While we're waiting on the NFL to bestow imminent wisdom on us all, and reveal the opening night opponent for September 10th:
Oh yes. I figured that part of it out on my own – the first Thursday on the calendar following Labor Day. We'll raise the new banner on September 10th. As to the visiting team, the general consensus from everything I've read and heard on the subject has Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or the New York Jets coming to Gillette Stadium for the Thursday Night NFL regular season opener. Perhaps the kick-off will come from one of those three teams, but for my money I'd prefer the J-E-T-S grace us all with their presence.
Sure, there's the New England vs. New York thing going on, which is ever-present in professional sports' consciousness, and fans near and far can get behind it with a certain degree of energy...especially with a guy named Darrelle Revis returning to the Dark Side for some extra coin just a few short weeks ago. The last time he stepped on the Gillette Stadium field would have been to win the AFC title. What about the tampering charges levied by both sides against the other? And it's always good to get an arch-rival into an 0-1 hole to start the season, isn't it?
While this one feels like the right thing to do in order to get the juices flowing, the best guess here is that the Eagles will end up providing the opposition. I have no direct knowledge of any decisions being made here, but a) it's an inter-conference, AFC-NFC thing; b) the rest of the free world seems to be tiring of New England-New York; c) offense sells, and both teams should have plenty of ability to put points on the board next season.
Television rules over all, and of course, this is entertainment we're talking about.
Although, a potential case could be made here for the Buffalo Bills as well, if you want to throw in the "improved offense" storyline. The Bills have a new quarterback in erstwhile Patriots' starter Matt Cassel, and haven't (yet) given up on E.J. Manuel. The addition of LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and Charles Clay should give whichever QB gets the nod an opportunity to have some success. Better to get these guys early rather than late. And of course, there's the Rex Ryan-is-the-new-coach thing going on in Upstate New York, too.
Draft needs are clear – or are they?
Decisions, decisions. There are so many to be made, it would be hard to make one and say "that's a dumb move." But in the interest of playing along – and we'll jump more into specifics here as we actually approach the NFL Draft later this month – let's put the priorities like this:
1) Offensive Line
1a) Defensive Backfield
Only the personnel department knows for sure, of course. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the O-Line needs an upgrade, especially with guard Dan Connolly's status still-in-limbo via free agency. The line had its share of ups and downs throughout the Super Bowl season, and while the end result was hoisting a trophy, Priority One right now should be keeping TB12 relatively clean and healthy for the upcoming "Drive for Five."
When a defense loses both starters at cornerback, that qualifies as a major re-build. The Patriots won't – and can't – replace Revis and Brandon Browner with the same kind of talent and ability as both players possessed. There are some talented guys available in the Draft however, and I feel certain Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler will also get every opportunity to show he's not a One-Pick Wonder. Bottom Line – if the guys up front Do Their Jobs, the new guys in back should be able to do their jobs pretty well.
As for those guys up front...starting with the linebackers, this spot is a bit of a head-scratcher. With Dont'a Hightower's recovery from a shoulder injury, and Jerod Mayo's status still unclear overall, this position could vault to the top of the "Needs" List in short order. Why else would the team have kicked the tires on a guy like Rolando McClain, who ended up re-signing with the Dallas Cowboys? Whether through the draft or through available free agents, and Jonathan Freeny has already been an addition here, the LB corps will stay under the team microscope.
The Greatest Game Ever – Was Just Played?
Now, I love a good debate. But was the Greatest Game in NFL history the one we witnessed just a little more than two months ago in Arizona?
Perhaps Patriot fans will agree on this one, but overall, I'd have to say it must have been some game to beat out the "Snow Bowl" effort in 2001 at Foxboro Stadium against the Oakland Raiders. NFL.com recently selected 32 of the "best" games ever played, dating to the 1958 NFL Championship between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, and readers voted on their favorites with the winners advancing to a title match up NCAA bracket-style.
There were some absolute doozies in the mix for consideration of the "best ever," with a couple of my personal favorites (Dallas-Green Bay "Ice Bowl" 1967, San Francisco-Dallas "The Catch" 1981, Pittsburgh-Oakland "Immaculate Reception" 1972 and the Houston-Buffalo 1992 Wild Card game, "The Comeback") all in the running. Five Patriots' games were deemed worthy as all-time greats, with the Snow Bowl of '01, Super Bowl XXXVI (St. Louis Rams), the '06 AFC title game against Indianapolis, Super Bowl XLII (NY Giants) and this year's Super Bowl XLIX (Seattle Seahawks) making the grade.
What was most fun about looking back at some of these games? Viewing the clips and listening to the announcers' highlights, and hearing the voices of Pat Summerall, Charlie Jones and Dick Enberg at the microphone again. As for the games' themselves, it's hard to go wrong with any choice made – although there were some surprises, to my way of thinking. Patriots-Colts of '06 over the NFL title game of 1958 between the Colts and Giants? Super Bowl XIII (Dallas-Pittsburgh) over the Ice Bowl? Super Bowl 43 over 42?
Well, it's all subjective, I suppose. And that's the fun of re-living the great moments.
But to put the Patriots' last-second, heart-stopping win over Seattle from two months ago on top of this list? That says something. For a game to be thought of as the best ever, it needs several ingredients...emotion, great plays, a title of some kind riding on the outcome, and an innate sense of importance that leaves little room for interpretation otherwise. And, it probably requires a relatively short memory, as historical moments tend to fade over time.
But it also might also need a nickname. You know, like the "Ice Bowl," or "The Catch," or the "Immaculate Reception?"
If Super Bowl XLIX is to go down as one of the greatest games ever played in NFL history, how about something simple, like "The Pick?" "The Butler Did It" has been done before, even though he sure did do it in this case. But short, sweet and to the point...leaving no doubt as to what you're talking about?
"The Pick" takes care of that, doesn't it?
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball for the past 26 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster