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Tight security at NFL, U.S. Open on 10th anniversary of 9-11

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - From bomb-sniffing dogs to pat-downs of fans, security will be tight at 13 NFL games and the U.S. Open tennis tournament Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

The two men in charge of safety at those events say any extra efforts, co-ordinated with the FBI and local police, are not so much a result of Sunday happening to be Sept. 11 — but rather because of what happened on that date in 2001, and the changes made in the aftermath to protect people at various sports sites.

"From our perspective, while the 10-year anniversary does fall on our first weekend — and we're sensitive to that — if it didn't, we would still be sensitive, because we've been doing this since 9-11 of '01," Jeffrey Miller, the NFL's chief security officer, said in an interview. "Right after that happened, we put these things into place."

Both Miller and Michael Rodriguez, the U.S. Open's director of security, said they are in regular contact with the Department of Homeland Security and, as of Wednesday morning, had not been informed of any specific, credible threats to their arenas.

Whether at NFL games or U.S. Open matches — or at any of the dozens of college football and Major League Baseball games on the schedule — sports are one of the main ways Americans will be together in large numbers on the anniversary weekend. The NFL's first test will come Thursday night, when Green Bay hosts New Orleans to start the regular season.

There are various commemorations planned, such as the white "9-1-01" that the U.S. Tennis Association will be painting next to the blue court used for the men's and women's finals at the Open; the "We Shall Not Forget" logos on foul-territory grass at baseball parks; and the "Salute to America" concert with patriotic music at the NASCAR auto race in Richmond, Va., on Saturday.

"Sporting events are their own unique attractive target for terrorist groups. We have security at the top level that you can have it. We want all our fans protected on Day 1, whether it's the fifth year after 9-11 or the seventh year after 9-11. We want the same comfort level for our fans, for our patrons, for our players," the U.S. Open's Rodriguez said.

"If there was a threat specifically against the U.S. Open, the USTA and the NYPD would probably postpone the event temporarily," he added. "We would be open to that and there would be discussions about it."

Information gathered in the past indicated al-Qaida had considered attempting attacks on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and, more generally, at big gatherings in the United States.

Nearly 65,000 spectators attend each NFL game, on average; the U.S. Open's main stadium holds about 23,000.

"Over the years, we've learned, and we know, that, given the way we play our games simultaneously ... it does present an attractive target, whether it's a terrorist group or a homegrown violent extremist that would want to act out," said the NFL's Miller, who also mentioned the more-recent possibility of someone seeking to avenge Osama bin Laden's death in May.

Security concerns are nothing new, of course, and there are about five to 10 bomb threats phoned in during each NFL regular season — roughly one every other week — that amount to nothing.

There will be extra officers at some sports events Sunday, and Rodriguez expects to see other precautions taken by federal agencies, such as military air support to keep the sky over New York safe.

And there are the sorts of changes that have become commonplace since 2001. Just as airline passengers now are used to removing shoes and belts when they go through security checks before flights, U.S. Open spectators can no longer bring backpacks with them into the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and NFL fans have grown accustomed to the pat-downs at stadium entrances instituted across the league in 2005.

"It's even to the point where if I go to a game with Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, he gets patted down, just like anybody else," Miller said. "And I would be on somebody if they didn't screen his vehicle appropriately, just like we screen the officials, just like we screen the visiting team."

Shortly after the 2001 attacks, the NFL put together a panel of experts from inside and outside the league to design a set of best practices for stadium security that is adjusted from time to time.

"If we just did this for 9-11, and we didn't do it normally, if I was a bad guy, I'd just hit us the next game. But we do this all the time," Miller said. "We're trying to deter any kind of attempt on our facilities. We think it's important enough to do every single week."

He acknowledged there will be "additional emphasis from law enforcement" at two games being played close to New York and Washington on Sunday: The New York Jets host the Dallas Cowboys at East Rutherford, N.J., and the Washington Redskins host the New York Giants at Landover, Md.

Mark Lamping, the president and CEO of the stadium shared by the Jets and Giants, called safety "a top priority," but declined to discuss specifics of security policies.

"Year-round, MetLife Stadium utilizes an advanced, complex security system, a central element of the facility's state-of-the-art technical operations," Lamping said. "These plans were developed in close co-ordination with federal, state and local public safety agencies."

Those same groups work with various sports leagues and federations to help assess the likelihood of an attack and figure out how to prevent one.

Still, Rodriguez recognizes that some people, including those who work for the U.S. Open, could be wary about being at sports events on the 9-11 anniversary.

"I'll bet there are some fans who are concerned, and we probably have some people who work in the organization who are concerned. I don't think there's any way of turning away from that," he said. "But we are going to make this place as safe as we can."

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