Updated: 12/17/2012 7:55 AM KSTP.com By: Michelle Knoll
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.
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. The Giants, another popular team in southwestern Connecticut, affixed a decal with the school's initials - "SHES" - on their helmets. 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," he said. "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."
The U.S. flag was at half-staff at Gillette Stadium, and a spokeswoman said the team planned to fire 26 flares into the air in a pregame ceremony before New England's night game against the San Francisco 49ers. 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."
"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. "
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