After suspending operations last week following the attacks on Washington and New York, the National Football League returned on Sunday against a backdrop of high emotion and an outpouring of patriotic pride. Lionel Richie and Mary J Blige sang a rendition of America the Beautiful, and fans wore the stars-and-stripes, rather than team colours, in unity to celebrate the resumption of the national pastime.
Things are far from normal in the US, however, and in Kansas City – traditionally one of the most partisan and hostile environments in American sports – the visiting New York Giants players found themselves warmly applauded by Chiefs fans.
The Giants had been taken on a tour of Lower Manhattan last week and had been humbled not just by the devastation, but by the reactions of police and fire crews who wanted to talk sport as a relief from sifting through rubble.
"To have those guys hug you and break down on you and actually say, 'Guys, we need you to play this Sunday to divert our attention from what is going on in the city...' Well, if that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will," said the Giants wide receiver, Joe Jurevicius.
Duly motivated, the Giants prevailed 13-3, the only touchdown coming on Ron Dayne's seven-yard run. "We had a lot of reasons for wanting to win that game," said their head coach Jim Fassel, "but the most important was the it was going to brighten a lot of people's lives back in New York."
The city's other team, the Jets, also won a dour struggle in New England. The pre-game coin-toss was performed by three brothers of the Patriot player Joe Andruzzi. All of them firefighters in New York, one had fled the building only moments before the second tower collapsed.
Like many other Jets, Curtis Martin spent much of last week helping the relief work, but he rushed for 106-yards and a touchdown as the Jets won 10-3.
Even Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville's notoriously unyielding and didactic head coach, caught the mood. He has a son who managed to flee the devastation at the World Trade Centre, and sported a New York Fire Department baseball cap as a mark of respect. "I wore the hat in recognition of all people who served with great valour during the course of the tragedy," said Coughlin. "Those people, they are the real heroes."
The hat did not stop him screaming at officials in his customary manner whenever a decision went against his side, nor did it stop the Jaguars beating the Tennessee Titans 13-6.
Elsewhere, the Cincinnati Bengals produced the shock of the fledgling season by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 21-10. The defending Super Bowl champions played a sloppy game, the quarterback Elvis Grbac throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned 66 yards for a touchdown by Takeo Spikes to seal the upset.
Grbac may have had a day to forget, but his travails were nothing compared to Detroit's Ty Detmer, who contrived to throw an astounding seven interceptions against the Cleveland Browns. Detmer's effort, just one short of the all-time record set 51 years ago, enabled the Browns to pull out a 24-14 triumph despite their own quarterback, Tim Couch, being picked off twice.
More productive quarterback play was to be found in Miami, where Jay Fiedler scored on a two-yard run with five seconds remaining, to help the Dolphins beat the Oakland Raiders 18-10. In Indianapolis, Peyton Manning threw for 421 yards and four second-quarter touchdowns as the free-scoring Colts humbled Buffalo 42-26.
The Dallas Cowboys lost again, 32-21 to San Diego, but the game saw Emmitt Smith move into second place on the all-time rushing list. The Cowboys running-back is now within sight of Walter Payton's seemingly-unassailable record.Reuse content