours and yet thousands of fans were seated at stadiums throughout the land when Jack Ruby shot the man accused of killing Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Rozelle, the Everyman Commissioner whose tenure was an unqualified success in almost every way, said when he retired in 1989 that his biggest regret was not postponing games following Kennedy's assassination. There will be no regrets a quarter century from now for Tagliabue, whose corporate demeanor often suggests indifference. But by postponing this weekend's games, Tagliabue proved that, for at least one day, he had his hand on the pulse of his players—and all of America.