Despite intermittent rain and muddy conditions, the National Football League kicked off its season with a spectacle of a concert on the National Mall Thursday night.
More than 100,000 people filled the Mall between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument, as Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Method Man and Aretha Franklin rocked the nation’s capital in a salute to the United States’ armed forces.
NFL greats such as Sterling Sharpe, Marcus Allen, Darrel Green and Warren Moon were showered with applause as they paid tribute to the 20,000 servicemen in attendance.
Each musical performance was introduced by a member of the military, and speakers stressed that all Americans were unified in their support of the troops.
“We are going to take pride in America and salute our military members, and not for what they have done, but for what they continue to do,” Sharpe said.
Servicemen were given VIP seating at the front of the domed-shaped stage, which was sandwiched between two larger-than-life football helmets decorated with logos of the Jets and Redskins – the two teams that played the first game of the season following the concert. A ramp attached to the stage allowed performers to walk into the crowd.
The new-age punk gothic band Good Charlotte opened the concert with an hour-long performance that included hit singles “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous” and “The Anthem.”
They were followed by a sportily-dressed Mary J. Blige, who stomped and gyrated into the hearts of the crowd with her performances of “Love At First Sight” and “Family Affair.”
Spears, in tight black shorts and a teasingly small top, garnered shouts and rebel-yells from the males in attendance as she performed “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Baby One More Time.”
Prior to her performance, Spears told a group of media that she was extremely nervous about singing before the large crowd.
Aerosmith, headed up by lead singer Steven Tyler in his classic white chaps and jacket, played the 1970s hit “Walk this Way.” Tyler then sauntered out onto the extended ramp, performing “Dream On” as the crowd waved little flashlights, turning the Mall into a sea of light.
Many of the servicemen in attendance said the show was indicative of America’s support for its armed forces.
“I think it’s great that the NFL (is) kicking off the season for us, and what their doing – appreciation for the military – and I know the military really appreciates (it) in turn,” Chief Mass Sergeant Gill Fern said
“I’m hoping that it will show people that they appreciate the reservists and the active duty that are here, stateside and overseas,” Specialist Patricia Brown said.
Others said they wished Aerosmith and Spears would perform a concert in Iraq, where American troops are dealing with the day-to-day struggles of occupying a foreign country.
Following the concert, Steven Tyler said the group played the kickoff because Aerosmith was unable to perform on the USO Tour.
“If it was truly about us they would do something different. Like I think it would be cool if they transported this out to the troops; you know, if they set up little stations and entertained,” Senior First Class David Rivera said. “These troops are in hell right now.”
–Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.