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Thrushes tackle NFL

ABC to air primetime pre-game concert

NEW YORK — For the second year in a row, the National Football League will kick off its season with a splashy live primetime special featuring big-name recording artists performing in famous outdoor tourist settings.

Last year, the league attracted 500,000 people to the pregame event in Times Square. This year, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., will be the backdrop Sept. 4 for a lineup that includes Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Aerosmith and Aretha Franklin. More performers will come on board over the next few weeks.

ABC will telecast the event for an hour at 8 p.m., leading in to the first regularly scheduled game of 2003, the New York Jets vs. the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in suburban D.C. The following Sunday, Sept. 7, features a full lineup of nationally televised games on CBS, Fox and ESPN.

The Sept. 4 special will pay tribute to the armed forces who risked their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Defense Dept. has invited more than 20,000 troops and their families to the event.

Legit beef

Last year, the NFL’s pre-opening-game spectacular Sept. 5 ignited protest from legitimate-theater owners who fumed they’d have close their popular TKTS booth in Times Square from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m., the busiest time of the day for playgoers seeking discounts. In a compromise between the antagonists a few weeks before the event, the NFL agreed to buy $250,000 worth of tickets for free distribution and to bring the event to a close at 8, not 8:30. The theaters delayed the usual 8 p.m. curtain time by a half-hour.

Pepsi Vanilla is the main sponsor of the D.C. event. Other “top-tier” sponsors are Coors Light, 989 Sports’ “NFL GameDay 2004” and Reebok. The producer is Joel Gallen, who co-produced last year’s Super Bowl halftime show.