NFL season opens with Sept. 11 tributes

NEW YORK (AP) ? From coast to coast, American flags as large as football fields were unfurled inside stadiums and fans of all ages sang the national anthem with gusto Sunday in a red-white-and-blue observance marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and start of the country’s most popular sport: the NFL.

Robin Berretta, wearing a blue Giants No. 27 Brandon Jacobs jersey, traveled from New York to Landover, Md., for the game at the Washington Redskins. Some of her friends suggested she shouldn’t attend.

“Everyone’s very paranoid,” Berretta said. “And they’re not even from New York.”

She was unfazed, saying, “I even took the Metro.”

In a presentation relayed to video screens around the league, “Taps” was played from Shanksville, Pa., where one of the hijacked jets crashed a decade earlier. A recorded message from actor Robert DeNiro was broadcast on videoboards reminding fans that “we honor those brave men and women by continuing to show our unity and strength as a country.”

Former President George W. Bush praised the rescue workers of that day in a televised pregame show segment prior to the openers.

Before the start of the U.S. Open’s women’s final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, a “9/11/01” logo was painted next to the blue court. Serena Williams, who was scheduled to play Australia’s Sam Stosur, tweeted: “My Thoughts and prayers to all who lost loved ones on 9-11. I know the entire country is with you today. I’m playing for you today.”

At Nationals Park in Washington, two red, blue and white logos were painted on the field in foul territory along the base lines, with the date “September 11, 2001” and the words: “We shall not forget.” The Nationals also wore blue jerseys with a stars-and-stripes background for the team’s ‘W’ logo.

“Frankly, I was a little bit skittish with regard to coming out to a ballpark and large gathering of people with feelings of how scared we were 10 years ago,” said Joe Bailey, a 40-year-old fan from Bethesda, Md. “I think as part of our resolve, it’s to go ahead and continue on in the American way and do what we do, and one of those things is to be passionate about baseball.”

The anniversary also was observed at soccer matches in England, Walker Cup golf in Scotland and at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

In Tampa, Fla., the Buccaneers arranged a surprise reunion during the first half two-minute warning for family and close friends of Army Sgt. Scott Osborn, who was returning from active duty in Afghanistan. The Osborn family lives in St. Petersburg.

At sun-splashed Soldier Field in Chicago, fans applauded the national anthem from start to finish ? a tradition at NHL Blackhawks games ? while tenor Jim Cornelison sang an unusually spirited anthem before the Bears hosted the Atlanta Falcons.

The ceremonies coincided with the regular-season return of the NFL following a summer of labor strife that threatened to stop play for the first time since 1987. The league planned to auction game-used items and donate $1 million to three memorials and two charities related to the attacks. The balls used for the kickoff of each half were inscribed with special 9-11 logos.

At Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills helped 150 firefighters and first-responders to hold up an American flag that stretched from end zone to end zone and sideline to sideline. “American Idol” winner David Cook sang the national anthem, punctuated with a flyover of A-10s from Whitman Air Force Base and crowd chants of “USA! USA!” At halftime, three F-18s streaked across at halftime and names of 9/11 victims were scrolled on the scoreboards.

In Baltimore, fans at the Ravens-Steelers game were given miniature American flags, the band spelled out “U-S-A” and military personnel and first-responders helped move the flag from one sideline to the other.

At Jacksonville, two Jaguars players with military backgrounds carried U.S. flags. Cornerback Will Middleton, whose brother is in the Navy, and fullback Brock Bolen, whose father was awarded three Purple Hearts, led the team out of the tunnel.

“Taps” also was played before the racing program at New York’s Belmont Park. Tributes were planned in the New York area later in the day when the New York Jets met the Dallas Cowboys and the Mets played the Chicago Cubs.

Before the opening kickoffs, Bush appeared in a 90-second opening sequence of “Fox NFL Sunday” titled, “The Journey.”

“What is a hero?” Bush asked. “In the midst of great danger … nobody asks to be a hero. … We started to heal with the help of our national pastimes, with the flip of the coin and the roar of the crowd.”

In England, there was a moment’s silence before both Premier League games. Fulham midfielder Clint Dempsey, who is from Texas, and his teammates lined up with arms around each other’s shoulders before their match against Blackburn at London’s Craven Cottage. Players from both teams wore black armbands on their left sleeves.

In Aberdeen, Scotland, the U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve read a letter to the team from Bush urging the Walker Cup golfers to “remember those who have defended your liberties and way of life.” Bush’s great-grandfather, George Herbert Walker, played a key role in the start of the amateur showcase.

In New Zealand, the U.S. Eagles rugby team attended a memorial service at a local church in New Plymouth. Thirty players, wearing gray suits with red-white-and-blue ties, sat alongside the U.S. Ambassador David Huebner. The U.S. Marine Corps Pacific band played. The Eagles later lost their World Cup opener to Ireland, 20-10.


AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom, Howard Fendrich, Rick Gano, David Ginsburg, Mattias Karen, Mark Long, Janie McCauley, Richard Rosenblatt, Joseph White, Barry Wilner and Tom Withers, Associated Press writer Gordon Brown contributed to this report and AP freelance writer Daimon Eklund contributed to this report.