The New England Patriots shot 26 white flares into the air during a moment of silence prior to Sunday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers to honor the 26 people killed in Friday’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Team president Jonathan Kraft told 98.5 The Sports Hub before the game that the flares were “just a way to symbolically remember their lives and this horrific action.” The Patriots also wore black-ribbon logos on their helmets as “a small way to tell the rest of the nation we’re grieving along with everybody else tonight even though we are at a football game,” Kraft said.
The Patriots’ End Zone Militia -- a group dressed in colonial-era uniforms that has fired muskets into the air after a Patriots score since the late 1990s -- also did not have their muskets for Sunday night’s game out of respect for the victims. Instead, they saluted the American flag, which was flying at half-staff, on any Patriots score.
Geoffrey Campbell, one of the leaders of the group, told ESPNBoston.com the Patriots requested they not carry their muskets Sunday night.
“The Patriots requested that we not carry arms tonight and we said ‘Sure, that’s not a problem whatsoever,’” Campbell said.
While Campbell said the militia could’ve made the same statement in different ways -- such as still carrying the muskets but holding them down to the ground and not firing them -- he believed it was a good idea.
“If you think about it, it’s a rather powerful statement,” he said.
The cheerleaders and mascot also wore black armbands. There were signs throughout the stadium showing their support, including one that read "Pats Nation Supports Newtown".
NBC cut from its coverage of Sunday's game at 8:35 p.m. ET to broadcast President Obama's remarks from Newtown. The game broadcast moved to CNBC and the NBC Sports Network until Obama's remarks concluded about 20 minutes later.
Earlier in the day, Kraft told NFL.com that the Patriots are pledging $25,000 to help Newtown, Conn. and the families affected by Friday’s tragedy. A lone gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"To me, the adults who lost their children in this are so important, the future of the school and how it moves forward is important, the town is important," Kraft told NFL.com. "It's not for us to make the decision on what to do with the money. But we're gonna help."
Kraft's father, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, said the fact that this tragedy occurred around the holidays will make it that much harder for the families affected.
"Something about losing children, it's unnatural," Robert Kraft said. "Just horrendous. And to think these young people will never be able to experience and do the things, I know how I feel around the holiday time. My heart goes out to those families. Just forget about this season, what's going to happen at the holiday period, but for many years to come it's just going to evoke these memories. It's just something that's hard to fathom why."
The Patriots see Newtown as part of their New England base, and had a direct connection with Friday's tragedy. The Kraft family, which owns the Patriots, also owns a box company, Rand-Whitney, that has a factory less than one mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School. Kraft explained that he had called the factory on Friday to pass along well-wishes to an employee that was retiring. He was instead informed of the tragedy, and that instead of a retirement party the company was holding counseling sessions and providing space to media members covering the school shooting.
“You’ve heard the people in the media describe it this way but it’s really true. It’s just a typical nice, suburban town, USA,” Kraft told 98.5 The Sports Hub. “Quiet. Beautiful. Wooded. Not a place you’d expect to hear something like that happen.”
Kraft also said that Friday’s tragedy had an a noticeable impact in the Patriots’ locker room.
"The players have been really affected by it, just hearing guys talk," he told NFL.com. "You never hear guys talk about current events, but the guys were talking about it on Friday afternoon and Saturday in the building. A lot of guys have young children. A lot of guys have guns. There was a lot of talk here."
Information from ESPNBoston.com contributor Jack McCluskey was used in this report.