A different college football Saturday

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2001

Tributes, tears and touchdowns.

From Chapel Hill to Champaign to Pasadena's Rose Bowl, college football returned Saturday, but with a very different look and feel.

Fans trickled through additional security checkpoints at stadiums that stood empty a week ago, when all 58 major games were called off following the terrorist attacks. The skies above, usually abuzz with small aircraft, were empty, the result of a ban on blimps, helicopters and small planes.

''Football wasn't the first thing on my mind,'' Michigan running back Walter Cross said after his team beat Western Michigan 38-21. ''It took awhile to get back into things.''

At many tributes, players and coaches from both teams either lined up on their own side of the field or met at midfield to observe moments of silence, and sing the national anthem.

''We normally don't do it in college football, and I think we should,'' said Florida coach Steve Spurrier, whose second-ranked Gators beat Kentucky 44-10. ''It makes us realize how fortunate we are to live in America. You look around the stadium and everyone is coming together. We are all extremely fortunate.''

At Annapolis, Md., Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium had armed guards stationed at the scoreboard, and fans filed through 12 metal detectors before Boston College beat Navy 38-21. At kickoff, the 30,000-seat stadium was only half full as fans were lined up for about 200 yards waiting to go through security.

The loss didn't seem to bother the Midshipmen.

''The focus should shift off of us and onto the people who are in the fleet and the people involved in the rescue mission,'' Navy linebacker Ryan Hamilton said. ''We are just a bunch of kids playing football.''

At Notre Dame, before the Irish were beaten by Michigan State 17-10, president Edward A. Malloy offered a prayer for those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks and their survivors. ''At such a time we draw upon the innermost resources of our lives and of our faith,'' the priest told a sellout crowd of 80,795.

Tiny U.S. flags fluttered in the stands and were apparent on the field, sewn onto players' jerseys and painted on helmets.

At some games, fans sensed a change in the mood and atmosphere, even though the usual tailgating parties produced familiar smells of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, barbecue chicken and ribs and corn on the cob.

''Everybody was looking at each other, checking each other out,'' said Mike Callaghan, a fan attending the Michigan State-Notre Dame game. ''But in some way everybody let each other know in some way that they were OK.''

But it was not quite the same. Authorities banned all aircraft from flying within three miles of major sporting events. No blimps, no helicopters, no small planes carrying banner ads. Also, spectators were barred from taking backpacks, large bags and containers to the games.

A Wisconsin fan from Chicago was apprehensive about flying to watch the Badgers play at Penn State.

''But you can't just change everything. Some things you have to do,'' Julie Robinson said before her team went on to win 18-6.

Security caused long lines at some stadiums.

''We don't like it because it's inconvenient,'' said Spike Millman, a longtime Washington fan from Olympia attending the Huskies' home game against Idaho. ''But we understand it and we don't complain about it.''

But at Lexington, Ky., there was no wait at all to enter 68,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium, despite a crowd of 66,146.

''Where are all the people?'' asked Joey Foster of Ocala, Fla., who drove 14 hours to see the game along with some friends. ''We wouldn't miss this. Up here they've got hot brown sandwiches, good bourbon and a team we're going to beat by 30. It doesn't get any better than that.''

Patriotic tributes were everywhere.

-- Northwestern players wore a U.S. flag patch on their right shoulders and a RAW patch on their left in honor of Rashidi Wheeler, who died Aug. 3 during a conditioning drill.

The Wildcats were 44-7 winners at Duke, where a pregame video showed a montage of images including crash scenes, firefighters and police officers. The small crowd cheered, with a few fans wiping away tears.

--At Logan, Utah, where Utah State hosted Wyoming, officials said no extra security measures were taken. ''It seems like a long way from New York to Logan,'' Caryn Dudley, department head of Utah State's Management and Human Resources school, said.

Players from both teams spanned the field before the game and shared a moment of silence not only for the victims of the terrorist attacks, but for the eight Wyoming cross country and track athletes killed last week in a collision with a pickup truck.

--At Piscataway, N.J., the 27,000 fans sang ''God Bless America,'' before No. 9 Virginia Tech beat Rutgers 50-0.

One of those fans, Jane Luther Umstadter, said she was on the 17th floor of the north tower when the first hijacked jetliner struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

She said it took her 10 minutes to walk down the steps and when she got out and looked up, she saw the second plane hit. ''I am just so grateful to be here,'' she said before the game, her husband and friends by her side.

--At Champaign, where Illinois beat No. 25 Louisville 34-10 before a small crowd of 43,232 (capacity is 70,094), there were chants of ''U.S.A! U.S.A! before kickoff. One Illini fan wore an ''I Love NY'' T-shirt. Illini players, some of whom cried as they sang, wore a small American flag on their jerseys -- just above their hearts.

--At the 95,000-seat Rose Bowl, the crowd of 73,723 began chanting, ''USA! USA!'' before a moment of silence. Then, a fan in south end yelled, ''God Bless America, Yeah,'' and the cheering began.

The Bruins, who wound up beating Ohio State 13-6 , passed out 60,000 placards with the American flag on one side and ''United, We Stand,'' written on the other.

--At College Station, where Texas A&M beat Oklahoma State 21-7 before 82,601, thousands of fans filed into Kyle Field dressed in red, white and blue, transforming the stadium into a Yankee Doodle rainbow.

''We've got to keep our lives going,'' Fred Perrenot, A&M Class of 1957, said before the game. ''It's been a tough week and we've got to get our lives moving.''

Outside Notre Dame Stadium, children played catch with their fathers and American flags were flying everywhere. Inside, Irish fans booed the Spartans and cheered for Notre Dame. Life as usual, at least in South Bend on a Saturday.

Outside expanded Beaver Stadium, where 107,253 fans showed up, there actually were empty tailgating areas -- unheard of for a school that prides itself as one of the top pre-game party schools. There were empty seats, too.

''The people who usually park there, they didn't come,'' said Ed Jones, a fan, pointing to an empty spot next to his. ''And there's a couple spots down there. It's sad. That's exactly what the terrorists want. They want to disrupt your life.''

--At Michigan Stadium, the average wait to get inside was about 15 minutes -- 10 longer than usual. Not bad when the usual sellout crowd of 109,000 show up. One line snaked 70 yards down Main Street as fans waited to have bags and blankets checked so they could see the Wolverines play Western Michigan.

''If it's going to make this stadium more safe, I'm fine with it,'' Carolyn Facktor, a fan from Orchard Lake, Mich., said. ''They told us there would be an extra wait, so we arrived a little earlier.''

--At Autzen Stadium, extra security checks went smoothly before No. 7 Oregon played USC. Tailgating outside the 42,000-seat was subdued.

James Syring, a 39-year-old firefighter from Boring, Ore., put up four flags on top of his RV, as well as flags representing the Marines, Navy and Air Force.

''I'm glad to be here, to support our country and to support the Ducks,'' he said, holding a mug of beer.

--New York Gov. George Pataki attended the Auburn-Syracuse game. Flanked by a a police officers and firefighters, he received a rousing ovation from the crowd of about 45,000.

''We New Yorkers are a strong people, and inhabitants of a strong nation,'' Pataki said. ''Evil criminals have been able to break our hearts, but they haven't been able to break our spirit.''

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