NFL Kicks Off Season With Big Concert

By | September 5, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Rain and mud were no match for a crowd of thousands who flocked to the National Mall Thursday for a free concert featuring Britney Spears, Aerosmith and Aretha Franklin.

The concert was staged by the NFL to create excitement about the start of football season – a game between the Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

Six blocks of the Mall were filled with a crowd estimated at 130,000, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The crowd was orderly and only two people were arrested, U.S. Park Police said.

About 1,000 officers from the Park Police and 35 other agencies were on hand. D.C. police activated their network of 14 closed-circuit TV cameras, trained on downtown sites such as the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

The only problem was a technical glitch with the sound system at about 8 p.m. during a live television feed of the pregame show from FedEx Field in Landover, Md. ABC announcer Al Michaels was cut off in mid-sentence and the dozens of giant TV screens on the Mall went blank for about five minutes. Concert organizers were not immediately available to explain the problem.

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams welcomed the crowd and paid tribute to the 25,000 military members who were the guests of honor.

The concert was part of Operation Tribute to Freedom, a military effort to encourage public support for U.S. troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The best seats in the crowd were reserved for 25,000 military personnel, with a member of each branch of the armed services introducing a musical act.

A Maryland band called Good Charlotte received a loud reception from the concertgoers, many of whom braved a steady drizzle for about two hours before the show started.

“This is awesome,” said John Moran, 41, of Woodbridge, Va., who came to the show with his daughters, 10 and 15. “I brought my kids because they wanted to see Britney and Mary J. Blige. I like Aerosmith. I remember them from a long time ago,” he said.

In between acts, the crowd saw ads for the sponsors’ products, as well as public service announcements urging people to volunteer on the nation’s public lands on the giant screens.

Traffic was much lighter than officials feared and fewer people than expected took the subway.

Hours before the concert began, local transit officials said the NFL refused to pay nearly $64,000 to help cover extra subway service.

The NFL did reimburse the National Park Service and other government agencies. League spokesman Greg Aiello said it was spending millions of dollars on the four-day event.

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