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Battaglia, Bengals struggle with it all

9-12-01, 4:45 p.m.


They still haven't heard from one of Marco Battaglia's best friends. He's one of the guys that Battaglia used to lunch with in the basement of the World Trade Center during the offseason.

And in a noon phone call Wednesday in the locker room, Battaglia's mother told him his cousin's finance whom worked in the doomed building hadn't been found.

"There are people who are not going to appear, whether it's my friend, your friend, his friend," said Battaglia Wednesday as the Bengals tight end from Queens re-lived Tuesday's horror. "Almost everyone is going to know somebody. A coach on this team. Players."

Which is one of the reasons Battaglia and many of his teammates aren't comfortable with the idea of playing Sunday's game in Tennessee. As NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wrestles with the question, so do the locker rooms.

"If I was a Giant, I wouldn't want to play in the Meadowlands this week and I know they have a game there," Battaglia said. "If I was a Redskin, I wouldn't want to play in Washington and I know they have a game there.

" I think we have to make sure the country is secure, first," Battaglia

said. "We definitely have a problem. We showed we're vulnerable yesterday."

Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington D.C., dominated the conversation at Paul Brown Stadium. Maria Battaglia told her husband to go to work because that's what he's supposed to do, but it didn't feel like business as usual for anybody.

Canute Curtis, the linebacker from the Long Island town of Amityville, N.Y., knows he has high school friends who are policemen and firemen in the City. His family is fine, but he thinks, "there are probably one or two (people) I know (who didn't make it). . .If I had a vote, I wouldn't play."

Some Bengals, such as president Mike Brown and head coach Dick LeBeau, think playing games might be the best message to send.

"I can't begin to fathom that kind of reasoning (of) ruining the American way of life," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "They were sending a message. It was a sick and cowardly message, but it was a message nonetheless.

"And we as Americans have to push on," Gibson said. "There was controversy back in the day when President Kennedy was assassinated (and the NFL played) and I can see both sides. As the American conscience dictates, the NFL will follow."

Cornerback Tom Carter, Bengals' Bible study leader, said it's up the country if the NFL should play.

"Now you see us for what we really are," Carter said. "We're entertainment. The fans generate it, the media dictates it. If it brings people euphoria and makes them happy because we play, that's fine. But what about the people mourning, particularly in New York and Washington? Is it right to have 70,000 people cheering?"

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