The team that captivated an entire sports-nation throughout last season has been cast aside as an also-ran for the 2008’s inaugural weekend.
How can we not be shocked by this news?
New England is unquestionably the NFL’s biggest attraction. For an entire NFL season, they toyed with the emotions of all football fans. If you were from the Northeast (or were an adopted Patriots fan) then you celebrated each win with convincing authority. They didn’t just beat teams, they embarrassed them.
Forget Bridget and Giselle. Tom Brady’s most explosive fireworks came from his connections with Randy Moss on the football field. With each victory, perfection seemed more and more probable.
And with each victory, those outside Patriots’ Nation grew increasingly frustrated. Cries rang in decrying this team as cheaters, profiteers of an elaborate video-cheating scheme. Their coach, with his impeccable resume, was called a curmudgeon, criticized by the national media more for his choice in sweatshirts than for his play-calling and game management.
Yet no matter which side of the fence you found yourself standing on, it was impossible not to be captivated by what transpired during the 2007 season. Love and hate, there were no other emotions involved.
When the New York Giants pulled their best David impersonation in Super Bowl XLII, the world outside New England rejoiced. I’m surprised Don Shula and Mercury Morris didn’t go so far as to host a Giants victory parade in the streets of Miami in the days following the upset.
Despite the Super Bowl loss, the Patriots remain the NFL’s preeminent attraction. Super Bowl XLII was the most watched Super Bowl of all-time and the regular season meeting between the Patriots and Giants was the most watched regular season NFL game since 1995. Tom Brady is the biggest star in the NFL. Randy Moss is more dangerous to opposing defenses than Roger Clemens’ testimony is to his freedom.
No, the Patriots will not be playing in primetime opening weekend. Instead the NFL brings us the Giants and Redskins, the Bears and Colts, Packers and Vikings and finally, the Broncos and Raiders. All interesting matchups, all games where the teams have great histories playing against each other. However, outside of the Giants and Redskins, none of these games are as appealing as seeing the New England Patriots return to primetime.
The defending champion Giants deserve to be at the forefront of the NFL’s opening weekend—especially when the contest is against a passionate rival such as the Redskins. But do any of the other games inspire levels of emotion anywhere near those the Patriots would generate?
Peyton Manning vs. the Bears defense? Please, that game was played two Super Bowls ago and everyone knows how exciting it was.
Green Bay vs. Minnesota does present a few intriguing storylines: Aaron Rodgers starting his first game in the post-Brett Favre era in Green Bay, the electrifying and hard-nosed running of Vikings TB Adrian Peterson to name two. However, I’ll take Tom Brady and his impeccable abilities over a QB match-up pitting Aaron Rodgers vs. Tarvaris Jackson any day of the week.
And what do we make of Denver vs. Oakland? Granted, this is one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries. Last time I checked, though, Denver completely missed last year’s playoffs and Oakland has been busy this off-season spending like the women from Real Housewives. No, I’m pretty sure I’d rather see how New England’s offensive brain trust approaches this season after the Giants so successfully dismantled them in the Super Bowl than sit through another 60 minutes of Jay Cutler’s errant passes.
With its decision to leave New England off the primetime schedule for opening week, the NFL is making a clear statement. The black eye delivered to the Patriots’ reputation from the “Spygate” scandal is enough of a deterrent from a publicity standpoint that the league would rather push it to the backburner during the season’s first weekend. I’m not sure if this is an attempt by the league to “punish” New England or not.
What I am sure of, though, is that on the weekend pro football returns to center-stage, I want to watch the league’s most intriguing team in primetime. Controversies or not, New England deserves a place in one of these games.
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