College football got it so right over the weekend.
It was quite a sight at Camp Randall Stadium, stands packed and everyone bounding in unison to “Jump Around” by House of Pain, making us all feel as if it was brand new and we were all sorts of funky back in 1993 again.
If that was a great way to start the fourth quarter in Madison, WI., the overflow crowd at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA, showed everyone how to start the game. Orange clad fans, standing shoulder to shoulder on a sun-drenched afternoon, went berserk as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared and the Hokies streamed onto the field in an adrenaline rush that washed away favored North Carolina.
Those scenes from this weekend dominated social media — the same platforms that for the last year have tried to convince us to live in fear for our lives.
Those television shots of stadiums filled to the brim and bouncing to a beat went all over the country and made us all feel for three hours like things are kind of back to normal.
Action-packed football games in packed football stadiums for the first time since 2019!
Thank you, college football. That was amazing.
And you have to admit, NFL, your little brother put on quite a show.
Now it’s your turn, starting with a little party on Thursday night that will be televised around the country, and growing to a full-blown regular-season opening celebration on Sunday.
So the first week of the regular season has arrived. What you got, NFL?
“It’s set for the perfect stage,” Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said, thinking ahead to the Dallas Cowboys opener against defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
“Them coming off winning the Super Bowl title and obviously having fans back to full capacity, I think this is what the NFL and the world needs.”
We need something of a return to normalcy. We’re aching for it.
And while most of us are trying to get there, living every day best we can amid a disease that stole our jobs and our joy, our way of life and too much of our liberty, we sure could use some help.
The 2021 NFL season, with fans once again filling stands that were empty last year, surely can offer some of that help.
We all understand football stopped being exclusively about football a while ago. It started to also be about branding and marketing and influencers sending messages by standing on platforms or kneeling on sidelines.
I’m old school. I want football to stick to football. But I’m also a realist and understand I’ve lost that argument.
Football is going to stick to whatever it very well pleases, especially on the NFL level.
Well then, football, take this opportunity and represent something that our whole society could really use now:
Stitch us up and help us be whole again.
Because we are exhausted. We’ve fought COVID-19, and inflation, and high gas prices, and low employment and embarrassing retreats from wars not won.
We’ve all been beat on for a while, and we all need something to change the subject for us.
This is your chance, NFL.
Help us to think about what’s going on with the game. Help us to enjoy those precious three hours that you’ve got our attention. Help us to forget we hate the way our neighbor voted but love the team our neighbor loves.
Football can do this. The NFL can do this.
All the NFL has to do is be the NFL.
Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.
Start the games and let the drama take care of itself. Because the league is going to offer plenty of drama this season.
On the first weekend alone, we’ll see five games featuring ten 2020 playoff teams meeting and immediately measuring whether their 2021 Super Bowl aspirations are credible.
On the first weekend alone, we’ll see the last two national championship winning quarterbacks from Alabama playing on opposing teams in a key AFC East game.
On the first weekend alone, we’ll see Sam Darnold, now the starter for the Carolina Panthers, face his former team, the New York Jets, and witness which party takes revenge on the other for the past three years of mutual torment and frustration.
This is the year of the young and accomplished quarterbacks in the NFL, with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Prescott still growing and aiming for Super Bowl berths.
This is the year of the rookie quarterbacks, with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones all likely to get extensive playing time before the year is out.
And this is the year of a couple of older quarterbacks — Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers — who may still be better than all the others.
Yeah, there’s more…
Is this the year the Bills and their mafia take the next step?
Is it the year the Tennessee Titans or Baltimore Ravens make the NFL a running league again?
Is this Russell Wilson’s final year in Seattle?
We’ll know in the next few weeks and months.
A couple of years ago, we all thought Odell Beckham Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas were among the NFL’s best receivers. This season will decide who remains in that conversation.
A couple of years ago, we all thought Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott could be the NFL’s best running backs. This season, that conversation starts with Derrick Henry and we’ll see where it goes.
A few years ago, we thought coach Kliff Kingsbury might install the NFL’s most interesting offense in Arizona and that Vic Fangio brought perhaps the NFL’s greatest defensive mind to Denver. This year may decide if either guy is still in place in 2022.
The NFL’s got drama for us that we know is coming and probably some we could never expect. And it’s almost here, starting with fireworks on Thursday and then increasing to a full-on burn on Sunday.
“It’s a pretty cool game to play,” said Dallas coach Mike McCarthy of the Thursday night kickoff that always features the Super Bowl champion.
“We played in the game in 2011 … I could remember sitting in my office before the game and hearing Maroon 5 right outside the window and I remember thinking, ‘This is pretty cool.'”