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Reflecting on horrific Sept. 11 attacks 20 years later


Sept. 11, 2001.

Twenty years ago Saturday I was just beginning my first season as the Chicago Bears senior website writer when the most horrific and deadly terrorist attack in United States history changed life as we knew it.

Four coordinated attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania killed nearly 3,000 people and traumatized the entire country.

With Sept. 11, 2001 on a Tuesday, Bears players were off. Two days earlier, they had flown home from Baltimore following a 17-6 season-opening loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.

The mood was somber and reflective when the players returned to Halas Hall on Wednesday. They expressed sympathy for the victims and condolences to the families who lost loved ones.

"It's just hard to find the words," then-Bears coach Dick Jauron said at the time. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people who suffered. Like the rest of America and maybe the world, we really feel that the only thing we can do is go back to work, to try to work and bring some normalcy back into our lives—although I don't think that day will ever be forgotten by anybody."

Jauron ended the practice early after it became evident that players and coaches alike weren't focused on football. After watching the catastrophic events unfold on television a day earlier, they were still affected by the unfathomable massacre.

"Waking up this morning and coming to the locker room, everyone's head was a little lower than normal because of the tragedy, the deaths, the senseless killing that went on," Bears return specialist Glyn Milburn said at the time. "It really makes what you're doing so small. You appreciate just having life in general when you see so many people lost their lives when they had no idea that was going to happen when they walked out of their homes that morning."

Jauron started the day by delivering some inspirational words at a team meeting.

"He talked and lifted our spirits up," Bears receiver Marcus Robinson said at the time. "But, definitely, it's still in the back of our heads. He was telling us we've got to keep moving on. You've just got to be thankful and pray for the people and keep your heads up."

In an unprecedented move two days after the attacks, the NFL postponed all 15 of its games scheduled for the weekend. The decision was made by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue following a conference call with team owners.

NFL games were already underway on Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In 1963, the league chose to play its games as scheduled two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Pete Rozelle later said that was the worst decision he made in 29 years as NFL commissioner.

The Bears, who were slated to open their home schedule against the Jaguars, expressed sympathy for the victims and their families and showed unwavering solidarity with their NFL-brethren by strongly supporting the commissioner's decision to call off the games.

"That is absolutely the right decision," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said at the time. "It's time to have a weekend where we can pause and reflect and be with family and think about the people that have lost their lives. Our hearts go out to all the families who have lost people, for those who have passed away, and for those that are missing. It's just a terrible, terrible tragedy, something that this nation has never seen before."

Reporters asked few football questions in the days following the attacks. But when one inquired about how having the weekend off would impact the offense's timing, quarterback Shane Matthews instead focused on the plight of rescue workers risking their lives while digging through the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

"It shouldn't mess with our timing at all, [but] I don't think we're really concerned about football," Matthews said. "You sit back and think about what's going on in New York City right now and look at the firefighters and policemen and everybody helping there.

"Those are the real people that should be role models for the kids. Sure they want to look at professional athletes, but all we do is just go out and play a game. These people are trying to save people's lives and it's amazing. They're going in there trying to save people's lives and some of them are not coming out."