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With piece of WTC, QBs take on burden

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When New York quarterbacks Kerry Collins (Giants) and Vinny Testaverde (Jets) surveyed ground zero at the World Trade Center last week, they were dumbfounded by the magnitude of the destruction.

When they came away from the ruins, they both had dedicated themselves to a bigger family.

"The way I look at it is, we're directly affected by this and we've got a lot to be thankful for and we've got a lot to play for because there's a spirit and a sense of community here that I think we can all draw from," Collins said.

When the NFL's players return to the field and filled stadiums today, they will bring with them a new sense of purpose. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, they believe they can be part of the healing process.

That's what Collins discovered when the Giants visited several fire stations last Tuesday.

"I think those guys [firefighters] are just looking for some sort of positive distraction, something for them to look forward to because they're facing such a grim task," he said. "So I don't feel the pressure to win. I feel the pressure to play in their memory, in their honor, and I think everybody in here would say that.

"So win or lose ... I don't think that's it. I think it's about playing the game full-speed, playing the game with heart, playing the game really in their honor and their memory. I think that's the way a lot of guys feel around here."

Testaverde's late father was a mason who worked on the World Trade Center and other buildings in Manhattan.

Testaverde visited the scene by himself a week ago Saturday and returned with the rest of the team on Tuesday. It was a cathartic exercise for the quarterback and the workers he spoke to.

"We had a chance later in the week to get out and see some people, talk with some people," Testaverde said. "We only hope that we made them feel better. I know personally it made me feel better just getting out and contributing in some small way."

The images of what he saw left an indelible impression. Before he left, Testaverde retrieved a small section of concrete from the rubble. To him, it represents a symbol for the season. And if the tragedy in New York makes the Giants and Jets sentimental favorites in the NFL this season, so much the better.

"It sure would be nice," Testaverde said. "It would be a great thing for a lot of people as far as healing and just comforting them. That's why I picked up that rock and told my teammates, 'Let's make a commitment. This is the start of it.' The rock is a symbol of what we're committed to do."

The week before, that commitment pulled him in another direction. Two days after the attack, Testaverde went to his new coach, Herman Edwards, and his new general manager, Terry Bradway, and told them he would not make the trip to Oakland if the Week 2 games were played. He wasn't the only Jets player who took that stance.

The league ultimately postponed the games and the Jets' threatened boycott never materialized. When the two New York teams return to the field today - the Giants in Kansas City and the Jets in New England - the haunting images of the past two weeks will stay with them.

"When you're standing 100 yards away from it and you see the enormity of the destruction, I think that's the one thing that hits you," Collins said.

"Just how big the wreckage is ... I don't know how many stories high it is, but those steel girders are just stacked on top of each other. You can't believe that something that big and that heavy is just piled up like Lincoln Logs like that."

Acts of kindness

The NFL responded with acts of generosity from management down through the playing ranks in the wake of the tragedy.

When Saints coach Jim Haslett dropped a $500 check in the boot of a New Orleans firefighter collecting donations for the Red Cross, he was asked to join the cause for a few minutes. Three hours later, boot in hand, Haslett had helped collect more than $21,000 for the disaster relief effort.

With plenty of seats available for home games, Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen is offering free tickets to his area's civil servants. Seattle firefighters, law-enforcement officers, emergency workers and military personnel can claim unsold tickets by contacting the team's community-outreach office. The ticket giveaway will be in place the rest of the regular season.

Tampa Bay Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said he planned to donate one week's game check - worth $31,250 - to the Red Cross.

The NFL announced it will contribute a minimum of $5 million through NFL Charities, and the NFL Players Association will donate another $5 million to organizations dealing with the loss of life and needs resulting from the attacks.

Preserving status quo

Having preserved the integrity of the 16-game regular season, the NFL is intent on keeping the 12-team playoff format in place. To do so would require switching Superdome dates in New Orleans with the National Automobile Dealers Convention, or moving the game.

In case the league can't entice the car dealers to move, it has put out feelers to Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa as possible alternative sites for the Super Bowl. The option that seems least likely is squeezing the wild-card round in on the Wednesday after the regular season ends, then playing the divisional round the following Sunday and Monday. In the hue and cry over keeping all six wild-card berths, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen makes a good point.

"It makes for a short time to get ready, but if it comes down to being in the playoffs or not, teams [seeded] five or six probably would not be upset with the fact they've got to play so soon."

