EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Giants coach Tom Coughlin wore an FDNY hat pulled low on his head, a small tribute to the many victims of Sept. 11.
The New York fire department cap replaced his usual Giants hat when his team kicked off the season against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in a unique day throughout the sports world. From football stadiums to baseball parks around the country, teams and fans paid tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks four years ago.
In New York, the tributes had special meaning. The World Trade Center stood less than 10 miles from Giants Stadium, and smoke from the wreckage was visible for days from the stadium and the team's nearby practice facility. The parking lot at Giants Stadium also was used as a staging area for fire, police and emergency service vehicles heading into New York.
Coughlin addressed Sept. 11 with his team all week, telling his players there was no way they could lose the game on such a meaningful day. After trailing early, the Giants came back to win 42-19.
''A lot of that had to do with his belief that this organization represents this city,'' running back Tiki Barber said. ''We played with the kind of pride New Yorkers have.''
Members of the New York fire department, police department, Port Authority, U.S. military, court officers and family members who lost loved ones in the attacks were given a standing ovation when they made their way onto the field before the game to help unfurl a flag for the national anthem.
During pregame introductions, Cardinals linebackers Karlos Dansby and Eric Johnson shook hands with everyone who was on the field.
''That was something special,'' Dansby said. ''Those guys laid a lot on the line. You've got to give them their respect. I just had to tell them, 'Thank you.' They did a lot for us here, protecting us.''
The crowd chanted ''USA! USA!'' when the special guests were introduced. After the anthem, four military jets flew over the stadium.
''It's great that Sept. 11 hopefully can get back to a day of mourning, but also a day of celebrating life,'' said Mark Heintz, a member of the FDNY who was on the field. ''Because the guys didn't lose their lives, they gave their lives.
''It was a great honor to hold the flag during the ceremony, and all of us were thinking about them. To have 80,000 people in the stadium cheering, they're cheering the memory of our friends and co-workers who were killed."
Heintz, part of Ladder 87 in Staten Island, was on a ferry to lower Manhattan when the second tower collapsed. He spent the rest of the day searching for survivors. On each Sept. 11 anniversary, there is a mass at his firehouse and a small luncheon.
Lt. Geraldo Silva of the Port Authority had the difficult task of helping coordinate the funerals for the 37 PA officers who were killed. He also was part of the pregame ceremony.
''It's tough but as a department, as American people we have to move on and go forward,'' Silva said. ''To represent those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on that day, 9-11-2001, the best way to do that is to represent them as people and represent the department and keep on moving on.''
It was the first time the NFL played on Sept. 11 since the attacks. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie, who was a member of the Jets when the attacks occurred, said it was an emotional day.
''You think of all the sacrifices that people made before you so you can enjoy the freedom you have, playing a great sport like football,'' McKenzie said. ''We were touching on that today four years ago, our resolve to be who we are as Americans, and we came back from it.''
Earlier Sunday, defensive end Michael Strahan watched on television as the names of those who died at the trade center was read by family members. He said, ''Emotions ran high. Watching TV, reading off the names, it comes back to you, it hits you.''
Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey sang ''America the Beautiful'' before kickoff of the early games, and their performance was beamed to every NFL stadium. There were moments of silence and plenty of thoughts with those who have endured so much since that tragic day.
About 40 representatives from the families of Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, took part in a halftime ceremony during the Titans-Steelers game in Pittsburgh.
The ceremony included a video tribute, and the Oak Ridge Boys sang ''God Bless America.'' Several of the family members could be seen crying as names of the flight crew and passengers were scrolled on the scoreboard.
At the Bills-Titans game in Orchard Park, N.Y., 11 representatives from several branches of the United States Armed Forces and local EMT, fire and police departments were presented with a commemorative game ball by each one of the Bills defensive starters as they were announced during pregame introductions.
In San Diego, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson ran onto the field carrying an American flag during player introductions before the game against the Cowboys. After the national anthem, a bald eagle flew down onto the field.
At the game Bears-Redskins game at Landover, Md., Roy Firestone sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem, and the Redskins' cheerleaders wore red, white and blue uniforms. Small American flags were distributed to fans, who waved them enthusiastically during the pregame ceremonies. Firestone sang ''God Bless America'' at halftime.
There was a moment of silence at Yankee Stadium before the game against the Red Sox. Flags at SBC Park in San Francisco were at half-staff and the main center-field scoreboard read: ''9.11.01 We will never forget.''
At the Marlins-Phillies game, the color guard was Boy Scout Troop 334 from Roxborough, Pa. The troop collected over 1,600 American flags after Sept. 11 that needed to be disposed in a dignified manner by burning them in a special retirement ceremony.
Each team in baseball wore caps with an American flag on them.
''It was like the world stood still, yet everything was 100 mph. It was weird,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said when recalling the attacks.
There also was a moment of silence before the races at Belmont Park, and bugler Sam Grossman played ''America the Beautiful.''
AP Sports Writers Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh, Janie McCauley in San Francisco, John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., Bernie Wilson in San Diego, Joseph White in Landover, Md., and Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.