The Show Shouldn't Have Gone On
The world pretty much came to a halt September 11, 2001. Planes were grounded. Schools closed, Workers went home.
A malaise set in. Coverage ground on. Things got canceled.
Major League Baseball postponed games that night and for a week after--out of respect for the victims and in part because of security concerns.
President Reagan's shooting in March of 1981 almost caused the NCAA to postpone its men's championship basketball game that night but officials reconsidered and went ahead with the contest after finding out his life was no longer in danger.
The games went on one other time, too--after President Kennedy's 1963 assassination. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle ordered that the league's slate of seven games be blamed despite JFK's death just two days before. It's the subject of an NBC Sports documentary, and a feature on ESPN's "Between The Lines".
Green Bay and San Francisco were due to meet just 48 hours after the assassination at Milwaukee County Stadium. And play, they did.
"Packers Rap 49ers 28-10 In Subdued Setting" read the headline in the Green Bay Press Gazette the following Monday. "NFL Crowds Somber But Stands Are Full" read the banner above a sidebar that detailed pre-game moments of silence and other gestures made in memory of the murdered President in front of sold-out stadiums including the 45,905 who saw Bart Starr and company throttle the visitors on a 31 degree Sunday afternoon.
CBS chose not to carry the games, sticking instead with Kennedy coverage that co-mingled live scenes from Washington with breaking news from Dallas where Jack Ruby fatally wounded accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald just before kickoff.
The rival AFL canceled it's games.
Rozelle would later say it was the worst decision of his tenure, a choice he made after talking with Kennedy's press secretary who told the commissioner he was sure the late President would've wanted the show to go on.
He may have been overly harsh on himself, and Rozelle made few if any poor decisions during his watch. Conversely, no one ever loses when opting to be overly discreet or especially reverent. The country wasn't ready for such a tragedy and there was no template deeming what was proper. Some players didn't want to suit up, yet a nation seemed ready to watch them play even as hearts broke and a huge story developed.
Perhaps that's why the league opted to take the weekend off after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. A lesson was learned. The show didn't go on.