(This story was published in 2000).
I have been in NFL withdrawal for 30 weeks now, since a near-immaculate reception by the Tennessee Titans almost took the Super Bowl into overtime.
Withdrawal? You betcha. For me, the NFL is like a hit of ecstasy - it keeps me going all week long just to think about that Sunday 10:01am kickoff ahead of me. And, from February until Labor Day, I count down the days - from 216 all the way to that Sunday when 30 NFL teams take the field once again.
If the NFL is like ecstasy, Week 1 of the NFL season IS "My White Party."
Except, my white party has a leg up on the Palm Springs and Miami events: a hell of a lot more jocks, better bodies, cuter faces, tighter pants and, until Michael Irvin retired, more drugs. Plus, when somebody at my party says he's "straight-acting" or, dare we say, "straight," there is statistically a 90% chance that he is actually telling the truth - go figure.
Now, with just days left until that initial kickoff when the Pats take on the Bucs and the Chiefs host the Colts, I am finding it hard to concentrate at work. At night, I can't get the Panthers' schedule out of my head. As I eat chicken at dinner, I start thinking about the bird-mascot teams, how their schedule looks, will the Eagles or Cardinals win when they meet head-to-head. And I love it.
The best part of it may be this: there are no planes, no drunk taxi drivers, no overcrowded hotel rooms - I don't have to go any further than Mt. Washington, just east of the 5, to Buzzer's Place. There I spend the day cooking pancakes, watching Kevin Faulk fumble the ball, drinking beer, watching Bledsoe fire an interception, eating burgers, watching Adam Vinatieri miss field goals, drinking beer - only to see the Patriots pull out some absurd 18-17 victory on an 8-yard Bledsoe scramble.
For a football fan, it's overload. With the NFL package on DirectTV, you never get one minute of rest for 10 hours every Sunday from Labor Day to Christmas. For those who know more about the name of Madonna's next baby than the name of the starting quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, I'll put it this way: imagine an entire day at [insert name of circuit party here] where they just played "Believe" on repeat while showing a "Best of Madonna" music video marathon while you were on [insert name of favorite recreational drug here].
You only have to look at the excitement of last season where, week in and week out, there were nail-biting games, to see why I look for that Week 1 kickoff and why I keep coming back for 21 weeks (including post-season):
- Week 3, Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers. With 35 seconds left in the game, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre had just completed a pass to the Vikings 23 yard line. With time running out, Favre snapped the ball, pumped right, then looked left to Corey Bradford streaking past Jimmy Hitchcock. Bradford caught the ball for 6 points and left John Madden screaming, "unbelievable!"
- Week 5, New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots were undefeated, but down by two points with about a minute left. Enter Drew Bledsoe, who drove the Patriots down within a chip-shot field goal for sure-legged Adam Vinatieri. With no time remaining, Vinatieri shanked the ball left and the Patriots snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
- Week 6, Dallas Cowboys @ NY Giants. The Giants, with just a couple of seconds on the clock, scored a late touchdown to take the win. Or not. With Boomer Esiason asking, "what are they doing?" as the ball sailed through the air, the Giants opted to kick off to Deion Sanders who ran the ball to the 25, then lateralled to Kevin Mathis, who ran the ball to the Giants' 20, was tackled by the kicker, then lateralled the ball to a third teammate who scored a touchdown. But wait... the officials had thrown a flag on Deion's lateral and the Giants escaped with a win.
- Week 8, Cleveland Brows @ New Orleans Saints. The Browns were 0-7, and Cleveland fans were wondering if they were going to go O-fer the season. With seconds left on the clock, the Browns had the ball and time for one play. Rookie Tim Couch found a receiver in the front right corner of the end zone on a Hail Mary and the Browns escaped with their first win of the team's rookie season.
- Week 11, Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos. After Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski guaranteed a Broncos victory, the score was tied at 21 three minutes into overtime when Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon fumbled the ball at the Raiders' own 25 yard line. On the next play Olandis Gary ran the ball left for a touchdown and a sweet victory over Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's former team.
- Week 14, Minnesota Vikings @ Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs stunned the Vikings and jumped out to a 21-point lead in the first half - and then watched the Vikings score 21 straight points of their own. With eight minutes left in the game, Vikings quarterback Jeff George fumbled the ball at midfield and Chief defensive end Eric Hicks ran the ball back for a defensive touchdown. Enter Randy Moss. With 1:50 left in the game and the Chiefs still with a 7-point lead, the super-fast super-star received a punt at his own 35 yard line and ran 65 yards to tie the game. To cap off one of the best games of the year, Pete Stoyanovich kicked a 42-yard field goal with no time left to win the game for the Chiefs.
- Wild Card Round, Buffalo Bills @ Tennessee Titans. The grand-daddy of them all. With 16 seconds left in the game, Buffalo had taken a two-point lead that it would take a miracle for the Titans to overcome. Enter The Miracle. On the ensuing kickoff, Titan Lorenzo Neal received the ball and quickly handed it off to Frank Wycheck running right. Wycheckthen stopped, looked left, and threw the ball back to the left sideline to Kevin Dyson. And, as the call went: "He's got something. 30. 40. 50. 40. 30! 20!! He's got it!!! 10!!!! 5!!!!! End zone!!!!!! Touchdown!!!!!!! THERE ARE NO FLAGS ON THE FIELD!!!!!!!!! IT'S A MIRACLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TENNESSEE HAS PULLED A MIRACLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Never in playoff history had a kickoff been returned for the winning touchdown.
The circuit boys can have their Madonna - I have Peyton Manning; they can have their E - I have Deion Sanders; they can have their Tea Dances - I have Terrell Davis.
They can have their ecstasy - I have my own.