NFL teams remember victims

  • ESPN.com news services | December 16, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots silenced their "End Zone Militia" on Sunday night, paying tribute to the victims of the Connecticut school shooting by canceling the traditional scoring celebration in which men dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers fire muskets into the air.

Instead, they saluted the American flag, which was flying at half-staff, on any Patriots score.

Two days after 20 children and six adults were shot to death at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Patriots joined teams across the NFL that honored the victims' memory by asking for a moment of silence and darkening their scoreboards.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, after learning that he was the favorite player of one 6-year-old victim, wrote "R.I.P. Jack Pinto," "Jack Pinto, my hero" and "This one is for you" on his shoes for the Giants game against the Falcons in Atlanta. Cruz said he called the boy's family after hearing he was a Giants fan and was told they planned to bury him in one of Cruz's No. 80 jerseys.

"I don't even know how to put it into words," Cruz said. "There are no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolizes you so much that unfortunately they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on. I can't even explain it."

The Patriots, the closest team to Newtown that was home on Sunday, wore a helmet sticker with the city seal and a black ribbon on it.

They also pledged to donate $25,000 to help the families affected by the tragedy, team president Jonathan Kraft told NFL.com.

"To me, the adults who lost their children in this are so important, the future of the school and how it moves forward is important, the town is important," Kraft told the website. "It's not for us to make the decision on what to do with the money. But we're gonna help."

The team also lit 26 flares into the air in a pregame ceremony before New England's night game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Sunday Night Football broadcast on NBC, featuring the high-profile matchup of the Patriots and Niners, was moved to CNBC and the NBC Sports Network when President Barack Obama addressed the nation. The game returned to its regular channel after the president's remarks from Newtown.

The Giants, another popular team in southwestern Connecticut, affixed a decal with the school's initials -- "S.H.E.S." -- on their helmets.

Newtown fan support
AP Photo/Gail BurtonA fan in Baltimore holds a sign remembering the 26 victims of the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Moments of silence were held around NFL stadiums Sunday.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt wrote "Newtown, CT" on one of the gloves he wore in warmups and on both of his shoes for the game.

"We're playing football, and there's something much bigger going on in this world," Watt said. "I just wanted them to know, and I wanted everyone to know, that our thoughts are with them. Nothing is bigger than that. We played our game today, but honestly our thoughts are with them, the families, the teachers, the friends, the first responders, who had to go see that. My dad is a first responder. They were just kids."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the fact that the town was only about 90 minutes from New York City made the loss hit even harder.

"Being close to home, the players were greatly upset about it," said Coughlin, who also had S.H.E.S. written on the hat he wore during the game. "Many of the players have young children so they can empathize with the parents who had young children killed. There was no one that escaped the effect of it, but that's not an excuse for why we played the way we played today."

In St. Louis, the players who wear No. 26 -- Rams running back Daryl Richardson and Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield -- joined hands in a circle with their coaches at midfield before their game, surrounded by dozens of children wearing jerseys.

"I have a son that's in kindergarten. It choked me up because I would hate to be one of those parents," Rams running back Steven Jackson said. "You drop your kid off at school and he or she wants to go there and learn and better themselves, and to then go to the school and find that your child will no longer be with you. I couldn't imagine that thing."

Flags were also at half-staff in Baltimore, where the scoreboards went black as the public address announcer asked the crowd at the game between the Ravens and Denver Broncos to observe "silent reflection" in the wake of Friday's "horrific tragedy."

Sandy Hook Elementary School
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaA sticker showing a black ribbon to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy is affixed to the helmet of New England Patriots defensive end Trevor Scott before Sunday's game.

"As a parent you drop your kids off at school many times," said Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, whose 21-year-old son Michael fell into a Wisconsin river and drowned in January. "It's hard to put into words what that community and those families must feel like. We obviously kept them in our prayers."

A moment of silence was observed at all 14 NFL games on Sunday; in Houston and in Arlington, Texas, the scoreboard went black. Members of the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks stood quietly with their heads down on their sideline while fans stood silently at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

The Bills did continue their pregame habit of playing U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which they've played before every home game this season. The song is in reference to British troops shooting and killing unarmed protesters in Derry, Northern Ireland in January 1972.

In Chicago, Green Bay wide receiver Donald Driver retweeted the names of the victims. St. Louis defensive end Chris Long said after the 36-22 loss the Vikings that it was hard to feel sorry for himself.

"As we sit here and feel sorry for ourselves after losing a football game, it really helps put things in perspective," he said. "I was watching TV last night and saw a victim's parent and I was really moved by that, the strength that they were showing up there. If we can all show that strength, we'll be all right as a team and as people."

The Patriots, meanwhile, see Newtown as part of their New England base, and had a direct connection with Friday's tragedy.

The Kraft family, which owns the Patriots, also owns a box company, Rand-Whitney, that has a factory less than one mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Rand-Whitney's parking lot was used Friday as a meeting area for media members after the tragic shooting at the school, a Patriots official said this weekend.

Information from ESPN's Rachel Nichols, Josina Anderson and Adam Schefter, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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