American Football: Vick's vision to lead Philadelphia and their 'dream team' to glory
After the lock-out came the shut-out.
The Green Bay Packers raised the curtain on a NFL season many feared would face the blackout blinds with a final-play 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints, who came within a yard of going for the two extra points which would have forced overtime.
The thriller at Lambeau Field – which was not to dissimilar to their nail-reducing Superbowl success over Pittsburgh Steelers in February – was just what Uncle Sam ordered. The pre-season was chaotic as teams struggled to make up for the time lost in the lock-out which began in March when the collective-bargaining agreement between the owners and players expired.
The Packers were supposedly one of the least prepared, but made a mockery of that as Aaron Rodgers threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Not to be outdone Drew Brees threw for 419 yards and also three touchdowns as the Saints emphasised their quality. And so the quarterbacks took centre stage on opening night and as ever in the next four the brunt of the focus will fall on the glamour boys, with Michael Vick chief of the headline grabbers.
This is the first time in five years the 31-year-old begins the season as a starter. If that implies a comeback then consider that he has signed his second $100m contract of his career – and was declared bankrupt inbetween. Vick's two years in prison for his part in a dog-fighting ring is already written large in grid-iron's roll of infamy and, regardless of however successful the most energetic of quarterbacks proves, many in America would do anything but hail a redemption.
However, in sporting terms, Vick's second coming obviously has the power to be the story of this or any other season; particularly as the Eagles have yet to win a Superbowl. "I've had a vision since the beginning of summer," Vick said. "I'm very optimistic that we're going to have a good chance of having a great outcome this season."
It helps that the Philadelphia Eagles have been signing up free agents to wages which would make certain football club owners in Manchester wince. Never mind Vick, Nmandi Asomugha, AKA the best cornerback in football, has been lured with a $60m deal over five years, while defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has rolled in with $25m over five years. Somewhat inevitably the "dream team" tag has been affixed and even more inevitably the critics have wondered whether the "team" part of the tag will be their downfall.
First up is Seattle, although it is next week's meeting with Atlanta Falcons, the favourites in an immensely competitive NFC South, that catches the eye. This could well be a preview of the NFC Championship game.
In the AFC, the New England Patriots will remain on every experts' notepad – hardly surprising seeing as they went 14-2 last season and have strengthened the team.
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