The next season, we were so good and knew it; rolling off our first 13 games of the year before stumbling at the Giants and at the Dolphins. After the Miami debacle, I went to Mile High Stadium and watched as Terrell Davis topped the 2,000 yard mark for the season against the Seahawks. It was a fantastic day which set the scene for our playoff run and subsequent victory in Super Bowl XXXIII. Good times.
This season though, with all of the doubts about our squad, from Jake Plummer's turnover problems to the importing of four Cleveland defensive linemen, we were just an afterthought in the playoff and Super Bowl picture.
Hey NFL: We're ba-ack.
But that's just the first of seven reasons that I'm excited for the next 10 years of the NFL. Folks, that takes me into my mid-to-late thirties! This is terrific!
Reason Number 1: The AFC West
Football's toughest division happens to be the one my beloved Broncos play in, so this is both a blessing and a curse. But from the top of the division (Denver) to the bottom (Oakland), nobody has more upside at every level. Denver: tough, physical, fast defense complimented by the best running game in the league. Kansas City: Speed all over the place, from the tailback spot to the linebacker corps. San Diego: LaDanian Tomlinson, a strong couple seasons from Drew Brees, Antonio Gates coming out of nowhere, and a defense that isn't terrible. Of course, they're still coached by Schottenheimer. Finally, Oakland: Um… well… they've got Randy Moss. Bottom line, the most exciting division in football is going to remain that way for years to come, as each season one team drops a little and another takes their spot. I've never seen anything like it.
Reason Number 2: The League is getting better
This definitely has to rank as a high point for production in the history of the NFL, and it will only get better as more of these exciting prospects develop. I can't remember having a more impressive group of quarterbacks, all of whom are under thirty years old. Mike Vick (aka: Ron Mexico), Vick 2.0 (Mike's brother Marcus, coming out of Virginia Tech next season), Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Alex Smith, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, (maybe) Bradlee Van Pelt… can you remember a time when there were this many quarterbacks with such a bright future in the league? This is open to discussion, by the way – if you can tell me a better group of young QB's, I'd be very interested.
Reason Number 3: The Coaches are better
There are coaches in this league that can win at any point, with any personnel: Bill Belichick is the obvious choice, but there's John Fox in Carolina, Andy Reid in Philly, Mike Shanahan in Denver, Mike Holmgren (I still say he's a good coach) in Seattle, Lovie Smith in Chicago, Marvin Lewis in Cincy, Nick Saban in Miami (just give him time, folks), and the list goes on. These guys are solid X's and O's types who give their teams a better chance to win close games. Close games are more exciting.
Reason Number 4: Fantasy Football
I've been playing this game for years, but it's really caught on, with friends of mine begging to be in our league. Trash talk, gambling, roster switches, gambling, trades, gambling… Does it get any better than Fantasy Football? And it's hotter than ever. Everyone is good now, since there are roughly 10 million publications and 800 bazillion websites dedicated solely to a game that has no bearing on real life. I know guys in leagues that pass around a trophy to the winner every year, like the Stanley Cup. Just an outstanding way of looking at football each week.
Reason Number 5: Parity
Speaks a lot to coaching in the league when parity makes this list. Yes, New England has won three out of the last four Super Bowls, I know. But they won't win it this year. And judging by how good Indy is and how good Denver's been, they won't win it next year either. New teams get into the playoffs every year, which is good for the league as new fans are born in the playoffs.
Reason Number 6: Two words: John Madden
MMMhmmm. That John Madden. The one that knows so much football, it's disgusting. The one that cannot seem to speak about it eloquently. I thank God every Sunday for John Madden. He's so unintentionally funny… and he reminds me of my grandpa. Something tells me that if I went to lunch with him, he'd have a Reuben and some prune juice. My grandpa, John Madden.
Reason Number 7: Two more words: Super Bowl
Biggest sporting event in the world. And there's no chance that another sporting event trumps it, not in our lifetime. If Slamball had made it, I'd say it would have a chance, but there's no way that baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball, tennis, golf, or any other sport you could dream up, would be able to take away "Biggest Event in the World" status from the Super Bowl.
What are your top seven reasons to love the next ten years of football? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be included in the next mailbox. Raider fans need not apply.
Sam DeWitt is a sportswriter and DJ living and working in Denver. His column appears regularly on BroncosUpdate.com, and he can be reached at email@example.com.
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