S John Lynch was able to empathize with his colleagues in New York who have been more directly affected by Tuesday's tragedy
Three hours of meetings and two hours of practice proved to be a satisfying diversion for Tampa Bay Buccaneer players on Wednesday, as the rigors of work took minds momentarily away from the tragedy of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on America.
But practice ended at 4:00, and players went home shortly thereafter.
And televisions were turned back on and the images of the World Trade Center towers in rubble and rescuers searching for survivors were fresh again. And, perhaps, perspectives changed.
That would explain why the 53 players who make up the Buccaneers' active roster, 53 men who on Wednesday seemed to strongly favor playing the National Football League's schedule of games this weekend, were supportive on Thursday of the opposite decision.
"I know yesterday, a lot of our feelings as a team were that we would play and maybe that was a good thing to do," said safety John Lynch. "I know that as I went home last night and looked at them searching through the rubble for missing persons, knowing that they would be doing that Sunday while we were playing football, maybe that didn't seem right."
Citing a need to take time this weekend to 'pause, grieve, and reflect,' NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced Thursday morning that the NFL will not play games this weekend. Whether the 15 scheduled contests, including Philadelphia's visit to Tampa, will be rescheduled or simply canceled is still being discussed.
On Wednesday, the Bucs spoke of preparing to play on Sunday and seemed focused on that possibility as a likelihood. However, the team learned of the cancellation on Thursday as they left the practice field after a walk-through at about 11:30 a.m., and seemed to agree immediately that it was the right thing to do.
"I think we all knew, as Americans, that there was something way more important than football this week," said defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "It's way more important to get this country running back the way we want it and to have everybody feel safe again.
"In three days, if they're still digging for people and trying to get this country back where we want it to be, to go out and play football? Nah."
Punter Mark Royals, the Bucs' internally elected representative to the players' union, participated in a conference call on Wednesday evening with all but two of the 31 teams' reps. Though he declined to share the specifics of the conversation, Royals did indicate that there was an 'overwhelming sense' that the players were not comfortable with playing this weekend.
"Guys just weren't comfortable, especially the team's from New York," he said. "Their representatives were saying that they go out every week and they see that the towers are not there, and they see the smoke, and they here the sirens. The last thing they can think about is football."
That empathy for their colleagues near the scene of Tuesday's disaster also had some time to hit home with Buc players Wednesday evening.
"The other thing that I realized is that it was a much different situation, as sick as we were, for the people in New York, the teams in New York, the teams in Washington that are seeing it right in front of their faces," said Lynch. "It's a completely different situation. I think that was probably taken into account. They made a good decision.
"No doubt, not everyone's heart would have been completely in it. We went out yesterday, somehow, and had a good practice, and one of the things on the other side is, when you step out there for the two and a half hours of practice, you can focus on something else. That maybe was a thought for the other argument but, again, everything taken into account, whoever made the decision made one that we all can support."
Perhaps even the diversion of Wednesday's afternoon practice had an uncomfortable tinge to it that contributed to a change of heart.
"It's one of those things where we were trying to focus on the task at hand, and I think we did a good job of it yesterday," said Sapp. "We get a big reminder because we're right beside the airport and there's no noise being made. You could hear a pin drop yesterday, and I'm usually a loud-mouth about practice, trying to get through it, but I couldn't even muster up anything yesterday. We were just going through the motions, for the most part, and you can't do that with this thing."
Support of the NFL's decision does not mean the news didn't bring a bit of a let-down for some players. Despite the immensity of this week's 'distraction,' the Bucs had begun to gear up for a talented Philadelphia squad that had given them a reason for revenge with last December's playoff beating.
Rookie tackle Kenyatta Walker was not a part of that game, a 21-3 Eagles decision on New Year's Eve, but he was just as eager as the team's veterans to get another crack at Philly. Walker, in particular, was looking forward to the test of playing against pass-rush master Hugh Douglas.
(Walker) "It's kind of disappointing," said Walker. "I just needed to play from a personal standpoint, just because I needed to play, going against a great player. But what happened is a tragedy, and it's something that we do need to take a look at and be safe about. It really could have gone either way.
"But you think about who's mind is on it. If your family's up in New York, who really wants to play football right now? It just depends on what avenue you're coming from."
The timing is particularly unusual for the Buccaneers who, along with Pittsburgh and New Orleans, are scheduled to take a bye next weekend. That means the Bucs won't return to competitive action until September 30, when they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. In effect, Tampa Bay will end up with an unprecedented three weeks between games, the effects of which are difficult to predict.
"It's hard to say right now, but that's something we're going to have to deal with, not playing for two weeks," said Royals. "That's going to be a tough situation, and we have to try to prepare ourselves in some way to not get rusty and not let sitting around for two weeks affect us when we come back on the field."
Sapp believes the Buccaneers will be fine because the groundwork for success has been laid and the team's coaching staff will keep them close to that foundation.
"The basis of our game has always been fundamentals, the ins and outs, knowing who to block and knowing where to be, things like that," said Sapp. "We're still a defensive team and we still play pretty good defense, so maybe we'll get into a 9-7 game when we get back.
"We're just a basic, fundamental team. While these days go by, we're going to come in here and do what we're supposed to do. We must stay sharp. The way we're hearing now, they're going to eliminate a Wild Card game, so there's definitely no margin of error for this ball club now. We've got to win a division to be sitting at home waiting for this thing to happen.
If the scenario Sapp mentions above is adopted by the league, eliminating two Wild Card teams and a round of playoffs to accommodate a makeup week, there are bound to be situations that favor one group of teams or another. It wasn't the way the schedule was drawn up, but it's not something to dwell on, in Sapp's opinion.
"We're in a situation where something's going to be unfair, but you've got to be a man about it," he said, adding that the Bucs have prepared themselves for unusual situations.
"When (Head Coach) Tony Dungy first walked into this place, he said, 'We'll do some things at different times to test your mental and physical toughness to adversity.'
"We jumped on a bus at five in the morning and drove to Jacksonville and had two practices. I think that's worse than 21 days without a game. When we had to spend overnight in Oklahoma City because the pilot didn't want to fly, that's worse than 21 days without a game. This team has dealt with some adverse situations, so we've got some stuff that we can go back and build on."
The new off week bleeding into the Bucs' bye week would, on the face of it, at least afford the team some extra time to return to health. However, that had become much less of an issue in recent days, particularly with the return of center Jeff Christy to practice.
"It really won't help us from an injury standpoint, because we definitely would have had all 22 starters this weekend," said Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli. Toriscelli and Christy had agreed Thursday morning that the latter would be cleared to play on Sunday against Philadelphia, but now the team will hold the four-time Pro Bowler out of practice on Thursday after this change of events. The same was true of rookie cornerback Dwight Smith.
But Thursday's discussions regarding the NFL's decision centered much more around mental issues than those of the flesh. The Buccaneers seemed to agree that it was appropriate to postpone Sunday's games, and will now look down the road a way in terms of getting back on the field. When that happens, there is sure to be some lingering trepidation in some minds, as players with more personal connections to the Tuesday tragedy struggle to deal with the repercussions.
"There's no doubt that there are going to be a number of people throughout this league, just like any other cross-section of Americans, who are going to have someone affected," said Lynch. "We have our own teammates who have people that they know, family members that may be missing."
In the end, issues such as these overwhelmed the thought of football, even in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room.