Why is the league so intent on having the full complement of six wild-card teams? It goes back to money. If the league scraps the wild-card round, it will cost between an estimated $60 million and $80 million in television rebates.

Two-minute drill

The Indianapolis Colts are 24-9 since the start of 1999, tying St. Louis for the second-best record in the league behind Tennessee's 26-7. ... Pittsburgh running back Amos Zereoue had 17 carries in his first game with the Steelers in 1999 and only 16 since. ... Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is 4-2 against coaches who previously served under him. Today, he faces Philadelphia's Andy Reid, a one-time quarterbacks coach with Green Bay. ... Spencer Folau, released by the Ravens last offseason, starts at left tackle for the Miami Dolphins against Oakland. His backup is another ex-Raven, Harry Swayne. ... Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has thrown 10 touchdown passes in his past five games and just six interceptions in his past 348 attempts. ... The Atlanta Falcons have won only nine games the past two years, but four came against the Carolina Panthers, today's opponent. ... Based on opening-day rosters, the Arizona Cardinals are the youngest team in the league (average age 25.2) and the Raiders are the oldest at 27.6. The Ravens had the most players 30 years old and older (16).

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

Power rankings(Previous ranking in parentheses)

1. St. Louis (2): Rams are buoyed by new-found defense.

2. Denver (5): Broncos ripped Giants' defense for almost 500 yards.

3. Ravens (4): Nobody's going to rip this defense.

4. Tennessee (1): Adelphia not so menacing to visitors anymore.

5. Tampa Bay (3): Struggled to beat the Cowboys.

6. Oakland (7): Tim Brown is still the man on the Raiders.

7. Indianapolis (9): Jury is out on the Colts' rebuilt defense.

8. New York Giants (6): Made Brian Griese look like John Elway.

9. New Orleans (11): Ricky Williams finally looks like franchise back.

10. Green Bay (12): RB Ahman Green suddenly looks like Paul Hornung.

11. Miami (13): Dolphins are always super in September.

12. Philadelphia (8): Donovan McNabb has become king of dink and dunk.

13. San Francisco (18): Jeff Garcia has become a master at going deep.

14. Minnesota (10): Perhaps no team gained more from missed week.

15. Seattle (17): Matt Hasselbeck was shaky winner in starting debut.

16. Jacksonville (22): Reports of Jaguars' fall from grace are premature -- for now.

17. Pittsburgh (14): Bill Cowher's team threw more than it ran in the opener, and lost.

18. Kansas City (20): Couldn't protect 17-6 lead at home vs. Oakland.

19. San Diego (23): Ryan who?

20. New York Jets (19): Will New England rivalry be same without Bill Parcells?

21. Detroit (15): Charlie Batch era has officially ended. But Ty Detmer?

22. Buffalo (16): This is job Ravens' Marvin Lewis didn't want.

23. Atlanta (24): Michael Vick definitely has the scramble down.

24. Cincinnati (28): Is this Bengals' once-a-decade winning season?

25. Arizona (25): At least Cardinals should be healthy and rested.

26. New England (21): Terry Glenn saga is not over yet.

27. Carolina (30): Panthers aim for two straight dome upsets.

28. Chicago (29): James Allen was yapping after averaging 2 yards a carry.

29. Cleveland (27): The Browns still can't get the ball in the end zone.

30. Washington (26): Redskins can't wait to get to Week 5 at Dallas.

31. Dallas (31): Opening week was a moral victory, and Cowboys won't get many of those.

Three predictions

1. The Cardinals will wish they had gone for defense with the second pick of the draft when they face the Broncos tonight.

2. The 0-1 Titans will bounce back with a big win in Jacksonville behind quarterback Neil O'Donnell and not miss Steve McNair.

3. The car dealers will come to see the wisdom, and the financial reward, of accommodating the NFL's request to trade Superdome weeks.

The honors

Game of the week: Rams at 49ers. Kurt Warner vs. Jeff Garcia. In Week 1, they accounted for 643 passing yards between them in separate games. The 49ers lead the NFC in passing, with the Rams at No. 2.

Dog of the week: Redskins at Packers. A Monday nightmare for ABC. One team has a great offense, the other has no offense. Will anyone be watching by 10?

Upset of the week: Seahawks over Eagles (-2 1/2 ). The teacher, Mike Holmgren, will take the student, Andy Reid, to the classroom.

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