The U.S. National Football League kicked off its 2003 regular season Thursday with a huge music concert and celebration on the Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The combination of American football, top-name music stars, and free admission proved to be irresistible.
Dark rainy skies over Washington Thursday afternoon and evening didn't deter thousands and thousands of people from flocking to the Mall in Washington to celebrate this year's start of the regular football season.
The National Football League and other sponsors teamed up to make it a gala event, with a music concert featuring Aretha Franklin, Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, and Britney Spears commanding everyone's attention before the evening kickoff of the Washington Redskins-New York Jets football game.
The concert was in honor of U.S. servicemen on duty in Iraq and around the globe and to highlight those in uniform, they were given the very best seats right in front of the stage. The general public's area was three city blocks away from the stage, but to make the concert visible for everyone, huge video screens and stacks of loudspeakers at intervals down the Mall showed all the on-stage action.
A fireworks display fired from behind the stage was there to add yet another colorful splash, a welcome contrast to the gloomy weather in Washington Thursday. The rain-soaked Mall ensured that everyone stayed on their feet, sitting down meant being in a puddle of mud.
Security was understandably tight in this post-9-11 age. Hours before the concert began, the entire Mall was sealed off and swept by security teams. Then, people were allowed to come in after a search of their belongings. Authorities kept helicopters in the air to provide a watchful eye over the area.
Not everyone, however, was thrilled with the idea of this show. Some people and groups objected to turning over the Mall to a blatantly commercial enterprise, despite the attention bestowed on American servicemen and women. Indeed, those huge video screens passed the time leading up to the show by endlessly running the commercial advertising of the sponsoring companies.