It was a rough flight home for the defending NFC Champions. In front of a national audience on “Monday Night Football,” the Denver Broncos soundly defeated the visiting New York Giants 31-20. The team safely returned to Newark International Airport early the next morning and returned home. The date was Sept. 11, 2001. Following the events on the morning of Sept. 11, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was forced to make a decision on the week’s upcoming games, which were set to begin on Sept. 16. As he walked the streets of New York City from the NFL offices to his nearby apartment, Tagliabue had an overwhelming feeling. “Just the smell of devastation and death in the city,” Tagliabue recalled to NFL.com. “It was clear we would not be playing that weekend.” As a result, 15 scheduled NFL games were postponed and rescheduled for the first weekend in January. The destruction and tragedy that consumed New York City were bigger than football, prompting the first such postponement since the 1987 NFL strike. “We felt it was right to take a week to reflect and to help our friends, families and people in the community who need our support,” (Tagliabue told reporters at a Sept. 13 press conference.) While the off-week provided rest for most NFL teams, members of the New York Jets and Giants stepped forward to assist in the relief efforts. Players, coaches and staff members assisted aid workers, visited ground zero and spent time at local hospitals to comfort those closely affected. “We wanted to support the people who have been here every day,” said Jets’ head coach Herman Edwards at a downtown Salvation Army location to the New York Daily News. “This is a tiny relief for them, but we felt as American citizens and New Yorkers, we needed to do this. You’re part of the healing process.” Less than two weeks after the attacks, the NFL schedule was set to resume on Sept. 23. The games were played not to overshadow the recovery and healing of a city and nation, but instead to provide temporary relief and excitement to fans around the league. The Giants, playing a road game at Kansas City, ran onto the field wearing NYC fire and police hats and waving American flags. The Chiefs’ fans cheered loudly for the visiting team, showing their support for the team and city. Playing with heavy hearts and raw emotion, the Giants secured an emotional 13-3 victory on the road. “We had a lot of different reasons for wanting to win that game,” said Giants’ head coach Jim Fassel in a postgame press conference. “But the most important was that it was going to brighten a lot of people’s lives back in New York.” As the 2011 NFL season kicks off on Sept. 11, the NFL once again plans to pay tribute to the victims. That Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the attack. It will feature three games with specific significance. According to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy’s reported comments, “We designed the schedule in a manner that would enable us to help appropriately commemorate, on a national level, Sept. 11 and what it represents to Americans.” In the first game, the Giants will visit the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. This game will be played approximately 10 miles from the Pentagon, where a hijacked passenger jet crashed and left 184 people dead, in addition to the five hijackers aboard. The Arizona Cardinals will host the Carolina Panthers. Pat Tillman, the former Cardinals’ player who left the NFL after 9/11 to join the armed forces, will be remembered for his sacrifice. Though killed by friendly fire in 2004, Tillman remains, in the eyes of many, a patriotic symbol and a national hero. The Sunday-night matchup will feature the New York Jets hosting the Dallas Cowboys. This game will be played at MetLife Stadium, just eight miles from the site of the World Trade Center attacks. “There will be a mix of emotions,” said Cowboys’ coach Jason Garret to ESPN Dallas. “We’ll be excited to get started, but we’ll certainly understand the circumstances for all of the people in New York City.” In addition to scheduling these games, the NFL and NFL Players Association are donating $1 million to related memorials and charities to commemorate the anniversary.