||HEADLINE NEWS - News
Thursday - 9/13/2001
The National Football League announced at approximately 12 noon today that all NFL games this weekend will be postponed. Details on whether the games will be canceled altogether, or rescheduled for a later date, are not immediately available. The Ravens were scheduled to make their debut on Monday Night Football against the Vikings, and will now have to wait for their first MNF appeareance on Nov. 12 at Tennessee. The Ravens next game will be in Cincinnati to face the Bengals on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 1:00 p.m.
Billick Press Conference
re: Cancellation of games
As you’ve been made aware, the games for the weekend have been cancelled…after much debate obviously, everybody free to express their opinion, the commissioner in consultation obviously with the owners, the players and the union, I’m sure government officials, TV executives as well…They’ve made the decision, certainly we support it, in full support of it. We will continue to work this week as we need to do had this been a bye this early, and we will immediately begin to shift gears and think more towards Cincinnati.
Q: Are you surprised by this decision? Yesterday you said you thought the games should go ahead…
A: I was asked my personal opinion, what I would like to do, but that was just an opinion like many opinions…I certainly understand and support the commissioner’s decision on this…That was simply a personal perspective, more emotional than anything else, but certainly there are a number of compelling reasons why not to play this weekend and we’ll support that…I’m not surprised by it, quite frankly I probably would have been more surprised had it gone the other way.
Q: What did you tell the players?
A: Just that the game had been cancelled, to respect the process, they had their say in the matter, which it should be, via their union rep., and obviously as most things do come down to a final decision, as this did with the commissioner and to support that decision and to now change gears as to the time frame that we have to get ready for the next opponent, and what we hope to accomplish over the next couple of days.
Q: Mr. Modell seemed like he didn’t want the games to be played…Did you and he ever have a one-on-one?
A: Absolutely. It makes sense not play, certainly. Mine was more of an emotional response which regards to our way of life here and what that means…If I read correctly the mood of the country to a degree based on this poll, that poll for whatever that is worth, I think the majority of the country needed the distraction and wanted us to play as a sign of unanimity and the fact that we are not going to be dictated that way, but certainly there are compelling reasons not to and we support it…That was simply a personal opinion, and as I said as emotional as much as anything, as opposed to pragmatic, analytical, “Gee, should this be the thing we do.”
Q: Will this feel like another opening game?
A: With all that is going on, I feel like that is probably a good analogy, it will feel like a second opener. The Chicago game does feel like a lifetime ago I’m sure for a lot of people in a lot of ways. It’s not unlike having a bye this early. We’ll deal with it in that fashion. Where there are things we need to get done tomorrow and Saturday, physically, I think I’d be putting my players at risk if we did not go out and physically do some of the things that we need to do, to just come back on Monday or Tuesday and have back at it…So we’re going to try to create a normal schedule whereby we’ll practice today, tomorrow and Saturday morning…They should be done in the afternoon by one or two o’clock both tomorrow and Saturday. They’ll have Sunday off and have a short jog around practice, much like we did yesterday, on Monday and then Tuesday they’ll have off to try to give us that sense of coming back on a normal Wednesday, Thursday, Friday preparation.
Q: Brian on if and how players would have been able to go ahead and play under these circumstances:
A: We talked about it this morning with the team, not knowing what the decision was going to be. In an incredibly gut-wrenching and emotional time, a lot of Americans are asked to go to work—firemen, policemen, communications people, airport personnel, medical people—across the board, whatever industry you want to talk to, we’d all like to step back, gather our family around us, take the weekend off and do nothing. But this country can’t do that. The approach that I had with the players was to say, if we are called upon to do that, like countless other Americans, do your job. This happens to be our job. If it’s determined that we should play, there’s a reason for that. And your job is to do just that. To play, to provide an outlet, a brief respite, for the country to free their minds a little bit, and rally behind the most popular game in the country, then do it. If people decide that’s not what we are going to do, that’s fine, then we’ll adjust. Like so many Americans, you’ve just got to step up and do your job.
Q: What sense (about play or not playing) did you get about your team? There were other teams, the Jets, that said, oh man, we don’t want to play football this week.
A:Everyone is allowed to express an opinion, and with complete respect for the Jets, Giants and Washington, and clearly being in the heart of the fray, and we’re kind of in it ourselves, albeit on the periphery, you can understand their sentiment as opposed to those in different parts of the country.
