An Expository For The New NFL Season

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The NFL season kicks off this week, and there are some interesting storylines developing: a rookie quarterback who could make it big, a new "it" team and an overweight defensive lineman with a little snark in his voice.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

So before you holler - huh, they didnt talk about football? - we will. NFL season kicks off on Thursday night. New Orleans Saints are the defending champions. We shouldnt be surprised that strange things are afoot, forgive the expression, in the NFL.

As NPRs Mike Pesca reports, a few of the more intriguing stories going into this season are found in unusual places.

MIKE PESCA: Off-season in the NFL is filled with questions as familiar as they are imponderable: Which coach will be canned? Which rookie will run wild? And more.

Unidentified Man #1: When you look at what Dallas has and what theyre trying to do from the inside, do you think it can work?

Unidentified Woman: Can the Saints really overcome this Super Bowl hangover?

Unidentified Man #2: Do we get another year of Brett Favre?

PESCA: Yes, maybe, and yes. That would make for a short preseason show. But there are more intriguingly intriguing NFL questions, ones you dont hear year in and year out.

Lets start in Denver, where the game's most intriguing newcomer resides. Tim Tebow, a backup quarterback, has garnered more attention than any other NFL rookie; in fact, this year his is the best-selling jersey in all of football. His popularity clearly stems from his fame as a college player, an outspoken Christian. His on-field performance has been less miraculous. Heres what happened the first time Tebow took a snap in the Broncos' final game of the preseason.

(Soundbite of game broadcast)

Unidentified Man #1 (Announcer): Tebow a two-time national champion under center. And theres a botched snap, and its picked up by a member of the Minnesota Vikings and down the near sideline and Derek Anderson(ph), inside the five touchdown.

PESCA: And heres how his second possession went.

(Soundbite of game broadcast)

Unidentified Man #1: Tebow play action zips it (unintelligible)...

PESCA: But Tebows fate has been rewarded by millions of fans who like his values more than they concern themselves with his value to the Broncos. Jockey signed him as a spokesman to a three-year contract. Usually a company signs an accomplished player and hopes he does nothing bad off the field.

John Ourand of Sports Business Daily says Jockey has pulled an endorsement reverse.

Mr. JOHN OURAND (Sports Business Daily): Tim Tebow is a sponsors dream. He's somebody that would have long odds if you were going to break the law. Hes kind of a safe play. The only risk there is, what if hes no good?

PESCA: If Tebow is seen as possessing great character, the New York Jets are known as a team of characters, among them a matinee idol quarterback, a trash talking defense, and a brash head coach. The Jets have brought in the best ratings for the training camp documentary Hard Knocks since the series began airing on HBO in 2001.

John Ourand says the four TV networks, which pay a combined $20.4 billion dollars to broadcast NFL games, have gone Jets crazy.

Mr. OURAND: I was just at CBS and they were talking about the Jets being one of the teams that they are just desperate to get on, partly because they are in the New York market, but also because they just have these great stories.

PESCA: The reason this is intriguing is that, except when Joe Namath played there, the Jets have never even been the most popular team in New York, and last year their own coach thought they were eliminated from the playoffs with two weeks to go in the season. Rex Ryan had calculated the playoff odds wrong, and from that point on the Jets won games and the fascination of football fans.

Another miscalculation seems to be the $100 million contract awarded to Washington Redskin defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is great when hes healthy and motivated. This year hes been neither. A few weeks ago, Haynesworth discussed why Redskin coaches held him out of practice. Now, keep in mind that hes liberally employing air quotes every time he says headaches.

Mr. ALBERT HAYNESWORTH (Pro Football Player): I got(ph) told I had headaches or whatever, so - and thats why I couldnt go out and practice. I mean I think it was a little more than that and I guess they didnt want to disclose that, so...

Unidentified Man #2: What was it...

Mr. HAYNESWORTH: You have to ask them, but I guess theyll tell you headaches again.

PESCA: The 350 pound Haynesworth wasnt out of shape. He was reported to have a slight case of rhabdomyolysis, which involves a breakdown of muscle fibers. Somehow no Redskins coach was seen wearing the mauve bracelet dedicated to rhabdomyolysis awareness. The Redskins just wanted Haynesworth to try a bit harder. Non-Redskins fans are mostly amused by the whole thing. In the NFL, entertainment can be gleaned via fantastic success, or colossal failure. Intrigue cuts both ways like that.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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