Just like Roger Goodell, I’ll be watching the NFL season opener on television tonight. The commissioner probably has one heck of a man cave all tricked out for such purposes.
Of course, if an expression of ultimate manhood were his aim, Roger would be at Gillette Stadium instead to withstand a blast of New England fan response colder and more vicious than any Nor’Easter.
This showcase game, Pittsburgh and the Patriots on a Thursday opening night, is how the Deflategate case would have looked and sounded if the judge had conducted hearings in an open, public setting. Somewhere like, say, Boston Common.
We’ll get football instead, which is almost as violent and combative as that might have been, and we’ll get Tom Brady playing quarterback for the Patriots rather than Jimmy Garoppolo, who might have played great but still put half of America to sleep by halftime.
This Thursday night energy is made for superstars and super teams, which is why the Miami Dolphins haven’t been involved in the league’s kickoff special since 2006.
Ratings weren’t so great that year, but it wasn’t all the Dolphins’ fault. The league office scheduled what it thought was a Miami team on the rise with Nick Saban as coach against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers at Heinz Field.
Nobody knew, of course, that Ben Roethlisberger would need an emergency appendectomy four days before the game. That left Charlie Batch in charge of the Steelers offense.
Here’s another thing that few saw coming. The Dolphins, winners of six in a row to end the 2005 season, were about to lose five out of six to begin 2006. If Saban hadn’t already started looking for an out, it couldn’t have been much longer.
Anyway, the NFL tried to kick it off right that night. Rascal Flatts did a pregame concert on a special stage behind the Heinz Field end zone. Martina McBride sang the national anthem. Fireworks filled the sky.
Then Daunte Culpepper took the field for the first of his four starts as Miami quarterback. What a buzzkill.
Short story, Batch threw three touchdown passes and Culpepper threw two interceptions, both of them in the fourth quarter and one of them returned 42 yards for a score by Joey Porter. Pittsburgh won 28-17.
Tonight’s game should be far more entertaining for a nation of football junkies all amped up for the real thing. Brady is back, for openers, or was he ever really gone? The entire debate thrills and disgusts vast segments of the population at once, which is the most irresistable television of all.
What’s more, this could turn into a high-scoring shootout. That Steelers defense is far less than it used to be, especially in the secondary, and Big Ben, a two-time Super Bowl winner, could rough New England up pretty good, too.
Roethlisberger sounds ready to match up with Brady, saying earlier this week that it would be easier to stop the Pats if the Deflategate suspension had stood up but “a bigger part of you as a competitor wants him out there because he is the best.”
The Dolphins, of course, open at Washington Sunday. It could be the start of a lot of good things. Can’t hope to get back into games as high-profile and symbolically charged as the annual NFL Thursday night kickoff if they can’t win that one.