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In My Opinion


‘Everybody’s happy, everybody’s undefeated:’ NFL opening day is always special

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

The last couple of months we really felt it at my house – at least the three of us who care deeply about the NFL. “It’s taking forever to get here,” my older sons, ages 15 and 12, kept saying.

They weren’t talking about school starting. They were talking about Sunday, the first big day of the NFL season, and in particular Carolina’s 1 p.m. home opener against Seattle.

As great as summer is, it sets most of the male population of our household adrift in terms of sports viewing. We aren’t big baseball or golf fans. So between the Final Four in April and the NFL openers in September, we struggle.

We are reduced to watching game reruns on NFL Network or the DVR and, when desperate, the first quarter of random exhibitions. The kids have more free time than me, so they talk endlessly with their friends about their fantasy football drafts and simulate countless NFL games thanks to John Madden.

Does that sound anything like your house? Have you missed the NFL? Will you be joining 70,000 of your friends at Bank of America Stadium?

I know a lot of you will, or else will be watching at home. According to a recent ESPN Sports poll, 72 percent of Americans say they are fans of the NFL. It is easily the No.1 spectator sport in the country. In the 18-year history of that poll, that fan-base percentage ranks as the highest the NFL has ever received.

Many people wax nostalgically about baseball openers in the spring, but the first NFL Sunday is the best opening day in pro sports. That’s why it is particularly disappointing that the Panthers have the worst opening-day record in the entire NFL (.333 winning percentage). They have so often taken the air out of the balloon on a day that should be great.

But a sense of hope that smells like leather sprouts in 32 NFL cities every fall, for players and fans.

As Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said last week of what it would feel like Sunday: “It’s going to be an adrenalin rush like no other. … The first game of the season, everybody’s juiced. Everybody’s healthy. Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s undefeated.”

Well put, although not everybody is undefeated anymore. The NFL technically opened Thursday night, and so the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are 0-1 after allowing Peyton Manning to throw seven touchdown passes.

That was nothing like the dizzying onslaught Sunday will bring, however. The Panthers-Seahawks game is one of 10 that will be played at 1 p.m., with touchdowns scored and fantastic plays being made all over America. Then there are two 4:25 p.m. games, a Sunday night game and two Monday night games. The NFL buffet is open once more, and all it is missing is an omelet station.

When Newton was asked about his personal goals for this season Wednesday, he said: “To be 1-0 at the end of Sunday when I lay my head down.”

That won’t be simple, as Seattle has a ferociously good team and might well send the Panthers spiraling to their fifth straight opening-day loss.

“Opening day is exciting, but it’s sometimes so exciting you can miss a few things,” said Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who plans to unleash his “Kraken” alter ego as usual on game day. “In some ways, I’d be more excited about Week4, because by then I’ll be settled in and I can dominate.”

There is nothing settled about opening day. It is a blend of the new and the familiar, the start of another journey. It might not end well, but the start of the trip is always cool.

So have fun Sunday. You deserve it. It’s been a long summer.

Fowler:; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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