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Bucs want games to go on

Practice for Sunday's game against the Eagles continues while the NFL remains undecided on whether to cancel the weekend slate.

By ROGER MILLS and RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001


TAMPA -- While some players privately raised concerns about participating in Sunday's home game against the Eagles, the team Wednesday was unified in its resolve to play, player representative Mark Royals said.

Royals, the team's liaison with the NFL Players Association, said he spoke to NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw midday Wednesday. After canvassing the team, he reported that the players were willing to get back to playing.

"We discussed some things and as a unit we are prepared to play," Royals said Wednesday night. "Whatever the commissioner decides, then we are going to respect that decision. It's not like the decision is going to be a random deal; it will be well thought out.

"Yes, there were some concerns, but none other than the obvious ones. An overwhelming sentiment throughout the team was to carry on with what we do."

Royals said he was scheduled to participate in a national conference call with Upshaw and player representatives from every team around 9 p.m. Wednesday to determine what the NFLPA's official stand would be.

The Bucs' sentiment was in contrast to the feelings expressed by the New York Jets, who said they felt unsafe to fly to Oakland for a game Sunday against the Raiders.

Earlier, Bucs general manager Rich McKay said one critical variable in the league's decision is its understanding of player concerns.

"I think you have to sit in the room and talk about it," McKay said. "I think that's what the commissioner will do. I'm sure that's what Gene will bring to the table."

McKay said that while players understand the requirements of the job, any concerns over safety could change the outlook on the weekend's games.

"If you can't be made to feel safe, then that's a different issue," McKay said.

At their practice facility a little more than a kickoff away from a silent runway at Tampa International Airport, the Bucs began preparations for a game they may never play.

Many players watched the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on television during their day off Tuesday and found it hard to focus on football.

"I thought it would be therapeutic when I first got here," receiver Jacquez Green said. "But when I got here everyone was talking about the events. It was constantly on the news and on everyone's mind.

"You have to try and focus on the game plan, and hopefully by Sunday we'll be back to playing football."

Around the NFL, the question was whether the games should go on.

NFL owners held a conference call with commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Wednesday to discuss whether to play 14 games scheduled for Sunday and one for Monday night. The league received a strong recommendation from Upshaw to cancel the games.

"There are too many problems with playing," Upshaw said. "We're too close to the weekend and we don't know enough to move forward. Travel is a big question mark for our players. Do we really want a stadium full of people with the threats still hanging over our heads?

"College football games are getting canceled. The NFL needs to take the lead. I know it's a nightmare. But we need to just play a 15-game schedule and deal with it. I mean, I'm driving to work today (in Washington) and the Pentagon is still on fire. We have games in New York and Washington and Baltimore. It's just not appropriate, in my opinion."

McKay said whatever decision the NFL reaches likely will be second-guessed. The league is expected to ask for a recommendation from President Bush as to whether games should resume Sunday.

"You have to take input from everybody and see what the various points of view are," McKay said. "One that weighs heavily in this situation is going to be the government itself. What does the White House say? What do they think we should do? I'm sure the commissioner will talk to some representative somewhere and make that statement.

"We will get criticized on either side of the equation. ... I view it as a no-win situation because it's too easy to argue both sides of the equation."

The New York Giants are scheduled to host the Green Bay Packers at Giants Stadium, just across the Hudson River and within view of the smoke still pouring from the rubble of Manhattan's fallen World Trade Center towers. The Washington Redskins are to host the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., just across from Arlington, Va., where the Pentagon was attacked.

The NFL never has canceled games as a result of a national catastrophe, including the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Despite a day of national mourning after the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, the NFL played while the American Football League postponed its games.

Then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle later called it a mistake and the wrong decision.

"I'll support the commissioner either way," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "You're torn. You understand why they would cancel them. On the other hand, you understand why they would get on with it and play them.

"One crazy thing about our sport is that when you're out there battling, it takes all religions and races out of the picture and you're a team. This has kind of done this to us right now from an American standpoint."

Bucs coach Tony Dungy addressed players about the terrorist attacks in a team meeting Wednesday and cautioned them about taking a position on this weekend's games because the decision rested with the commissioner.

"I don't think it's the players' decision. It's not my decision," Dungy said. "Our job is to be ready to play when they tell us to play. They've got people looking at it who will view the safety factors and take everything into consideration. When they tell us to play, we'll be ready to play whether that's Sunday, three weeks from now or next month or next year. It's our job to be ready."

Among the concern for NFL players is the safety of airline travel and playing in 70,000-seat stadiums, which could become potential targets more terrorist attacks.

"For me, it's not up for debate," Bucs linebacker Shelton Quarles said. "If they say to play, I'm sure they'll look at all the aspects. Whether or not it'll be safe to play, they'll have our best interests in mind and definitely the people in the community that will be at the game in the stadium."

Citing concerns about flying, New York Jets players Tuesday also expressed apprehension about traveling to their game against the Raiders in Oakland.

"I think I'd have a little hesitation," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "I've got plans for the bye week to get out of town, and I'm not so sure we'll be doing that now."

Said Warren Sapp, "The only thing about it is it's three weeks before I get on a plane. That's what I was counting. I couldn't care less about when the season was going to start again. I was counting the number of days (until) I've got to get on the plane."

If Upshaw's recommendation of playing a 15-game schedule is adopted, the Bucs would not play until traveling to Minnesota for a game Sept. 30. The Bucs have a bye week Sept. 23, meaning they could go 21 days between games.

"Nobody really wants to have two bye weeks," placekicker Martin Gramatica said. "Especially when you think things are going smoothly. We feel we can correct all the mistakes we made in Dallas and now you might have to wait two weeks to see if you could do it. It would be weird, two weeks in a row."

Lynch said playing NFL games Sunday might re-establish the normalcy Bush has advocated.

"A side of me says let's get on just to show that they aren't going to stop everything this country is all about," Lynch said. "The players think about this just like everyone else in the country. It's hard to focus. There's no doubt about it that it's a distraction."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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