PITTSBURGH - Oh, say can't you sing? With the kickoff already delayed 25 minutes by terrible weather, and a stadium filled with rain-drenched fans growing impatient for the opening kickoff, the NFL skipped the national anthem before Monday night's Dolphins-Steelers game.
Every game in the four major American pro sports leagues traditionally starts with the anthem. But the NFL rushed to start the game because of the deteriorating weather and field conditions.
The delayed start occurred after the teams' pregame warmups were shut down because of lightning and heavy rain, a rarely seen combination in Pittsburgh in late November. Players were not allowed back onto the field and fans could not return to their lower level seats until nine minutes before the 8:55 p.m. EST kickoff.
Slowed by a muddy field that became worse as the rain returned periodically, neither team scored until Jeff Reed's 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 victory. It was the first time since 1943, when the league's last 0-0 tie occurred, that two NFL teams went scoreless for so long.
"Due to the severe inclement weather conditions that caused a delay in last night's game in Pittsburgh, a decision was made by NFL representatives at the game to shorten pregame warm-ups and other activities and kick off as quickly as possible for the benefit of the in-stadium fans and the teams,'' NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday. "This resulted in the teams not being introduced and the national anthem not being performed on the field. This action was taken solely due to the severe weather and the condition of the field.''
Steelers president Art Rooney II said Tuesday the team now wishes the anthem had been played.
"Due to the weather conditions that delayed the kickoff of our Monday night football game, a last-second decision was made to forgo the national anthem prior to kickoff,'' Rooney said in a statement issued by the team. "In retrospect, the decision to cancel the national anthem was one that we regret. We apologize to our fans who attended the game and pledge that it is a situation that we hope will never happen again.''
Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil was booked to sing the anthem, but there apparently were concerns that setting up a microphone and other electrical gear on a swamped field might take much longer than normal and be hazardous.
The alternative would have been to play a recording of the anthem; it's not certain if the league considered this option.
While ESPN was worried about losing numerous TV viewers who might tune in for the game, only to flip channels during the delay and not return, ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer said it was the league's call to bypass the anthem.
The Steelers said they received no complaints Monday night about the skipped anthem.
The anthem's absence would not have been noticed by TV viewers. National anthems are rarely televised during NFL games, with the Super Bowl being an annual exception.
There is no other known instance of the anthem being skipped before a major American pro sports league game of recent vintage, except for mechanical or electronic problems.
The NFL's decision to bypass the anthem was surprising if only because American soldiers continue to fight in Iraq and the league often has embraced patriotic themes.
After Sept. 11, the league changed the theme of its next Super Bowl to "Hope, Heroes and Homeland'' and altered the game's logo to incorporate the American flag. Players also wore the American flag on the back of their helmets.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!