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Pro sports waits to exhale

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2001

NEW YORK -- As he does every weekend, Douglas Mackin took the bus to Manhattan, walked to a sports bar in Times Square and scanned the 14 TVs lighting up a wall.

At 1 p.m. on this Sunday, though, Mackin couldn't watch NFL kickoffs. Instead, as he sat on a stool and sipped his usual draft beer, he saw newscasts filled with updates on the terrorist attacks.

''I just hope we get back to normal,'' the Bayonne, N.J., resident said. ''It's very important.''

Similar scenes played out nationwide on a sportsless weekend. No NFL, college football or major league baseball. No cheering or high-fiving. No games to offer distractions.

While the NFL worked on plans to make up the lost games, stadium parking lots were desolate. So were nearby hotels and restaurants where fans normally might gear up before a game.

The New York Giants had Sunday off. The day before, 35 members of the team went to the rescue site at the World Trade Center, where thousands are missing after the Twin Towers were decimated by hijacked planes on Tuesday.

Outside Indianapolis' RCA Dome, players and cheerleaders held jars to collect cash donations from passers-by that were to be contributed to victims funds.

''It's pretty emotional,'' Colts tackle Adam Meadows said. ''As bad as we all want to play, I think it's appropriate that we don't play today.''

Chicago resident Mike Tripp walked his dog, Cinder, in the empty lot outside Soldier Field, across Columbus Drive from his home.

''I can hear the roar from my place on a normal Sunday,'' Tripp said. ''This is really kind of strange. It would be packed and this lot would be overflowing and people would be grilling and flags would be flying.''

Those sights and sounds of football will have to wait until next week.

Baseball, meanwhile, has six games scheduled Monday after 91 were postponed.

''We might physically be there,'' said three-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson, the Diamondbacks' starter against the Rockies on Monday night, ''but mentally our minds might possibly be elsewhere, and that's understandable.''

The 59-year-old Mackin found himself drawn to the ESPNZone at 42nd Street because, he said Sunday, ''It's something to do.''

Outside, a man in black shorts and a shirt with colors of the Italian flag, steered his bicycle down Broadway. Unencumbered by cars or pedestrians, he could have been on a hill in Tuscany.

A mile away at Central Park, under the bluest of skies, the Henry brothers tossed a football -- a simple pleasure at a time filled with few.

''There's a lot of pressure to resume normal living, but this isn't normal living,'' Kevin Henry said as he caught a pass. ''There are 5,000 dead people right down the street.

"They're dead, and they're still there right now. People need to resist the urge to fall back into normalcy and complacency.''

At Cincinnati's Cinergy Field, Carl Ladwig read a paperback while working at a ticket window. Only one fan came by Saturday to exchange tickets to the Reds' postponed game against the Phillies.

''It's eerie,'' said the 75-year-old Ladwig, a World War II veteran. ''We can't stop living. We can't stop being America. And America is baseball and hot dogs.''

Brian and Wendy Nelson were starting their trek home from Nashville, Tenn., to Niagara Falls, Canada, when they spotted a gathering in the Adelphia Stadium parking lot. Had the NFL, the Nelsons wondered, decided to play, after all?

''We thought this was a tailgating party,'' Brian said, ''but we crashed a wedding.''

Indeed, bride Lucinda Poole wore white (a Tennessee Titans' away jersey) and groom Randy Wilmore wore blue (an away jersey).

Casey Moreland, a county judge, officiated in the referee shirt he was supposed to wear while working as a replacement official at the Broncos-Colts game. The Nashville Sports Authority ordered the stadium's parking lots closed, but voted to allow the wedding, which was planned in April.

''It's been a week of tragedy, a week of heartbreak, a week of tears, and a week of fear,'' Moreland said. ''So Randy and Cindy have given us something joyful to share.''



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