The most awaited moment for American soccer fans has arrived. The seven-month drought ends today with the traditional NFL Kickoff when the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams begin the defense of the title won in February at SoFi Stadium.
This Thursday begins five months of passing, carries, receptions, and lots of tackles; 32 franchises begin the 17-week journey to find their way to the NFL playoffs: seven teams per Conference, with four divisional leaders and three wild cards. Once in the postseason, there will be hard-fought battles to bring it all down to the National and American Conference representatives, who will meet on Sunday, February 12, 2023, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
But until Super Sunday arrives, fans can enjoy a journey that starts with a high bar.
20 years since the first Kickoff
Not every NFL season began on a Thursday night. The game was introduced in 2002 when John Collins – then the league’s marketing executive – and Jim Steeg – who served as senior vice president of special events – implemented the game in order to boost the NFL’s economic recovery in New York and Washington in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The New York Giants were at home at Giants Stadium… but the San Francisco 49ers won 16-13. The game was a success and the beginning of what has become a football tradition. In 2003, it was the turn of the Washington Redskins (now the Commanders) to open the season with a 16-13 victory over the New York Jets at FedEx Field.
For the 2004 season, the New England Patriots (Super Bowl XXXVIII champions) began the tradition of having the Monarchs kickoff in the NFL. The Kickoff on Thursday trend has continued ever since, with three exceptions: the 2012 game was held on a Wednesday (Dallas defeated the Giants 24-17); in 2013, the Baltimore Ravens (Super Bowl XLVII) were visitors of the Denver Broncos, in the face of a scheduling conflict; while in 2019 the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears game was held with the oldest rivalry in the league, as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the NFL.
The king versus the challenger
Of 20 Kickoff games, 16 wins have gone to the home squads, while the visitors have pulled off the upset four times, most recently in 2019.
For this, they rely on Matthew Stafford as the leader of the aerial attack, who could maintain the good level he showed in 2021 and achieve a ring that many did not predict for him in his career.
On the other side, the Bills are the favorites in Las Vegas to win the SB, while their quarterback Josh Allen is the main candidate to win the regular season MVP. The team has a historical debt: in the ’90s, they reached four consecutive Super Bowls but left empty-handed. With the talent they have, many have hope for them.
For now, both want to take a good first step towards their aspirations.