The NFL has added a lot of extracurricular things — a fancy "kickoff" logo, a Thursday night opener replete with a star-studded pregame concert — to the first week of its season.
Hard-core football fans, however, find that stuff a distraction. For all the gimmickry the league’s marketing minds can dream up cannot match the excitement of the ball being kicked off for the first time on a sun-soaked September afternoon.
It is a time of tremendous promise, as every team is 0-0 and can dream of the Super Bowl. And anybody following the league the last few years knows that’s not an empty cliché.
And it’s also a time to get first impressions and formulate opinions. Here are some observations from the opening weekend of 2004:
• Terrell Owens played his first game in Philadelphia, showing the skills to match his swagger. He needed just 40 minutes to catch as many touchdown passes (three) as the Eagles’ starting receivers did all of last season.
"This is what I came here for," Owens said.
Owens also broke out a new touchdown celebration, flapping his arms like an eagle, which was shown ad nauseam on the Sunday highlight shows.
T.O., you’re a great receiver, but your schtick is wearing thin. You’ve been there before — many times. Act like it.
• Could it be possible that — with their offensive line and coach Mike Shanahan’s offense — the Denver Broncos could bring back Otis Armstrong or Rob Lytle and have a 1,000-yard rusher?
Clinton Portis is gone, but former third-stringer Quentin Griffin stepped in and rushed for 156 yards and three TDs against Kansas City.
"It’s nice to see Quentin come in and play at that level," Shanahan said. "It really didn’t surprise me. But any time you go into your first game (as a starter) and have a lot of pressure on you, it’s nice to see a guy step up."
• Speaking of Portis, his play for Washington — 29 carries for 148 yards against Tampa Bay — has many Redskins fans making comparisons to John Riggins and Earnest Byner, the catalysts of Joe Gibbs’ past Super Bowl teams.
The 205-pound Portis is not a bruising runner in the mold of Riggins or Byner. On Sunday, however, Portis displayed some power to go along with his breakaway speed.
"Portis is a tough guy," Gibbs said. "He’s going to be a heck of a Redskin."
• Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt is taking a risk with his immediate quarterback shuffle. A.J. Feeley is now the starter, after Jay Fiedler’s tenure lasted only one half against Tennessee.
"Whatever we’ve got to do at any position, we’ll do it," Wannstedt said.
There’s something to be said for creating a locker-room fear — ask Dennis Green. But guys can’t play the game if they are worried that, if they drop a pass or miss a tackle, they will lose their job.
And what does it say about the coach’s convictions when he takes just two quarters to make a depth-chart change at the highest-profile position?
Said Dolphins receiver Derrius Thompson: "It’s more beneficial for those guys, so that one guy can go out and play and not worry and have to watch his back every play."
• In 2003, Charles Rogers was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, a future superstar. It has taken the wide receiver just six games to suffer two broken collarbones, putting his career in jeopardy before it could even get going.
• During the offseason, there was lots of talk of how the league’s new illegal-contact rules could handcuff defensive backs. But in the 15 games played through Sunday, there were just 16 illegal-contact penalties called.
• Curtis Martin: The New York Jets running back got his bid for a 10th straight 1,000-yard season off to a great start, with 196 yards and a touchdown rushing against Cincinnati.
• Jerome Bettis’ fantasy owners: Five carries for a yard — with three touchdowns. Never have so many fantasy points been compiled from so little production.
• Seattle Seahawks: They answered the challenge and won an important road game. Get back soon, Shaun Alexander.
• Black shoes: What would Joe Namath say? They made a return in the late ’80s and have proven to be no fad. Now, 12 NFL teams wear them.
• Buffalo Bills: Jacksonville’s lastplay heroics would not have mattered had Buffalo not fumbled twice in the red zone, missed a short field goal and allowed the Jaguars to convert a fourthand-14 with 1:18 remaining.
• Jake Plummer: Just when you think he has finally figured it out . . . avoiding a sack by throwing a lefthanded pass for an interception? Jake, we know you’re a better passer than Garo Yepremian, but it didn’t work for him, either.
• Baltimore Ravens: Five hundred yards rushing for Jamal Lewis in two games against Cleveland last season, 57 on Sunday. And what happened to the defense?
• Charlie Garner: Little impact when the Tampa Bay running back touched the ball against Washington. The former Scottsdale Community College star could be nearing the end of the line.
• Minnesota at Philadelphia: The pitch-and-catch matchup — the Vikings’ Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss against the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens — is an obvious attraction. Playing in front of a noisy Philly crowd and "Monday Night Football" audience gives Minnesota a chance to show that it is mentally tougher than the team that bumbled, stumbled and collapsed late last season.
THE LAST WORD
"You all are going to have to talk about something else now, aren’t you? We won. Streak? What streak? I don’t know what you’re talking about. All that stuff was a much bigger deal to you than it was to us." — Detroit defensive tackle Shaun Rogers to reporters after the Lions won at Chicago to end a 24-game road losing streak, the longest in NFL history. Zeiger Counter appears each Tuesday during the NFL season.