Happy New Year, NFL Fans: Please Buckle Your Chinstraps

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Happy New Year, NFL Fans: Please Buckle Your Chinstraps

I'll open with the five words that made Bruce Buffer famous:

"Let's get ready to rumble!"

The wait is over, my friends.  Since the waning moments of the Pro Bowl in February (and for some, a month earlier) we have all been looking forward to the coming weekend with sad, puppy dog eyes.

Seven months. Seven entire months of speculation, predictions, assessments of unproven players, rankings, and an endless search for relevant news on our teams.

Some of us resorted to "America's pastime," digging into the division races and the steroids fodder, searching for the sleepiest of the sleepers for our fantasy baseball leagues. Exciting? Sure. Football? No.

Some of us vacationed to exotic lands or warm beaches with excellent scenery in more ways than one.  Relaxing? Sure. Football? No.

Some of us worked on our golf swing or our jump shot. Needed? Definitely. Football? No.

Some of us continued to gather at the local sports bar or, more conveniently, our local couch on Sundays to cheer for some of our favorite athletes. Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Derek Jeter (no, this isn't sponsored by Gillette). Thrilling?  Absolutely. Football? No.

Nothing compares to the NFL football season in the sporting world, at least in this country.

'Tis the season where friends and enemies alike are made in the trenches of your local sports bar or in the stands at the stadium. Where joy can turn to sorrow before your wings come out, and where the reverse can happen between the exit and the car.

No more poring over preseason statistics, over-analyzing a player or unit's output in those games, speculating on old injuries, or tearing apart the league schedule looking for a sleeper prediction.

It's time to buckle the chinstraps, adjust your shoulder pads, and hit the gridiron. 

The storylines are overflowing the cup of every fan, as they do every year about this time. 

Will top pick Matthew Stafford be able to perform in Detroit after beating out Daunte Culpepper for the starting job?

Will Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco duplicate and improve upon their impressive rookie campaigns?

What will Tom Brady do coming off of a horrendous knee injury?

Will Matt Cassel be able to perform at the level he did in Brady's absence with his new teammates in Kansas City?

Will Josh McDaniels be able to right the ship in Denver before its too late?

How will the Wildcat formation work out for Miami this year, or for any team that installed a version of it?

Michael Vick is back, but Plaxico Burress is now the resident NFL star locked behind bars as a season kicks off.

Peyton Manning will go sans-Dungy for the first time since he broke out as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

I could go on for days. Each team has at least a couple of topics for sports bar conversation this weekend and each team will develop a few over the coming weeks.

We can predict, break down, and simulate until the blue in the face, but the fact remains the same that none of us know what is going to happen. 

That is the beauty of this game. That is why the phrase "any given Sunday" rings so true.

Football affects us all—I don't care what type of fan you are.

To the persistent pessimist, the relentless homer, the hardcore fan, the casual supporter, and the uninterested observer, I have a challenge for you.

When you watch the players burst out of the tunnel and the fighter planes fly over the stadium, then listen to the crowd rise to their feet and realize that kickoff is upon them, and that realization creeps into your bloodstream, I dare you to keep the hairs on the back of your neck from standing up.

The wait is over, and kickoff is upon us.  Here's to the return of normalcy.  Here's to football.

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