The NFL got it right in 2002 when it turned the first Thursday of the season (and one Wednesday, thanks to a presidential campaign) into its own national holiday. The annual season-opening game is a perfect way to bring football back into our lives after a long offseason. This year, we'll see a rematch of last year's Super Bowl between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos — minus Peyton Manning, of course. That should be one spectacular game, but Cam Newton, Von Miller and their respective teammates will have their work cut out for them if they hope to play the best season-opening game in recent history.
2008: Giants 16, Redskins 7
In the sense that all NFL games are awesome because they're football games, this one was great! In every other sense, it was completely unremarkable — and that includes the fact that the long-forgotten Jim Zorn was the coach for Washington.
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2003: Redskins 16, Jets 13
We have two data points in the past 15 years that point to one distinct trend: Do not have Washington play on opening night. Steve Spurrier's squad won on a last-second field goal; that minimal amount of drama was the only redeeming quality of this game.
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2002: 49ers 16, Giants 13
Believe me, there's no bias against defense here. A well-played, low-scoring game can be every bit as exciting as a back-and-forth affair. Like the previous two games on this list, though, the scores were low in the very first Thursday night season opener because the teams played poorly, not because of outstanding defense. On the bright side, much of the scoring came late, as Tiki Barber tied the game on a TD run with 1:55 remaining before the Niners won the game on a Jose Cortez field goal.
Getty ImagesBernie Nunez
2005: Patriots 30, Raiders 20
Yes, that's Ozzy Osbourne (and Zakk Wylde, for the metal fans) helping to kick off the 2005 season, as the back-to-back Super Bowl champions took on the Raiders ... for some reason. Ozzy's performance, which I'd honestly forgotten all about, was somehow still the second-most memorable part of the evening, behind a 73-yard TD to new Raiders WR Randy Moss.
2014: Seahawks 36, Packers 16
You know how some games are closer than the final score would otherwise indicate? This was not one of those games. The Seahawks destroyed the Packers on both sides of the ball, which was probably entertaining for Seattle fans and those with an affinity for watching Marshawn Lynch engage "Beast Mode." Miss you, Marshawn.
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2010: Saints 14, Vikings 9
Brett Favre's final NFL season got off to a tepid start. He dropped back 28 times against the Saints, completing 15 throws for just 171 yards, tossing one INT and suffering a lone sack. Drew Brees wasn't particularly great in this one, but he didn't need to be. The defense — and the beginning of the end for Favre — took care of things.
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2007: Colts 41, Saints 10
This one, on the other hand, didn't go so well for New Orleans. The Colts scored 31 unanswered points in the second half, including an INT return for a touchdown in the final minute for good measure. Some might call that rubbing it in, to which I have one reply: maybe don't throw the ball when you're down 24 points and there's only a minute remaining. If you do, and if you throw a duck, a pick-six is fair game.
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2009: Steelers 13, Titans 10
There's nothing like an overtime NFL game, and we got a nail-biter to start the 2009 season. Ben Roethlisberger took to the air the entire night, finishing with 363 yards and 1 TD on 33-for-43 passing, as Pittsburgh tied the game with just under three minutes in the fourth on a Jeff Reed FG — before Reed sealed the win with a 33-yarder four minutes into the extra period.
2012: Cowboys 24, Giants 17
The home team has lost twice in the past 14 season openers, and both times, it's been the Giants on the losing side. (As mentioned in the introduction, this game technically wasn't a Thursday opener. The Cowboys and Giants played on Wednesday due to President Barack Obama's appearance at the Democratic National Convention the following evening. Also, long-time NFL fans will recall that the league has experimented with Saturday and Friday starts to the season going as far back as the first few years of the league. Only the Thursday tradition is a recent development.) Anyway, as for the football: Dallas sacked Eli Manning three times, and though the Giants QB was otherwise solid, Tony Romo won the battle of the signal-callers with a 307-yard, 3-TD performance.
Getty ImagesJim McIsaac
2006: Steelers 28, Dolphins 17
All hail Charlie Batch — and the lineage of backup QBs he represents. With Ben Roethlisberger sidelined by appendicitis, Batch came up big, throwing an 87-yard TD pass to Heath Miller in the fourth quarter to give the Steelers a 21-17 lead. It was one of three TD passes on the night for Batch, who got some help from Pittsburgh's typically stout defense and a Joey Porter pick-six that iced the game with three minutes left.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
2015: Patriots 28, Steelers 21
The first time that we dealt with Deflategate nonsense, Tom Brady ended up playing against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. He was outstanding in last season's opener, connecting with Rob Gronkowski for three scores and finding Scott Chandler for a fourth. Roethlisberger could only muster a last-second TD to make the game respectable, and we never had to hear about Deflategate ever again, right? ... right? Sigh.
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
2004: Patriots 27, Colts 24
Hey, look. It's Tom Brady again, and his old friend Peyton Manning! Yeah, fair warning: From here on out, we're all about the elite QBs. 2004's opener was almost perfect — one of the game's best rivalries featuring two of its greatest players in a primetime matchup decided by just a field goal. In the end, Brady (26-for-38, 338 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) was better than Manning (16-for-29, 256 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT), and the Patriots bested the Colts.
2013: Broncos 49, Ravens 27
Peyton Manning more than made up for the lack of drama in 2013 by roasting the Ravens with a record-setting performance. The Broncos QB threw an absurd seven TD passes against Baltimore, which had to play on the road thanks to a scheduling conflict with the Orioles. Seems like they could have worked that out well in advance, but I'm not a schedule-making doctor. I don't pretend to tell those fine folks how to do their job. Probably should have avoided it, though. Just saying, not judging.
Getty ImagesSteve Dykes
2011: Packers 42, Saints 34
Combine a ton of points with meaningful football until the very last play, and you have the best season-opener we've seen on Thursday night. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers combined for 731 yards passing and 6 TDs, Randall Cobb added a ridiculous 108-yard kickoff return, and Green Bay's defense held on for a last-minute goal-line stand. If Thursday's opener between Carolina and Denver is half as good, we should consider ourselves lucky.