A few thoughts here on Pigskin Eve, the most wonderful time of the year…
Cowboys at Giants oughta be a good one Wednesday night, but I’m more excited for the blessed return to the ritual of Football Sundays. March Madness, the NBA Playoffs, and college football’s rivalry games are all terrific. Old-school sports writers may still wax poetic about Major League Baseball’s opening day, but make no mistake: here in the 21st century – from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, in our homes – pro pigskin is the true national pastime, and Football Sunday is the defining event for American sports fans.
I got lucky when the Football Gods assigned me my rooting interest back in the late ‘70s. I was born into a Pittsburgh home in the ‘70s, which meant I got to grow up during the latter years of the Steelers’ dynasty. When the schedule offered a game on the banks of the Three Rivers, my father, sister, uncles and I headed to the stadium for the latest 60-minute chapter of AFC Central-style ground-and-pound football. When the Steelers were on the road, my mother and I would pick up warm bagels on Murray Avenue on the way back from Sunday School before meeting an extended collection of relatives and friends at our house to watch the game. It’s where we communed – and where we still commune whenever we’re together. It hardly makes a difference if the Steelers are in the midst of a vintage season or a mediocre one. The game provides an opportunity to sit together in one place for a few hours, a chance to catch up, look back, and to feel lucky that we aren’t from Cleveland.
At 10am this Sunday, I’ll watch football at my place in LA with my three-year-old son. I’ll have a bagel, and I’ll complain it isn’t as good as the ones on Murray Avenue. He won’t understand when I tell him the rules of the game, or why we’re rooting for the team in black-and-gold, or how Pop-Pop, Aunt Amy, Uncle Mike & Uncle Scott are all watching back in a distant land called Pittsburgh. Someday, though, he’ll know our team gives us a touchstone, a way to connect with people who live far away. Some people have church. Billy Crystal, George Will, and Ray Kinsella have baseball. Us? We have NFL football.
- Bad news for Jerry’s ‘Boys: since the NFL Kickoff game started using the defending Super Bowl champs as hosts in ’04, the home team is 8-0.
- Last week, I predicted a Packers/Patriots Super Bowl. But after a conversation I had with – NAMEDROP ALERT – Willie McGinest the other day, I’m switching my AFC pick to the Texans. The health of the Matt Schaub/Andre Johnson battery is always a concern, but McGinest – who I’m guessing knows more about the Patriots than I do – expressed grave concerns about the state of New England’s o-line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: more than any other QB this side of Peyton Manning, Brady must be kept clean to be successful… and at least according to McGinest, Nate Solder and a less-than-100% Logan Mankins are gonna struggle to make that happen. Don’t worry, though, Packers fans: I still say your team will win it all. Unless LeRoy Butler calls me to say I’m wrong.
- You know what people don’t talk about enough? The fact that 21 years after the Lions drafted him, Jason Hanson is still alive & kicking in Detroit. He was a second-round pick out of Washington State in the spring of 1992, two years before Ryan Leaf arrived for his freshman season in Pullman.
- Cost-saving suggestion for the Rooney Family: the Steelers should draft LSU QB Zach Mettenberger to be groomed as Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement. 17 letters in both their surnames, the last syllables of which are identical. Just think of the sewing manpower the organization will be spared. Speaking of which, Mettenberger has to wear #7. As a bonus, he looks like he’s good.
- USC looked scary against Hawaii on Saturday… but they’re the ones that oughta be frightened about the latest allegations against the program. Look on the bright side, though, at least Joe McKnight turned out to be ‘The Next Reggie Bush’ in one way.
- South Beach-less Matchup of the Week: Brandon Marshall vs Vontae Davis. As first pointed out by my podcast pal, Handsome Hank (@NFLUKHank), the last time these two played a meaningful game, they were both wearing Dolphin aqua. Now they’ll spend 2012 separated by 186 miles on I-65… except this Sunday. It’s gonna be interesting to see how they match up after going against each other in practice the last couple years. (For the record, I’ll take Marshall.)
- Bart Scott says this season’s Jets D may be the best in franchise history. I don’t agree with him, but just in case he’s right, Rex & Co really oughta address that awful “Gang Green” nickname. C’mon, fellas. You can do better than comparing yourselves to a physical ailment. There’s a reason why the Rams D doesn’t call itself “St. Loupus”. (I could’ve also gone with “Hepatitis-Seahawks”, but I’m too classy for that.)
With all that being said, the time for words is through. Let’s kick 2012 off already. May your team go undefeated this season… unless they play my team. Merry Pigskin Eve to us all…