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Packing 'em in for opener

Favre's debut as a Jet is hot topic in Miami

At 38, Brett Favre faces a challenge in New York. At 38, Brett Favre faces a challenge in New York.
By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / September 7, 2008
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One of the first things Harvey Greene had to do last week was get some furniture movers into Dolphin Stadium.

The veteran Miami Dolphins media relations chief simply couldn't accommodate the throng of reporters expected for today's season opener, so he ordered all the large chairs in the press box removed, replaced by smaller, banquet-style chairs to seat more members of the press. In the tightly packed confines, it's quite possible that a reporter just might end up on the injury report with sore elbows.

This for a team that was 1-15 last season? Has the Bill Parcells Era really generated this much excitement?

Even CBS altered its broadcast tandems, rerouting the top team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms from New England to Miami, making the Dolphins' opener the network's top game of the week.

Greene can't recall an opener that has generated such buzz in South Florida. Nick Saban's first game as head coach in 2005 was up there. So, too, was Jimmy Johnson's in 1996.

But this one seems to stand above the rest, and Greene isn't naïve enough to overlook the reason why. While he believes optimism has been building in the area since Parcells was named executive vice president of football operations - and he's correct about that - he also realizes that today's media frenzy is centered around one of the game's iconic figures, Brett Favre.

What else could turn a season-opening game between the Dolphins and Jets - teams that combined for five wins last year - into a must-see event?

Greene said reporters he hasn't seen in Miami in 10 years are scheduled to be in attendance, mainly to capture Favre's new beginning with the Jets. It probably doesn't hurt that the quarterback Favre is opposing, Chad Pennington, is the one he ousted in New York.

It will be all-Favre-all-the-time, which was what much of July and August seemed like when Favre and the Packers went through their messy public divorce.

With the Jets, the 38-year-old Favre is fully aware that expectations are rising skyscraper-high. He acknowledged that he spoke with Jets coach Eric Mangini last week about the challenges of reaching such a high bar - and basically said no one could put more pressure on himself than he already does.

"I understand that most people think the odds are against me, and that's fine," he told reporters. "If it doesn't work out, so be it. I'm not here to become a god. I'm not here to get trashed, either. I'm here to help this team win.

"I still think I can offer something to the game of football and to myself. That's all I can do. I hope it works out, believe me.

"The Jets obviously feel they've made the right move. I feel like they've made the right move, but there are no guarantees. I don't get caught up in the other stuff, never have.

"My focus is to play football, and whatever happens, happens. If it doesn't work out, I go back to Mississippi, let everyone talk about me, and so be it. I'm not going to worry about that."

Favre acknowledged that he's not completely comfortable with the team's playbook, but he is confident in the elements the staff has decided to run at this time. He also feels more comfortable being in Jets green.

"I'm kind of over that," he said of the vision of himself not in Packers colors. "After the first preseason game, that always feels a little different. I had so many people, family and friends, say that it took a little getting used to, but it feels fine now."

His transition took a bit of an unexpected turn last week when he was named a team captain, as voted by his teammates.

"I'm honored, but I told Eric that I felt a little uncomfortable to be voted," he said. "As far as being a leader, I think three weeks is a little bit unfair for guys to make that judgment.

"I'm sure it was a hasty decision on a lot of people's part. Is it the wrong decision? It is what it is. All I can say is I'm honored to be a captain."

So when the Jets take the field today for the 1 p.m. kickoff, expect No. 4 to be one of the players leading them out of the tunnel.

"I feel like a rookie in some respects because of the circumstances," Favre said. "There will be some excitement and butterflies. I've had that each and every year, but there may be a few more this time than in years past."

Bentley lineman makes grade
The number of players from New England-based colleges that made final NFL rosters grew this year in part because of an unlikely source: Bentley.

Offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau earned a coveted spot on the Carolina Panthers' 53-man roster, becoming the first player in Bentley history to make an NFL club.

Make no mistake, Bernadeau had to earn it, beating out veterans Milford Brown (seventh year, Florida State) and Toniu Fonoti (sixth year, Nebraska), who between them combined for 87 regular-season games and 76 starts.

One of the last selections in the NFL draft - 250th overall, seventh round - Bernadeau was deemed too impressive by Carolina's coaching staff to be sneaked onto the practice squad.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 308-pound Bernadeau is listed as the third-string guard and center, which likely means he'll be inactive for games, as teams can dress only 45 players.

His position coach is Dave Magazu, a Taunton native and former Boston College assistant coach.

As for the rest of the New England scorecard, here is how it breaks down (not including practice squads):

BOSTON COLLEGE (21) - Guard Josh Beekman (Bears), cornerback/returner Will Blackmon (Packers), linebacker Ricky Brown (Raiders), defensive lineman Tim Bulman (Texans), offensive tackle Gosder Cherlius (Lions), linebacker Vinny Ciurcui (Vikings), offensive tackle Marc Colombo (Cowboys), quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks), defensive tackle Chris Hovan (Buccaneers), guard Pete Kendall (Redskins), defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (Giants), center Dan Koppen (Patriots), center Tom Nalen (Broncos), center Pat Ross (Cardinals), quarterback Matt Ryan (Falcons), tight end Sean Ryan (Dolphins), guard Chris Snee (Giants), quarterback Brian St. Pierre (Cardinals), cornerback DeJuan Tribble (Chargers), offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood (Buccaneeers), offensive lineman Damien Woody (Jets).

CONNECTICUT (5) - Fullback Deon Anderson (Cowboys), defensive back Tyvon Branch (Raiders), linebacker Alfred Fincher (Redskins), quarterback Dan Orlovsky (Lions), guard Donald Thomas (Dolphins).

MAINE (4) - Linebacker Stephen Cooper (Chargers), defensive end Mike DeVito (Jets), safety Brandon McGowan (Bears), running back Montell Owens (Jaguars).

HARVARD (2) - Center Matt Birk (Vikings), quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bengals).

NEW HAMPSHIRE (2) - Cornerback Corey Graham (Bears), fullback Dan Kreider (Rams).

BROWN (2) - Linebacker Zak DeOssie (Giants), receiver Sean Morey (Cardinals).

UMASS (1) - Receiver Brandon London (Dolphins).

MIDDLEBURY (1) - Kicker Steve Hauschka (Ravens).

SACRED HEART (1) - Linebacker Jon Corto (Bills).

CENTRAL CONNECTICUT (1) - Defensive end Jacques Cesaire (Chargers)

Colts may be a little soft in the middle
When the Colts host the Bears tonight in the first regular-season game at Lucas Oil Stadium, they'd better hope the foundation doesn't crack. Of their line, that is.

The Colts project to be without starters across the interior of their offensive line - with left guard Ryan Lilja remaining on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury, center Jeff Saturday sidelined with a knee injury, and second-round draft choice Mike Pollack, the hopeful first-string right guard, also ailing with a knee injury.

So the Colts are throwing untested players into the mix.

Former practice squad player Dan Federkeil is likely to start at left guard. He's played in 10 career games, with no starts. Meanwhile, rookies Jamey Richard (seventh round, University of Buffalo) and Steve Justice (sixth round, Wake Forest) are the options at center, while third-year veteran Charlie Johnson will slide into the right guard void. Johnson has the most experience of the group (30 games, 11 starts).

It's not exactly a comforting thought for Colts fans already worried about the health of quarterback Peyton Manning, who did not play in the preseason after undergoing surgery in July to remove an infected bursa sac in his left knee.

Etc.
Blocking tactics questioned
In announcing his retirement last Thursday, quarterback Daunte Culpepper hinted that NFL teams were colluding against him. "No matter what I did or said, there seemed to be a unified message from teams that I was not welcome to compete for one of the many jobs that were available at the quarterback position," he wrote in an email that was distributed to reporters. "It seems that the stance I took in both Minnesota and Miami regarding my rights as a person and player has followed me into free agency." Culpepper took one final shot at the league, saying: "I now understand why so many people within the NFL community are uncomfortable with a player really learning the business. The NFL has become more about power, money, and control than passion, competition, and the love of the game."

Steel trap
Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall lost three fumbles over two preseason games, and later he almost lost a small chunk of his salary. With teammates looking to improve his concentration, they had the first-round draft choice carry a football with him at all times, and when they saw him, they tried to knock it free. If they did, Mendenhall had to pay $100 for each fumble.

Faster than the average Bear
Planning to tune in tonight when the Colts host the Bears? Make sure you don't miss the opening kickoff, because Chicago's Devin Hester can change the complexion of a game in a hurry. In just two seasons, Hester has scored 14 touchdowns - seven on punt returns, four on kickoff returns, two receiving, and one on a missed field goal returned for a score. Hester averages 80.8 yards per touchdown, longest in NFL history (minimum 10 touchdowns). "It's like saying, 'I'm going to go fight Muhammad Ali in his prime,' " said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. "It's a scary thing to do."

Cross purposes
Safety Michael Griffin, the Titans' 2007 first-round draft choice, was kicked out of practice last Wednesday after an altercation with teammate Cary Williams, a cornerback. Griffin also had an incident last year, getting into a fight with linebacker LeVar Woods. Titans coaches and players talked about how Griffin needs to control his emotions, and the team could fine him to more decisively make its point.

False starts
This marks the 10th season for the Browns since their return to the NFL, and each season they've opened at home. That has naturally generated excitement . . . until kickoff. The Browns, who host the Cowboys today, are 1-8 in season openers and have been outscored, 211-112.

Now you see them...
In a sign that the Falcons still haven't won over all of their fans in the wake of Michael Vick's exodus and coach Bobby Petrino bailing out on the franchise last season, 1,500 tickets for today's season opener against the Lions remained unsold early Thursday. If those tickets hadn't been purchased by 1 p.m. that day, the game could have been blacked out locally despite the fact that quarterback Matt Ryan is making his first career start. The club was offering $10 discounts earlier in the week. The Falcons ended up selling the tickets - no NFL games are blacked out this weekend - but it was a too-close-for-comfort call.

Lasting impression
Linebacker David Vobora, the last selection in this year's draft, helped break a seven-year losing streak when it came to irrelevancy. While the last seven "Mr. Irrelevant" selections did not make it with the club that drafted them, Vobora did enough to stick with the Rams.

A Washington insider
Fighting to keep his NFL career afloat, former Norwood High star Alfred Fincher delivered the goods. Fincher signed with the Redskins July 31, well after training camp started, and appeared to be a long shot. But he totaled 20 tackles in the preseason, forcing his way onto the roster as the sixth linebacker. Fincher's next step is cracking the 45-man game-day roster, as he was inactive for the Redskins' season-opening loss to the Giants.

Extra points
Former Patriots safety Je'Rod Cherry, who played in 55 games for the club from 2001-04 and whose contributions came mostly on special teams, is giving up his Super Bowl XXXVI ring. Cherry is raffling the ring online and says he wants the proceeds to help needy children around the world . . . Where does the time go? This is the 10th season since the old Houston Oilers - now the Tennessee Titans - relocated . . . The Redskins opened the season with 10 2008 draft choices on their roster. Contrast that to the players on the roster from the 2003-07 drafts combined: nine . . . Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was elected a Steelers captain for the first time . . . The Lions finished with the NFL's best preseason record, 4-0 . . . Last season, nine of the 12 teams that made the playoffs won their opening game, although the Super Bowl champion Giants weren't one of them.

Did you know?
Bills linebacker Jon Corto is only the second player in Sacred Heart history to make an NFL roster or practice squad. Receiver DeVeren Johnson was a sixth-round selection of the Cowboys in 2002 and spent that year on the practice squad.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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