Last weekend, with the start of the 2009 NFL season, we saw the return of old favorites and the introduction of new players that are likely to impress both hardcore and casual viewers alike.
What more could fans want than Brett Favre coming out of retirement to play for the Vikings, Tom Brady coming back after missing nearly all of last year and the always electrifying Michael Vick returning to the league after spending almost two years in jail? This is enough to get even the most laidback football fan excited for the upcoming season.
Jets and Lions fans are excited to see if rookie quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford can give their teams a desperately needed boost. Sanchez did just that in his professional debut while Stafford struggled, throwing three interceptions. Bills fans are hoping Terrell Owens can give them a downfield scoring threat after finishing 7-9 each of the last three seasons, while Cowboys fans are hoping the franchise can win its first playoff game since 1996.
But even with these new storylines, Week One featured several themes from years past. The N.Y. Giants looked strong on offense even after releasing wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb played well before leaving the game with a broken rib and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees picked up where he left off last season.
Brees lit up the Superdome, throwing for six touchdowns and over 350 yards against Detroit. The Lions defense did exactly what they did last year: failed to show up. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson showed why he was the consensus No. 1 fantasy football pick as he ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Defending Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, started the defense of their title by defeating the Tennessee Titans in overtime.
Two of the most noteworthy stories of last weekend, however, were the season-ending injury to Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, 2005 Defensive Player of the Year, and the dramatic comeback of former Rookie of the Year, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who missed most of the last two seasons due to devastating knee injuries.
Urlacher dislocated his right wrist while making a tackle in the first quarter of Sunday night's game against the Green Bay Packers and will miss the remainder of the season - a crushing blow to the Bears. Chicago fans and head coach Lovie Smith had been counting on Urlacher to help lead the team back to the playoffs after two mediocre seasons in which the team was unable to reach the playoffs. A third consecutive season without a postseason appearance could mean the end of Smith's tenure in Chicago as head coach.
Williams' return as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running back is a remarkable story to mark the start of the NFL season with. Williams came into the league as the fifth overall draft pick in 2005 and in his first year led the Bucs to a division title.
Early in 2007, during his third season, Williams tore the patellar tendon in his right knee, a horrific injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the season. Many doubted whether Williams would even be able to play again after such an injury, let alone regain his quick cut moves that allowed him to be successful in the past.
Williams, however, had no doubts and was able to rejoin the Buccaneers midway through the 2008 season with a limited impact. Then, in the last week of the 2008 season, Williams suffered another disastrous injury, this time tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee.
Remarkably, Williams made a speedy recovery from this injury and earned the top spot on the Buccaneers depth chart, beating out Earnest Graham and high-priced free agent Derrick Ward. In Tampa Bay's first game, Williams rushed for 97 yards on 13 carries and scored a touchdown. Cadillac possessed the speed and agility that made him the great runner he once was, showing an incredible recovery from two injuries that should have ended his career.
Despite devastating injuries on several NFL teams, the return of many seasoned players and the initiation of a few rookies leave football plans with plenty to look forward to in the upcoming season.