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updated: 9/11/2011 8:36 PM

Red, white and blue day all around

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Reality and fantasy intersected all afternoon in Soldier Field.

As Bears head coach Lovie Smith said, "This being of course a special Sunday to play football, I told the guys (Saturday) night that this will be a day they'll remember the rest of their lives."

If they noticed, the players will remember the break between the third and fourth quarters when one fan held up a large "D" and another a simulated picket fence.

You know, as in "Dee-fense!"

Only this time the fence was red, white and blue, and featured the message "We will never forget."

There might have been some confusion over whether the call for defense was directed at the Bears against the Falcons or America against terrorism.

One thing was clear, though: "We will never forget" was in reference to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Sports fans normally don't appreciate their games being played in the context of the real world. An NFL game generally isn't considered the No. 1 event on the planet; it's the only event on the planet.

Football is an escape from the real world, right? Who wants to think about tragedy when the Bears are opening a new, shiny, hopeful season?

Well, hardly anybody seemed to mind the ceremonies leading up to the Bears' 30-12 victory over Atlanta.

Most in attendance seemed consoled by the American flag unfurling across the entire field, Jim Cornelison's customarily rousing version of the national anthem and the chants of "U-S-A!"

Athletes usually are antsy during pregame activities that interrupt their routine and interfere with their focus.

But not on this anniversary of one of the worst days in American history. Players expressed what an honor it was to help hold up the huge flag during the anthem.

"It was a very emotional moment," Bears receiver Roy Williams said. "It was very tough thinking about the people who died in 9/11."

Remember, that's what this was: A day of remembrance of the event, the lives lost and the heroism demonstrated.

The Bears beat the Falcons due in great part to linebacker Brian Urlacher's 10 tackles, interception and fumble recovery/return for a touchdown.

But the day was a reminder that football players aren't first responders carrying fellow humans to safety.

Matt Forte demonstrated again by gaining 158 total yards from scrimmage why he is asking for a pay raise.

But the day was a reminder that running backs aren't firefighters paid relatively modestly to run into burning buildings while others are running out.

Jay Cutler threw for 312 yards and in the process took another physical beating that has become all too common.

But the day was a reminder that Cutler lived to see another day that 2,977 victims didn't 10 years ago.

Urlacher said of the pregame, "It gave me chills. I watched the (coverage of the anniversary) on TV before I came to the stadium. The fans (here) were awesome. I can't put it into words. It was a big day."

Then there was Bears rookie Dane Sanzenbacher, who played his first NFL game after the chanting and the anthem and the flag-waving

"You realize there are other things than sport out there," Sanzenbacher said. "It was an awesome moment."

As Lovie Smith said, it was a special day to remember the rest of your lives.