It's the end of hibernation, feasting groggily on warmed-over preseason games, and endless days of mundane baseball. Football is the jewel of autumn and winter, but it's humanitarian aid dropping in beside the cars of home-bound, enjoy-the-beach-while-you-can shoobies.
Week One is oftentimes as fondly remembered by me as an Eagles fan as their later-season victories over the Cowboys, and their playoff thrillers. It's the familiar groove, a warm bath. Previous Sundays of spring and summer were directionless exercises in whimsy, just empty hours before returning to a weekly grind. In football season, Eagles season, those Sundays provide framework for many memories, in particular that first step into a new year.
It was underneath an overcast New Jersey sky that my brother and I watched an uprising on September 3, 2000. Behind unproven Donovan McNabb, the powerful legs of Duce Staley, and the determined might of Hugh Douglas, the Eagles gassed up on pickle brine 1300 miles southwest outside of Dallas, and stuck a knife into a decaying Cowboy legacy. Troy Aikman suffered one of his final head injuries in the fray, easily won 41-14 by the Eagle resurgence.
As McNabb threw down his best Dr. J impression over the crossbar on a fourth quarter score, the Henry siblings matched his jump with our own living room leap. Those painful few years from the rot of the Ray Rhodes era were melting away like powdered snow.
Four years later, it was with the same glee that we took in McNabb's indulgence of a new weapon: Terrell Owens. Opening day 2004, McNabb and Owens made sweet music in the Meadowlands, hooking up for three touchdowns in the start of what we thought was an era of excellence, but ended like a bitter divorce within 14 months.
Other years were just as venomous in the beginning. 2003 saw the Buccaneers open up the Linc with a spanking, clubbing the Eagles 17-0 on Monday Night Football, despite Sylvester Stallone rallying the crowd near the mezzanine. In 2010, Birds like Kevin Kolb and Leonard Weaver were plucked and stuffed as the Packers rained on the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1960 Championship team, under a literal downpour.
Some years held hope. With the helping hand of new playmaker DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia pummeled the Rams 38-3 in 2008. Just a year ago, the first glimpse of Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense had the Redskins' heads spinning, almost from the word 'go'.
These first impressions didn't always define the season, even if they did alter our moods. McNabb busting his ribs vs. the Panthers to kick off 2009 had us fearing the season was done for. That handy Rams beating in 2008 made no indication of the crossroads that lie ahead that November, when McNabb needed to be benched in order to get his mojo back.
Ricky Watters' "For who, for what?!" diatribe was a bad omen to start 1995 (and nowhere near as entertaining as the legendary story of Watters' undersized girlfriend cussing out offensive coordinator Jon Gruden the same day). Ray Rhodes erupted into an obscenity-laced speech following the opening day loss to the Giants in 1997, with the edited TV version blaring more bleeps than audible words.
In a matter of days, we'll all witness the beginning of Chip Kelly's sophomore season, the first Week One to see Nick Foles trade the clipboard for the audio helmet. The high expectations thrive in correlation with our eagerness to get through this likely-to-drag calendar week.
The determination to see the team kick off the season 1-0, their fourth consecutive Week One win (which the Eagles have never pulled off since the merger), is matched by the familial atmosphere of relevant pigskin canon dominating our Sundays.
Take it all in. Welcome back.
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