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Return of the old guard

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  September 10, 2012 09:25 AM

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What is it? There's something about the photo above these words that seems to just sum up our general feelings about Sunday.

It's not just that football has returned, with local sports fans salivating for something good to immerse themselves in. It's not only relishing in the Patriots' 34-13 win over the hapless Titans. It's not the fact that, in that moment, LP Field's population looks to be about on par with a Bobby Valentine pep rally.

Maybe it's just seeing Tom Brady in Patriot blue rather than Versace. Maybe it's that badge of honor cradling his nose, broken or not. Maybe it's simply the ho-hum demeanor he seems to portray, understanding that a Week 1 win over Tennessee is but a grain of sand in the seashore that is the NFL season.

Maybe it's just having something to root for again in a sports landscape that has been a dismal soap opera the last three months.

In dismantling the Titans Sunday afternoon, the Patriots now have as many wins this month as that pathetic outlet across town. The Patriots are kings not only because of their success over the past decade, but also because it's impossible to root for the slugs that currently employ Fenway Park. Can you imagine the Red Sox medical staff trying to tend to Brady's nose? It might take them six weeks to come up with a diagnosis.

But we're being somewhat hypocritical. After all, this shouldn't be about comparing apples to prunes, a lost baseball season shriveled during a summer that is mercifully in the rear view. It should be about celebrating the return of the world's most popular sport. By any measure of its name, it is unequivocally football.

Could the NFL have had a better season debut than it had on Sunday? From Robert Griffin III's dazzling debut, to the still-got-it return of Peyton Manning in Denver, from Stevan Ridley's breakout, fumble-less game to the New York Jets' shocking attack on the Buffalo Bills, star power and compelling drama kept us glued to our Samsungs. Your fantasy team blew it, you won or lost money on the Seahawks, and...um, Randy Moss?

But for New England fans, that picture sums it all up. The constant that is Tom Brady, longer in the tooth, and without as much playoff cache as he possessed in the past, proved on Sunday that he remains elite among his peers. Aaron Rodgers? Drew Brees? They are a combined 0-2.

Brady and Manning? Undefeated.

Even on a day when youth burst onto the scene, it's refreshing to note that the old guard is still in charge. All that was missing was hating on Brett Favre.

The two elder statesmen will meet early next month at Gillette, and the hope here is that they'll face off in January again, either here or in Denver. For a league that needs no sort of hype whatsoever, based on the consistent product that comes from it each year, what kind of enormous deal would that be?

The NFL isn't perfect, and its commissioner may be an egomaniacal lunatic, but there is no greater sport that creates a keener social atmosphere than football. It's what you pined for over seven months. It's what you consumed yesterday, and it's what you're talking about at work today.

By December, nobody will recall much of what happened Sunday in Nashville, a game that is but a blip on a Super Bowl run. That photo of Brady will get lost in the thousands more taken of him this season.

But in that moment, there's a seeming satisfaction and understanding that things could not have started better, even with the ultimate goal a a very long 18 games away. 

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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