The reading at Ground Zero of the names of all 2,983 people who died in the 9/11 attacks ran long last Sunday, which happened to be both the 10th anniversary of that tragedy and a day on which 26 NFL teams played their openers. CBS's New York City affiliate stayed with the ceremony, even though it meant withholding the Steelers-Ravens game until mid-first quarter. That gesture (especially in the context of NBC's choice, three nights before, to relegate a 9/11-related terror warning into the far-smaller picture-in-picture box during a Saints-Packers game) was perhaps the most powerful tribute offered by the sports world on this most tribute-filled of anniversaries. "Football is important," says WCBS-TV president Peter Dunn, "but here in New York it was more important to stay with our coverage."
Other acknowledgments across the NFL ranged from appropriate to cringe-inducing. In the former category was the decision by the league to relax its uniform policy, allowing players to express themselves sartorially. (A decision unmatched in baseball.) While it is doubtful that anyone needed special-edition 9/11 cleats or gloves, the FDNY hats that dotted sidelines were a meaningful and understated nod. In the latter category were the 9/11-themed commercials that aired repeatedly on CBS and Fox. Budweiser Clydesdales bowing to lower Manhattan? Really?
Still, for all of the speeches (messages from Robert De Niro and George W. Bush) and rhetoric, the most powerful moments came when 13 particularly impassioned national anthems were sung while field-sized American flags, gripped by players, servicemen and first-responders, unfurled at packed stadiums across the country. Those images—not cleats nor Clydesdales—spurred fans, in stadiums and at home, to reflect in their own ways.