With all do respect to Vinny (Testaverde), and I think that was a very sincere emotional response by Vinny, he didn’t want to get on a plane and go play. I understand that. I support that. There’s a lot of Americans that don’t want to get up and go to work today. There’s a lot of Americans that do not want to do what they’re having to do today. But they’re doing it. And if that’s what we were called upon to do, we would have done it. But obviously we’re not going to do that. And I think you’ll see, over the next little bit, the NFL and the players individually, if I know this league at all, I think you’ll see a number of this happen both collectively and individually to support the relief efforts, the sympathy for the families come out of the players, the teams individually and league as a whole.
Q: Is there a sense that the players are relieved by the decision?
A:Oh yeah. There’s a part of you that you had to prepare yourself for, if I’m called to do this, I will do this. We are in the industry where if you are not mentally ready you can get hurt, so you have to keep that in mind. Clearly to not have to carry that extra burden around with them, I’m sure is a relief for them. Now they have to change gears a little bit cause we do have some things that we have to do so that we are not at risk later on, and that’s why we are going to practice today, tomorrow and Saturday.
Q: Two mundane questions: Comment on this being first Monday night game in franchise history, and two, any disappointment that this game may be wiped out?
A: It is very mundane, given the circumstances. This was going to be a great time for the City of Baltimore, well deserved platform for the City of Baltimore, for this organization, and for whatever reason, it is not going to happen. Whatever personal perspectives I had for playing my former team and Denny (Dennis Green) were secondary to that. We’ll hook up again some other time.
Q: What would you like your players to take from all of this?
A: To just keep a sense of priority. I was a little dismayed last night with some of the discussions and the debate among the media that it became so contentious. Opinions are fine, and that is what this is for, that’s what this country is about. All very mindful of the fact that this is secondary compared to what is going on. And it is a legitimate debate about whether you should or should not play, how do you carry on in any walk of life, in any industry through these circumstances, but some of it was contentious. Certain members of the media pressing their point of view as if anything less was somehow irresponsible or deplorable and the people involved were less than desirable or at less than proper motives. This country doesn’t need that right now. Open debate, open discussion, make a decision, and we react and that is what has happened. Some of that contentiousness needs to disappear in my opinion.
Art Modell Press Conference
Re: Games Cancelled
Thanks for coming out. It has been a difficult week for a lot of people. We arrived at the decision, at least Paul Tagliabue did this morning about 11 o’clock…During a conference call, a select number of owners, I heartily endorsed the decision…it was the right decision…As far as the game, the re-scheduling the game or make-up or not make-up, that will be addressed and announced tomorrow. Obviously there are two choices: one is to truncate the schedule into 15 weeks and let it go with that, or the other one is to flop this lost weekend into the Wild Card weekend. I think there is more interest perhaps in the flopping than there is in the shortening.
I told the players, and I’ll repeat it to you, they can be very proud of Gene Upshaw and the Players Association. They played a significant role in coming to this determination, they are supportive, they understand the game and understand the problem…they acted magnificently. I was very proud of Gene and the Union and their position. A big, big factor in this decision by the Players Union in a roll-call vote last night by the player reps was the profound effect this tragedy had on the Giants and Jets players, and secondarily the Redskins players, because the Pentagon. The Giants players were hard-hit having the possibility of playing this week against Green Bay, the Jets are in California, so the player reps were taken in by the sentiment expressed by the Giants players, the Jets players and the Redskins players. It was a bad situation and we made the best of it and we’ll pick up the loose ends next weekend. We’ll be at Cincinnati and other teams will be in play. As for the Monday night game, it’s a loss that pales in comparison to the losses by so many other people that they have experienced. But, I would have liked to have seen our game. If it’s made up, it will probably be played on a Saturday night, not unlike our Tampa game this year. I don’t think we want to go in that late in the season in January for a Monday night game, nor do I think the network wants to. The network will have a strong voice in the rescheduling of games. They’re paying out some pretty good money and they’re entitled to have a voice in what we do. My own personal preference would be to flop the weekend into the Wild Card weekend and the 17th week of the season would be our Monday night on a Saturday night, like we are doing Tampa.
