NEW YORK – 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.
In presentations relayed to video screens around the league, taps was played from Shanksville, Pa., where one of the hijacked jets crashed a decade earlier, and Arlington National Cemetery. 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.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell marked the day in Landover, where he spoke to Fox from the sidelines of the Giants-Redskins game.
“We remember our great country and the people that died in this tragic incident, the first responders and their families and all the people that kept our country safe,” he said. “This is a chance for everyone to come together and feel great about our country, the sacrifices so many people have had and what we all have in front of us. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
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, and Queen Latifah and the Jubilation Choir performed a soulful rendition of the anthem. The Marine Corps color guard unfurled a court-sized flag.
Pregame ceremonies were followed by moments of silence at Major League Baseball parks.
At the Nationals game in Washington, two red, white and blue 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.
In Anaheim, Calif., Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees caught ceremonial first pitches from two first responders and a survivor of the attacks.
“I wish we were at home with the people of New York,” Posada said.
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.
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.”