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NFL Kicks Off on the Mall

Organizers Hope Concert Will Become Tradition

Football fanatics across America, who are giving thanks to the pigskin gods for finally ending the perennial torture of off-season dullness and preseason insignificance, can gear up for tonight’s opening game with a football and music festival on the Mall that the NFL hopes will one day become the second biggest media event next to the Super Bowl.

The event is the second annual NFL Kickoff Live extravaganza, and the show, which is expected to draw 125,000 people to the National Mall, will be televised live before the Washington Redskins/New York Jets game at 9 p.m. tonight.

“The National Mall is truly the world’s longest football field and will be a great backdrop for this tribute,” said NFL Director of Communications Brian McCarthy.

The show, which begins at 6 p.m., will conclude four days of activities and events on the Mall as part of the Kickoff festivities. Performers include Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Good Charlotte, Aerosmith and Aretha Franklin, who will close the show by singing the national anthem. Before each performer takes the stage, they will be introduced by a member of the military from their hometown, McCarthy said. The show will also be broadcast on the American Armed Forces Radio and Television Service and will reach more than 800,000 American servicemen serving in 165 countries around the world.

Last year’s NFL Kickoff event took place in New York City’s Times Square and was billed to honor the resilience of the city and the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This year, the NFL salutes America’s military personnel as part of the Defense Department’s “Operation Tribute to Freedom,” which acknowledges troops who have served in the recent Afghanistan and Iraqi conflicts. The NFL is expecting about 20,000 American servicemen and their families to be on hand for tonight’s free show, which will be broadcast on ABC.

McCarthy said the theme for this year’s event emerged from a luncheon in which NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was invited to the Pentagon by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, who wanted to thank the NFL for its efforts to reach out to armed service members overseas during the Afghanistan conflict. The two agreed that promoting “Operation Tribute to Freedom” this year would be a great way to continue the spirit of the original kickoff show.

Planning for last year’s kickoff show began just four weeks before the event, but this year’s event has been in the works since last year and comes with a price tag of almost $10 million. McCarthy said the NFL hopes to one day take the show on the road and bill it as the second biggest day of the year for football fans.

One of the many organizations the NFL has recruited to sponsor this event is the Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service. Mark Pfeifle, press secretary for the department, said Interior Secretary Gale Norton was pleased to work with the NFL on the event because the spirit of the event fit into the department’s “Take Pride in America” initiative to encourage volunteerism on public lands.

City officials will shut down Fourth Street where it crosses the Mall to accommodate the festivities. There is a possibility that Seventh Street may close as well.

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