Giants, Redskins, Jets remember 9/11

Updated: September 12, 2011, 1:57 AM ET
By Ian Begley and Mike Mazzeo | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys may be enemies on the field, but before Sunday night's season opener at MetLife Stadium they stood as one -- united with the rest of the nation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

During a pregame ceremony -- 12 miles from Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks a decade ago -- players from the Jets and Cowboys joined members of the military, FDNY, NYPD and PAPD in unfurling a full-field American flag from sideline to sideline to chants of "USA! USA!" by the crowd before the singing of the national anthem, which was performed by Grammy Award-winning country trio Lady Antebellum.

[+] EnlargeFirst Responders
Elsa/Getty ImagesFirst responders carry a giant American Flag on the field during pregame festivities prior to the Jets game Sunday night.

"September 11, 2001 was a tragic day our nation will never forget," Jets owner Woody Johnson said before his team topped the Cowboys 27-24. "The New York Jets are honored to commemorate the 10-year anniversary, remembering those who were lost, those left behind and all those who became heroes that day. We are proud to join with our fellow countrymen and women to reunite as the greatest nation in the world."

Also before the game, FDNY, NYPD and PAPD bagpipers performed "Amazing Grace" on the field, and the nation's colors were presented by the New York City Joint Service Color Guard. Children of first responders served as honorary team captains. "Taps" was streamed live into the stadium with the backdrop of the World Trade Center site.

The New York Giants and Washington Redskins had a similar on-field tribute before New York's 28-14 loss to Washington on Sunday afternoon.

About five minutes before kickoff, 150 family members affected by the terrorist attacks unfurled an American flag which stretched from sideline to sideline during the national anthem.

The Giants also brought 18 family members affected by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center with them to Washington D.C. Some of the family members were on the field to help unfurl the flag.

The majority of the 150 family members on the field, however, were affected by the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon.

Minutes earlier, General Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State, served as the Redskins' honorary captain for the pregame coin toss.

"Any typical kickoff weekend, your emotions are high," Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman said. "Being it's Sept. 11, 10th anniversary, Colin Powell's in the locker room giving you the pregame speech, and then coming out and the fans are chanting 'U-S-A.' I was overwhelmed. It was a fun day. It's a day I'll never forget."

The Jets offensive starters came out of the tunnel holding American flags after their names were announced. George Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, and his wife Laura, were at midfield for the coin toss.

All NFL players on Sunday wore a ribbon patch featuring stars and stripes along with the dates "9/11/01" and "9/11/11" on the left chest of their jerseys. Before the game, Jets players warmed up in blue, 9/11 shirts that said "Never Forgotten" on the back.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning, Colin Powell
AP Photo/Evan VucciColin Powell flipped the coin before Sunday's Giants-Redskins game as part of a pregame ceremony honoring the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw wore special cleats with stars and stripes on Sunday, instead of the traditional game-day cleats.

The NFL has extensive dress code rules and routinely hands out fines for violations. But the league told team equipment managers on Friday morning that players may wear special shoes and gloves made by NFL licensees for Week 1 games.

Coaches, personnel and staff from both teams wore pins featuring a similar ribbon, and several of them were also sporting FDNY, NYPD and PAPD hats, the same hats the New York Mets were told they couldn't wear for Sunday night's game against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field.

Security appeared to be more beefed up than usual, with bomb sniffing dogs stationed near the Route 3 entrance to the stadium. New Jersey State Troopers were also visible at all entrance ways.

While the Jets couldn't provide any further updates about security measures taken in light of the recent terror alerts, Johnson said earlier in the week the team was being very cautious.

"I can tell you that for every game, we do everything that we know of to protect our fans and protect our stadium," Johnson said Thursday. "We are extremely rigorous. Our security people are (aware) of all security forces in the world as far as I know, so anything that comes up, we will know about it. We're very well plugged in with New Jersey, New York and other areas. Our job is to create a safe environment, and we fully intend to do that."

Asked if there was going to be a national security presence, such as the military, at the game, Johnson replied: "I can't go into specific details, but I think you've been around me long enough to know that we're pretty thorough."

"Our security is already at a pretty high level," Johnson said. "Any recommendations that any of these security forces make, we'll go by that, but we're prepared."

During a special halftime tribute, the stadium transitioned into concert mode.

The halftime tribute opened with New York native and Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro narrating a powerful moment created by family members of 9/11 victims, represented by "Tuesday's Children."

"Today loved ones, friends and heroes who perished are immortalized in the opening of the National September 11th memorial," De Niro said in a video played before the national anthem. "In doing so, the NFL and all Americans fulfill our pledge to never forget as we finish our commitment to honor their memory."

John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting performed an acoustic piano version of "Superman (It's Not Easy)," which became an anthem after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A version of the song was performed at The Concert for New York City in late 2001. When the song finished, fans gave Five For Fighting a nice ovation, then again began chanting "USA! USA!"

"As it was 10 years ago, it is an honor to pay tribute to those Americans who showed immeasurable courage during and after the attacks of 9/11," Ondrasik said in a statement.

Rapper Jay-Z and actor Billy Crystal among those celebrities in attendance.

Rex Ryan has coached the Jets in AFC Championship Games, but he said earlier in the week that he feels more pressure to win on Sunday night than he has in any other game during his career.

"It was a draining game," Ryan said after the game. "I am just so proud we were able to pull this thing out, for the town, as well. I probably even feel better about that than I do for our football team."

Quarterback Mark Sanchez believes Sunday's game provided the Jets a tremendous opportunity to display their talents and pay their respects for those who were affected by the tragedy.

"I think it's a great opportunity for us to really show off our stuff and show our respect for our country on this 10-year anniversary, and respect the firefighters and rescue workers and police officers. Pay tribute to the lives that were lost, and give the respect and honor and attention to those families who lost loved ones. Remember them and what they mean to us and remember how strong our country is from a tragedy like that, how we've rallied, and play our best football, and have fun."

Sanchez was a freshman in high school when two planes struck the World Trade Center, killing thousands.

"I remember hearing it on the radio," Sanchez said. "We were listening to sports radio in the morning. They talked about a plane hitting one of the (World) Trade Center towers. We watched it all day at school, and that's kind of when I learned, but never in a million years knew that 10 years later I'd be here playing for New York. So, it's a great opportunity for me to respect those people in this area, who have done so well with such a tough tragedy."

Jets veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson led the team in a huddle in one of the end zones about 45 minutes before kickoff.

Earlier this week, Giants quarterback Eli Manning said he was "honored" to play on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

"It's a big deal, especially for the people here in New York and the people in Washington," Manning said. "So it's (a) time people all remember. We'll never forget and it should be that way. So it's an honor to play on this day and honor people who we lost on that significant day."

Also on the sideline with the Giants Sunday was Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, who lost both of his legs while serving in the Iraq war and served as an inspirational captain to the Giants during their 2007 Super Bowl run.

In the stands, all fans at FedEx Field received American flags upon entrance and waived them before kickoff, chanting "USA! USA!"

There was also a video tribute on the FedEx Field Jumbotron with images from Arlington National Cemetery and a serviceman playing "Taps."

The Giants are expected to have another ceremony to honor the attacks before their home opener against the St. Louis Rams next Sunday.

According to the league, the NFL and NFL Players Association will contribute $1 million to three memorials and two charities related to 9/11. The donation includes $500,000 to the 9/11 Museum & Memorial in Lower Manhattan and $250,000 to both the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. and the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

Ian Begley and Mike Mazzeo are regular contributors to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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