Yes, it’s a time-worn headline, “Are you ready for some football?” And yes, the answer is obvious. But I will attempt to elaborate on why this season may be different for many football fans.
The 2008 NFL season is upon us, and this year’s theme from the NFL: “Believe In Now” just doesn’t cut it for me. Surely they could have done better. To me, more appropriate could be: “A season of questions begins, who has the answers?”
Certainly not as catchy, but much more descriptive of what so many fans are facing this season.
Headlines from across the nation are remarkably similar, and, as always, optimism flourishes upon entering the NFL regular season. Whether your team made big splashes in free agency or selected a much-heralded college player in the draft, fans from all teams can be excited about the upcoming season. Every team starts with the same record after all.
And it doesn’t really matter if your team is a consensus “contender” or a consensus pick to wallow in the basement of your team’s respective division. One play can change a season. For better or for worse, everything can change in an instant.
And with the end of the preseason comes the temporary end of the debate over whether preseason games should be reduced in number, eliminated all together, or left as they are. But the debate over the effects of the “happenings” during the preseason will continue.
For the fans whose teams lost key players to injury in particular, there will remain that feeling of “what if.”
"What if (insert players name here) hadn’t gotten hurt? What if (insert coaches name here) hadn’t played (insert players name here) in the preseason so much, or not at all?" The “what ifs” and “if they just could haves” will continue for most fans to the end of the season.
And so we move on to the NFL’s most exciting time of year. The regular-season opener this year, like many years past, features the defending Super Bowl Champions. The New York Giants’ unlikely run to a championship last season showed, once again, that this game is as unpredictable as the weather.
The NFL’s “weather men” (or weather women, as the case may be) will analyze the models, scrutinize the players, and attempt to translate history, all in an attempt to give us hope or to prepare us for the impending doom.
But none of it will really matter. None of it will really tell us what we want to know. Will “my team” win it all this year? We won’t get that answer for many weeks to come.
And the NFL has done a masterful job of building this excitement. From NFL Network’s vast coverage of all 32 teams, to each team’s local newspaper, Internet, radio, and local TV coverage, fans are inundated with their team’s practices, roster moves, coaching strategies, star-player performances (or lack there of), and sleeper picks.
We read it, hear it, and see it, even write about it ourselves now, like never before. And all of it only adds to the anxieties we already have about our teams. No fans are entirely immune to doubt, no matter how small, it is there, lurking under optimism and hiding behind confidence. We all feel it on some level.
Is Brady really going to be ready? What if he gets hurt? How about the Mannings? Can Eli’s ascension into quarterback lore stay on pace, or will he revert back to his mistake prone, big-play ways? Is Peyton’s knee really healed now, and what if he gets hurt? Can Russell become the quarterback savior the Raiders drafted him to be? Matt Ryan? Joe Flacco?
Can Adrian Peterson keep breaking rushing records? Is Tomlinson the same dominant back he was before the injury that prevented him from finishing the postseason? Can the Seahawks find a running game from “recycled” running backs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett?
Can Jeff Garcia actually take the Bucs to the promised land, as Gruden says he can? Can Jake Delhomme regain the form that led the Panthers to the Super Bowl? Can Bill Parcells re-build the Dolphins into a contender again? Can Wade Phillips and Tony Romo win a playoff game?
Are McNabb’s days in Philadelphia really numbered, and can he stay healthy? Can Shanahan finally take the next step without Elway? Norv Turner? Marvin Lewis?
Oh, so many questions, so few answers.
A new era also seems to be underway throughout the league. This new era centers around quarterbacks. Seemingly, youth and inexperience have overrun the position like never before.
Tarvaris Jackson, Jason Campbell, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, Vince Young, Matt Schaub, Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart, J.T. O’Sullivan, Kyle Orton, Aaron Rogers, Jay Cutler, JaMarcus Russell, Joe Flacco, and Matt Ryan. They all have several things in common.
- They are on this fairly long list of quarterbacks with less than two full-seasons on the field and are slated to start for their team. (This is a lot of youth at quarterback. Leinart has apparently lost this designation.)
- They are all trying to prove that they’re good enough to lead their team to a championship, no matter the “naysayers”
- They are part of a youth movement that began to show itself with the early rise of Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and has been gaining steam ever since
- And with few exceptions (Carson Palmer, Phillip Rivers) they haven’t really done anything definitive enough to anoint them as “the real deal” just yet
And still other up-and-coming youngsters like Phillip Rivers and Carson Palmer are trying to match the feats of “Big Ben” and Eli. Will any of them prevail? Or will it be yet another relative unknown to step forward and make a name for himself and launch his team into “the conversation?"
Or will the “old guard” simply make us all yearn for a “real quarterback?” That’s right, as strange as it may sound, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, heck, even Kurt Warner, Jon Kitna, Jeff Garcia, Matt Hasselbeck, Chad Pennington, Donavan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Jake Delhomme are the “old guard” now, each with at least three years starting experience.
With few holdovers from championships past leading their team (there are four quarterbacks with rings on their fingers that should start the season), the chances are good that many of these youngsters will make us hold our breath in the latter stages of the season, in anticipation of great things to come, and make us scream at the top of our lungs when they do something foolish.
And how about the intrigue that comes with new head coaches? Indeed, with head coaches without so much as coordinator experience (Jim Zorn in Washington and John Harbaugh in Baltimore) and others with no previous head-coaching experience, there are several unknowns for these teams.
Each brings his own new brand of football, and with that, new hopes and new fears. Some are “rebuilding,” while others are simply “in transition.” But for each, change is certain. Or is it?
But there is one thing that is certain, absolute, and inarguable (so much so that I loathe to point it out, to state the obvious, or to make the “understatement of the year”).
Deep breath now. All together.
Yes, I am ready for some football!