FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots silenced their “End Zone Militia” on Sunday night, taking the muskets away from the Revolutionary War re-enactors who fire into the air to celebrate every score.
The memory of the Connecticut school shooting was still too fresh for the sight of firearms and the smell of gunpowder.
“It just doesn’t show the right respect for those that lost their lives,” said Bob Elliott, the group’s sergeant. “But we’re still here cheering (the Patriots) on.”
Two days after 20 children and six adults were shot to death at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., NFL fans gathering in stadiums across the country honored the victims’ memory with periods of silence and reflection. Some teams darkened their scoreboards and lowered their flags to half-staff, while others wore helmet decals or black ribbons.
After learning he was the favorite player of one 6-year-old victim, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz wrote “R.I.P. Jack Pinto,” ‘’Jack Pinto, my hero” and “This one is for you” on his shoes for the 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 played at home on Sunday, wore a helmet sticker with the city seal and a black ribbon on it; the cheerleaders and mascot wore black armbands, and owner Bob Kraft pledged $25,000 to the community, where he also owns a box-making factory. Before the game, the public address announcer asked for silence while 26 flares were sent into the air.
But each time the Patriots scored in the 41-31 loss to San Francisco, the soldiers in the End Zone Militia clapped their empty hands like the rest of the crowd. Elliott said the Patriots asked the group, which has been standing sentry at home games since the mid-1990s, to skip the ceremonial fire.
“Out of respect for those that were killed, we were asked yesterday not to fire the muskets, which we all agreed with,” said Elliott, who is a manufacturing manager for a dental implant-maker. “It was just such a horrific thing. It’s hard to put it into words.”
The Sunday Night Football broadcast on NBC was moved to CNBC and the NBC Sports Network while 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 — “SHES” — on their helmets.
“Being close to home, the players were greatly upset about it,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “Many of the players have young children so they can empathize with the parents who had young children killed.”
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt wrote “Newtown, CT” on one of the gloves he wore in warmups and on both shoes.
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.
A moment of silence was observed at all 14 NFL games on Sunday.