Q: Was it your opinion very early in the week that it would be inappropriate to play this week with all of the mourning, and all of the events that transpired?
I had an experience in 1963, Kennedy weekend. I was very much involved with Pete (Rozelle). I asked Pete to cancel the schedule. But, to his credit, and I want to exonerate him posthumously because I loved the guy, he was my partner and we did a lot of things together for the good of this league, but he was persuaded by Bud Wilkinson and Pierre Salinger. Because Wilkinson decided that Oklahoma was going to play the next day, because the assassination was on a Friday. The next day was college and Sunday was pro football. How ironic, that of all the teams, we were scheduled to play the Dallas Cowboys. Some reporter called me at home and dug up some clip that I ordered the PA announcer just call them the Cowboys and not the Dallas Cowboys. I was terrified by the security factor. I had dozens and dozens of police and state troopers around the Cowboys bench and around Wilkinson’s box up in the upper deck. I was very sensitive to what could have been an emotional reaction of major proportions. So I had a little experience and I shared that with my fellow owners, although it’s different. This was a Tuesday event with four or five days to cool off. There was some sentiment to play, not unlike Brian Billick. Brian Billick had a legitimate position. I don’t quarrel with that. One school of thought is, “Let’s not give those bastards the chance to enjoy the fruits of their efforts by having us disrupt a normal flow of events.” The other thing is that, we can do that next week. I was in favor, from the beginning, of canceling it, but I wanted to hear people out. I heard Brian’s quote, I didn’t take issue with him. His opinion was shared by others.
Q: Commissioner Rozelle said that was one of his biggest regrets in hindsight, do you think, knowing that, it helped you to convince Paul Tagliabue to go the other way?
The circumstances are not really identical. As I said earlier, the assassination took place at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. The shot was thunderous, reacts were immediate, there was no time for reflection. I can’t tell you what I had for dinner last night, but I can tell you every move I made that day. We were practicing, as we did in those days, at League Park, the old baseball park of the Indians. I drove out to practice and on the car radio I heard this flash that President Kennedy had been assassinated. So, I raced down the street, Lexington Avenue, went into League Park and I saw my play-by-play announcer, our radio color guy, and our television color commentator huddled around a transistor radio listening to this horrendous report. So I immediately went back to the stadium, and I called Pete (Rozelle), and I said, ‘I know you haven’t had a whole lot of time to reflect on it, but my instincts tell me we should cancel everything across the board.’ I was not at all persuaded by the fact that Joe Foss had already cancelled the American Football League. I couldn’t care less about that. It was not a contributing factor. Pete made an honest effort to do what he thought in his own heart was right. But he paid a tremendous price by the media people. I am not pointing you guys out, because I consider you as friends and associates, not media. But the media, particularly Red Smith of the Herald Tribune and New York Times. He was relentless in beating Pete to death for playing that Sunday as a sign of disrespect. It just so happens that Rozelle knew Jack Kennedy. He knew Pierre Salinger very well. In fact he went to school with Pierre at the University of San Francisco. Anyway, that is history and it is not totally analogous, but I lived through that and I felt there were some similarities that I felt if we did anything, that we should play the cautious card here.
Q: Art, was there guidance from the federal government on this?
No, all we got from the White House was that tomorrow would be a day of mourning and reflection. The President is going to New York, to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a mass at 5 p.m.
Q: What other owners were with you guys, being that you and Wellington Mara were on the same side of things?
We did not have a League-wide roll call, vote or even a League-wide conference call. Without characterizing, I would say that on these two conference calls, Well and I were in the minority. Well, neutral to minority because not everyone was in favor of playing. Some were undecided and some wanted to see what baseball was going to do. I don’t want to make out Mara and Modell as heros. He an I have voted on the same side for 41 years now on every issue.
Q: Art, on a personal level, I understand you were scheduled to make a trip to New York on Tuesday. With all your friends and family in that area, are there any connections?
No, it is pretty remote from my family. When we heard about it, we got the call from our pilot who said that they couldn’t put the plane down anywhere so we had to cancel the trip. It is interesting, but somewhat of a side issue, Pat Modell didn’t really want to go to New York. She said, ‘I wish we didn’t have to go.’ It is kind of eery.
Q: How much of a role did safety play in this?
