That night an owner, whom Tagliabue won't identify, called him at home to say the NFL had to play on. Terrorists, the owner said, would win if the NFL went dark. Upshaw called too, saying the 31 player reps had scheduled a conference call for 9 p.m. on Wednesday to get their feelings on whether they thought the games should be played. In truth, only one vote counted, and the man who had it tossed and turned most of Tuesday night.
In his Washington office, shortly after 9 a.m., Upshaw fielded his first call from a concerned player. "We can't play, Gene," Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Keenan McCardell said. "We hear what the coaches are saying in meetings, but we can't focus." Another call, from Buffalo Bills player rep Phil Hansen, landed in Upshaw's voice mail: "Lots of our players are saying we shouldn't play, out of respect for our country and our countrymen." Upshaw called Tagliabue and said, "Paul, this thing is picking up steam."
Players on the New York teams sounded rebellious. "I don't understand why we're here today. I think all games should be canceled this weekend," said Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
On the other hand, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said the league should play. A Bush aide told the league's government liaison, senior vice president Joe Browne, that the NFL had to make its own decision. In two conference calls with Tagliabue, league owners were split: Don't let the terrorists control us, some argued; the nation must have time to grieve, said others. Tagliabue got his best advice of the day from New York governor George Pataki, who through an intermediary told the commissioner, Yes, life must go on, but not necessarily with parties and football games so soon after such a huge loss of life. Some owners could sense that Tagliabue was leaning toward a dark Sunday when he told them on one of the conference calls, "This is not the Kennedy assassination. This is not Pearl Harbor. It's worse."
Early in the evening Ravens owner Art Modell called with the same advice he had given Tagliabue's predecessor, Pete Rozelle, in 1963 when Rozelle struggled with whether to play games two days after JFK was killed. "Paul," Modell said, "I'm imploring you to cancel the games."
On the players' conference call, representatives from the New York teams were passionate about not suiting up. "It's one thing to see it on TV," Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn said. "It's another thing, every day, to look from our practice field and see the towers gone. And it's another thing to even consider playing while they're still pulling people out of the rubble." The player reps voted 17-11 (two teams weren't represented and one abstained) for Tagliabue to call off the games.
New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft was in favor of playing until he flipped on the TV at 4 a.m. in his suburban Boston home. By Sunday, he reasoned, people would be yearning for a release. "But when I saw that Mayor Giuliani had ordered 6,000 body bags, I thought we should give people time to grieve," he said.
Tagliabue awoke at 4:45. He walked into his kitchen, sat down at the table, took out a legal pad, thought for a few minutes and wrote these words: "This week we have witnessed despicable acts. Within our NFL family, loved ones are missing. Such events try our hearts and souls. These events and experiences will deeply affect all of us—not just for now but for years, lifetimes, generations. As a nation and as individuals, we will respond in many ways on many fronts. Supporting, respecting, grieving, learning, becoming closer, more resolute, stronger. We will carry on—not move on and forget—but carry on.... We will not play NFL games this weekend."