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NFL Set for Season Kickoff With Washington DC Festivities - 2003-09-04

The National Football League season begins later Thursday in Washington D.C. when the Redskins host the New York Jets in a nationally televised game. The NFL season is also kicking off with festivities on the large grassy expanse in downtown Washington known as the National Mall.

National Football League vice president John Collins says the big pre-game show is intended to be a national celebration. "It is a lot of American spirit and American values. And celebrating the troops and coming together, great America coming together. And those sorts of moments, what is more appropriate then to have it here in the nation's capital," he said.

The NFL is spending about $10 million to start the season with exhibits designed to allow American-style football fans of all ages to throw, kick and catch a football just like the professional players. Before the game starts at nearby FedEx Field, fans will be treated to a concert featuring pop female stars Brittany Spears and Mary J. Blige, legendary singer Aretha Franklin and the rock group Aerosmith.

But not everyone is happy about the NFL kickoff celebration, which includes a huge stage and many signs promoting corporate sponsorship of the event. Judy Fellman is with a group called the Coalition to Save the National Mall. She said this event is not appropriate for the location. "It is a degradation of the idealistic symbolism of the Mall to allow organizations, to allow private interests to rent that space for their own private profit," she said.

Fellman said the National Football League should hold its kickoff party in places like New York City's Times Square, where it was last year.

The National Park Service is charged with the care and maintenance of the National Mall. Park Service spokeswoman Vikki Keys said the National Football League met the requirements to hold its kickoff celebration in the shadows of the U.S. Capitol, museums and monuments.

"The National Park Service judges the applicant's activities based on their impact on park land. In other words, can it [the event] be accommodated reasonably. And of course the National Mall serves as sort of a natural forum, a place for people to express themselves, to recreate. And we believe that this activity is certainly within the guideline we use to determine what activities take place on park land," she said.

Once the pre-game festivities have concluded, the regular season begins. Each of the 32 NFL teams will play 16 games with the aim of reaching the playoffs, and ultimately, the Super Bowl next year.