Important. I might add selfishly with reference to Monday night football here. Also, the logistics and the safety of traveling across the country. Giant players were profoundly affected by the events that happened in Manhattan. “Well” Mara told me this morning from the upper deck of Giants Stadium you could look out over the horizon and see all the smoke, the planes and the buildings. It was a terrifying sight.
Q: What do you do in the future as far as additional security measures?
We are always on a high alert. And higher for the near future. Even before knowing what happened, I beefed up the police force for Monday night games, just because I know that Monday night games could be somewhat raucous.
Q: Roughly how many members were a part of the conference call?
A: Six: Committee chairman, myself, the two conference presidents, Well Mara and Lamar Hunt. Again I want to stress, there was no divided opinion.
Q: Was the possibility of network pre-emption discussed?
A: I brought that up in the conference call. I said let’s be aware that there is a good possibility on Sunday that Fox and CBS will pre-empt to pick up some breaking news in the White House or elsewhere, or at the very least a crawl on the bottom of the screen saying such-in-such and that will be a distraction in itself. It is better off that we didn’t play and we are not playing…I’m really happy personally. I was looking forward to this Monday night game since I moved to Baltimore.
Q: From an economical standpoint, does it make sense to play a full week 17 rather than have a Wild Card?
A: Yes. Wild Card is televised by ABC and FOX and CBS have the other games, and even though the players are getting a full game share is better off for the ownership to play that full week, but that will not be a consideration. We are going to do what is best for the game, the players and the public and our TV partners. I don’t know how crazy ABC is about televising, it won’t be Monday night, it will be Saturday night like our Tampa game. I don’t know how crazy they are to be doing that. I started that whole thing with Monday Night Football a long time ago, and I’m sensitive to their problems and they deserve every shake they can get because they are paying out some very big money, which quickly I might add, the players get 63 % of the gross receipts from television. We have the best foundation in the history of sports…I give the Players Union, Tagliabue and what Rozelle and I did with revenue sharing over the years…Baseball wishes they had that, I don’t say that critically…I read in the paper yesterday George is going to command now $180 million a year, George Steinbrenner with radio and TV revenue, I hate like hell to see what Kansas City is getting. That is the disparity that only could hurt the competitive balance.
Q: Is there any talk amongst the ownership of the inequity a team playing one more game than the rest of teams with a bye week (San Diego)?
A: I don’t think it has ever happened in football, but it is not uncommon in baseball, uneven schedules because of rain-outs, lack of make-ups. I don’t think that will be a factor. It shouldn’t be a factor.
Q: What is the league going to do in terms of charity; how much major donations from the league itself or from the teams?
A: I’m sure the League will stand up and be counted. It is early to be talking about that, but we will do our share and the Ravens will do our share. We have since we moved to Baltimore. We have to do what is right.
Q: Your thoughts on what it will be like next week when we do resume play?
A: Our biggest concern is to be sure that our players are in shape, they don’t get out of shape with this layoff or lose concentration, lose focus…That’s Brian’s job to get them back into focus, into shape…be ready to play Cincinnati. I wish we were playing home next Sunday, but we’re not, we’re due to go on the road…It could be worse, we could be going to Seattle, it could take four weeks to get up there.
Q: Can you give us a sense on why it took the league so long to announce its decision?
A: A lot of constituencies that had to be consulted. As I said the players association, Gene called his player reps. Which he did last night, the owners had to be consulted, networks had to be consulted, airlines, chartered airlines…closing air fields didn’t help our cause any. The last time they were open on a limited basis, one owner mentioned this morning on a conference call he wasn’t sure he could get his team to wherever they were going, somewhere east from the mid-west, with a lack of travel availability. This was not something we would call an impetuous or impulsive decision. It was simply the practice of public relations, player relations and imagery. My concern was that a perception of insensitivity would occur if we played. That was the experience I had in 1963, but don’t mischaracterize was I am saying. I alone had nothing more to do with it than any of the other owners on the phone call. Tagliabue made the decision after dutifully listening to other people.
Click on captions to see video:
Brian Billick announces the Ravens-Vikings game is cancelled
Art Modell comments on the NFL's decision to cancel this weekend's game
Rod Woodson agrees with the cancellation of games
Rob Burnett wonders about his missing friends in NYC
Sam Gash is relieved for his family
Tony Siragusa discusses the players union’s reasons not to play Sunday
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