The NFL has been the most popular league in American sports since it claimed the title from the MLB a little over 30 years ago. And yet, every sports analyst thought it was in jeopardy when the NFL started its lockout in early March, after the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV (which is the single most-viewed program of any kind in U.S. history, with 111 million viewers).
So it's all for nothing, right? The lockout ruined everything.
Wrong. As every sports fan voiced their collective sigh of relief on July 21st, anticipation mounted quickly, and is ready to burst come September 11th.
Which is one of the reasons the NFL will enjoy a great season.
The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks takes place on a Sunday this year, and what better weekend to kickoff the start of the 2011 season?
The NFL have prepared a great slate of games, such as the New York Giants traveling to Washington to face the Redskins (the two cities targeted by the attacks), the New York Jets facing the Dallas Cowboys in New York (Dallas is known as "America's Team") and the Pittsburgh Steelers traveling to Baltimore to face the Baltimore Ravens (with Pittsburgh's close proximity to the crash site of United Flight 93 and Baltimore's close proximity to Washington, D.C.).
Last season, the Green Bay Packers, one of the NFL's most storied franchises, made a phenomenal run to capture the Lombardi trophy and bring it back to its home in Lambeau.
This story line will persist throughout the season, as Green Bay attempts to defend its title and capture it again in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Speaking of Indianapolis, much has been made of Peyton Manning's current neck injury and how it will affect the Colts' upcoming season.
Whenever Peyton Manning is on the field, the Colts are contenders for the Super Bowl. And if Manning is indeed nearing the end of his career, what better send-off is there than a Super Bowl win in Lucas Oil Stadium?
Then we have the lockout itself, and just having this season take place will seem like a treat to fans, players and owners alike.
While the lockout mainly had negative connotations (including no trading of players in the NFL Draft, the extremely short offseason and free agent period and the horrid new kickoff rule), it drew attention from people who would normally not have been interested in the NFL at all.
The talent level in this day and age of football is unbelievable. When has there been a time when there were so many elite quarterbacks, wide receivers, halfbacks or defensive players? There are so many freakish athletes in this league, and it makes watching them square off every Sunday that much better.
2011 will be a great year for football, and will be the dawn after the storm that was the lockout.
We just have to hope Brett Favre doesn't take his talents to South Beach.