With piece of WTC, QBs take on burden



When New York quarterbacks Kerry Collins (Giants) and Vinny Testaverde (Jets) surveyed ground zero at the World Trade Center last week, they were dumbfounded by the magnitude of the destruction.

When they came away from the ruins, they both had dedicated themselves to a bigger family.

"The way I look at it is, we're directly affected by this and we've got a lot to be thankful for and we've got a lot to play for because there's a spirit and a sense of community here that I think we can all draw from," Collins said.

When the NFL's players return to the field and filled stadiums today, they will bring with them a new sense of purpose. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, they believe they can be part of the healing process.

That's what Collins discovered when the Giants visited several fire stations last Tuesday.

"I think those guys [firefighters] are just looking for some sort of positive distraction, something for them to look forward to because they're facing such a grim task," he said. "So I don't feel the pressure to win. I feel the pressure to play in their memory, in their honor, and I think everybody in here would say that.

"So win or lose ... I don't think that's it. I think it's about playing the game full-speed, playing the game with heart, playing the game really in their honor and their memory. I think that's the way a lot of guys feel around here."

Testaverde's late father was a mason who worked on the World Trade Center and other buildings in Manhattan.

Testaverde visited the scene by himself a week ago Saturday and returned with the rest of the team on Tuesday. It was a cathartic exercise for the quarterback and the workers he spoke to.

"We had a chance later in the week to get out and see some people, talk with some people," Testaverde said. "We only hope that we made them feel better. I know personally it made me feel better just getting out and contributing in some small way."

The images of what he saw left an indelible impression. Before he left, Testaverde retrieved a small section of concrete from the rubble. To him, it represents a symbol for the season. And if the tragedy in New York makes the Giants and Jets sentimental favorites in the NFL this season, so much the better.

"It sure would be nice," Testaverde said. "It would be a great thing for a lot of people as far as healing and just comforting them. That's why I picked up that rock and told my teammates, `Let's make a commitment. This is the start of it.' The rock is a symbol of what we're committed to do."

The week before, that commitment pulled him in another direction. Two days after the attack, Testaverde went to his new coach, Herman Edwards, and his new general manager, Terry Bradway, and told them he would not make the trip to Oakland if the Week 2 games were played. He wasn't the only Jets player who took that stance.

The league ultimately postponed the games and the Jets' threatened boycott never materialized. When the two New York teams return to the field today - the Giants in Kansas City and the Jets in New England - the haunting images of the past two weeks will stay with them.

"When you're standing 100 yards away from it and you see the enormity of the destruction, I think that's the one thing that hits you," Collins said.

"Just how big the wreckage is ... I don't know how many stories high it is, but those steel girders are just stacked on top of each other. You can't believe that something that big and that heavy is just piled up like Lincoln Logs like that."

Acts of kindness

The NFL responded with acts of generosity from management down through the playing ranks in the wake of the tragedy.

When Saints coach Jim Haslett dropped a $500 check in the boot of a New Orleans firefighter collecting donations for the Red Cross, he was asked to join the cause for a few minutes. Three hours later, boot in hand, Haslett had helped collect more than $21,000 for the disaster relief effort.

With plenty of seats available for home games, Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen is offering free tickets to his area's civil servants. Seattle firefighters, law-enforcement officers, emergency workers and military personnel can claim unsold tickets by contacting the team's community-outreach office. The ticket giveaway will be in place the rest of the regular season.

Tampa Bay Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said he planned to donate one week's game check - worth $31,250 - to the Red Cross.

The NFL announced it will contribute a minimum of $5 million through NFL Charities, and the NFL Players Association will donate another $5 million to organizations dealing with the loss of life and needs resulting from the attacks.

Preserving status quo

Having preserved the integrity of the 16-game regular season, the NFL is intent on keeping the 12-team playoff format in place. To do so would require switching Superdome dates in New Orleans with the National Automobile Dealers Convention, or moving the game.

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