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Silent NFL stadiums are a tragic reminder

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The temperature was a pleasant 72 and the sky over Giants Stadium was cloudless — unless you looked 10 miles southeast, where white smoke from the rubble of the World Trade Center still hung in the air.

A car with an American flag on one side and a big blue Giants helmet decal on the other, slowed, then went by the "Entrance closed" sign at the ramp off the New Jersey Turnpike. Normally, scalpers line up on game days to barter with fans in the incoming cars.

And the dozens of empty parking lots proclaimed it all: "No Game Today."

Only a few maintenance workers and security guards stood in the parking lot, normally filled on a football Sunday with tailgate parties and blue-clad fans wearing the numbers of their favorite players.

"They were right to call off the games," said Walter Mancini, a yellow-jacketed guard stationed at the gate to the players' entrance. "Look at that cloud. That tells you they were right."

That was the scene across the NFL on Sunday. Parking lots were empty, as were nearby hotels and restaurants where fans normally partied before the games. Only at Adelphia Coliseum in Tennessee was there activity: a wedding in an otherwise empty parking lot.

No sounds, no sights, no smells.

"I usually come to work, and the smell of a barbecue is always in the air," said William Goodbar, assistant manager of a gas station near the Pontiac Silverdome, where the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys were to have met.

In St. Louis, where the Rams were to play Atlanta, a message board outside the stadium flashed "God Bless America," and a huge American flag was draped over the street about a mile from the dome.

In Indianapolis, fans who drove to the RCA Dome stuffed $10 bills into jars held by Colts players and cheerleaders. The money will go toward the relief effort.

"As bad as we all want to play," Colts tackle Adam Meadows said, "I think it's appropriate that we don't play today."

At Pro Player Stadium in Miami, security guards turned away a handful of fans seeking refunds to Sunday's game against Buffalo.

DeWayne Franklin, a native of Kansas City who was visiting New Orleans, paused outside the Superdome, where the Saints were to play the 49ers, then turned to sit by the nearby war memorial.

"It's almost like being in church," Franklin said.

It was all the more poignant at Giants Stadium.

At one entrance, six cars sat scattered in what is a weekday park-and-ride lot where buses pick up commuters and take them to New York City. They had been there since Tuesday morning. The drivers had never returned.

There was a pocket of isolated activity inside the lot, where volunteers were loading food, clothing and other supplies to be taken to rescue workers in New York.

The Giants had the day off, thinking their own thoughts about a tragedy that hit so close to home. On Saturday, 35 members of the team went to the rescue sight at the World Trade Center, where thousands are missing after the Twin Towers were hit by two hijacked planes on Tuesday.

The Saints spent Saturday in similar efforts in the New Orleans area. General manager Randy Mueller and 22 of the players spent the day soliciting donations for the relief effort.

In Tennessee, the show was a wedding instead of Bengals vs. Titans.

The bride, Lucinda Poole, wore a white Titans jersey. The groom, Randy Wilmore, wore a blue one.

They planned the ceremony in April, after the NFL schedule was released, expecting to exchange vows in the parking lot adjacent to the stadium amid family, friends and hundreds of fellow tailgaters.

This was far more subdued.

An American flag replaced the Titans flag that usually flies from the couple's SUV. And because so few people showed up, most of the plastic champagne glasses went unused. Passersby were invited to drink up, and to eat pieces of three wedding cakes decorated in red, white and blue.

"We're really pleased we could do this, and share their happiness," said Susan Jeffreys, the bride's mother. "But there's still sadness in America."