Games called off

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

Updated: 9-12-01, 11:15 p.m. Updated: 9-13-01, 11:40 a.m. Updated: 9-13-01, 1:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The NFL called off its games for this Sunday in response to Tuesday's attack in New York and Washington D.C. and it's not known if the games will be replayed or if the league will play a 15-game schedule.

Cornerback Tom Carter, the Bengals' representative to the NFL Players Association, said after Wednesday night's league-wide conference call that the players' sentiment is to re-schedule the games during Wild Card Weekend.

That would send the league back to the old format of eight playoff teams by eliminating two wild card teams per conference. That's a call that should come quickly with the networks looking for an answer by Friday.

"I think it's a relief," said Carter, who endorsed the decision, as did his teammates and head coach. "It's a chance to get some time to heal some wounds.

"When you've got guys in the league who can look out the windows of their homes and see the fires, that makes it tough to play," Carter said.

Bengals President Mike Brown had been looking to play the games, but he understood the decision and backed Tagliabue Thursday afternoon.

"If you look at the league as a whole, it's clearly the right decision," Brown said. "It would have been impossible to have played in New York and Washington given the feelings of people. I don't know if it would have been possible to play elsewhere in the country for that reason and for travel reasons, too."

On Wednesday, many Bengals admitted they were uncomfortable about playing Sunday's game in Tennessee. For instance, Marco Battaglia still hasn't heard from one of his 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 fiance 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."

As right tackle Willie Anderson asked, "How do we know it's over unless you're doing it?"

While Tagliabue wrestled with the question, so did the locker rooms. Head coach Dick LeBeau began the Bengals' day Wednesday with a prayer. On Thursday, LeBeau said calling off the games was the right move.

Brown came down where his father came down when there was a debate over playing Super Bowl XXV during the Persian Gulf War 10 years ago.

The game should go on.

"That's the way the world is. Life has to keep going on," Brown said. "If you don't do that, you give into the other side. That's probably what they want you to do is to shut it down."

But Brown understands the other side. Particularly from those touched by the horror.

"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." P>The attacks dominated the conversation at Paul Brown Stadium Wednesday as the Bengals returned to practice. 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."

LeBeau, who played that difficult weekend in 1963 of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, thinks this weekend will be hard, too. But also meaningful if the games are played.

"In a way, maybe that's one thing we can do as Americans," LeBeau said. "We're going about our daily duty as you are doing and not be bullied, not be intimidated no matter how atrocious the deeds are."

As defensive tackle Oliver Gibson watched it all unfold on his television Tuesday, he was struck by the man changing the locks in his home. The man didn't stop doing his job while listening to snatches of the reports.

"I can't begin to fathom that kind of reasoning (of) ruining the American way of life," Gibson said. "They were sending a message. It was a sick and cowardly message, but it was a message nonetheless. P> "And we as Americans have to push on," Gibson said. "There was controversy back in the day when President Kennedy was (killed) and I can see both sides. As the American conscience dictates, the NFL will follow."

Cornerback Tom Carter, the Bengals' Bible study leader, said it's up to 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?"

And Gibson admits it. This isn't the first time he's thought about the danger of being in the arena.

"If you want to eliminate X thousands of people, it's a great target," Gibson said. "The NFL does as much as we can to take the necessary measures."

Curtis doubts he would take his family to large, open gathering this weekend.

" Life has to go on. People have to go on with their lives," Curtis said. "But I don't think we have to get on with our lives quite so soon. Life shouldn't go on until you get word if your family or friends are still living. . .My Momma told me about Kennedy and Martin Luther King. . .Yes, he was the president and he was Martin Luther King, but this is 10,000 people.

"If the league decides we should play, then obviously they think it's safe for us to play," Curtis said. "Safety should be the biggest concern whether we should play."

Some players admitted they would have a tough time stepping on a plane this weekend to go to Nashville. But Anderson isn't wild about going on a bus, either.

"If we take a bus to Tennessee, that's just preparing to lose," Anderson said. "There's no way you can win a game by driving five hours to a game. Guys have back problems and knee problems. I just got back from driving back from Atlanta and my knees are killing me."

Anderson pulled into his Cincinnati home at 4 a.m. Wednesday after the eight-hour drive. He had flown to Atlanta Monday to spend the club's off day on Tuesday, but he had to drive back when he learned there were no flights Tuesday night.

Curtis wouldn't mind taking a bus: "They're just as cramped as seats on a plane. Get (a lot of) buses and spread out."

Battaglia can't see himself getting on a plane Saturday. In fact, he can't see himself doing much of anything. His mind is riveted on his town and his people.

The friend who is lost called a mutual friend during the disaster. Right in front of him, he said, people were on fire and throwing themselves out windows. What should he do?

"You sit back and wonder, who do you mourn?" Battaglia asked. "Do you mourn the victims on the plane? Do you mourn the people in the building? Or the people on the ground assisting and helping who were killed by bodies jumping and flying out the window? . . .gruesome."

Battaglia feels like "a lame duck," as he watches his people cope with it all. But he also feels a sense of pride.

"That's the one thing about New York," Battaglia said. "In a tragedy, people always come together. Other people don't appreciate that or know that.

"Very courageous people," Battaglia said. "Everyone would just try and help. Do anything. Try to get a body out. . ."

It's all so hard for Battaglia to take. What was the first thing he would always look for when he flew back home? The Twin Towers.

When he worked out at home in the offseason, he would grab some of his friends who worked in mid-Manhattan and eat lunch at The Twin Towers. There are the friends from St. Francis High School who became cops and firemen and he's feared he's lost some friends.

So does Curtis, who hasn't been able to get in touch with some of them.

"It looked fake on TV," Curtis said. "It looked like the movie, "Volcano," or "Independence Day."

But everyone waits for what will be a very real decision out of New York.

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