A Matchup For The Ages
By Martin Rogers
You can either prepare for the biggest game of the National Football League season by turning your living room into a tailgate fit for a stadium or do nothing more than simply set an alarm to remind you it's kickoff time.
The choice is yours, and there is no wrong answer — unless you tell me you’ve accidentally made other plans that coincide with Sunday afternoon and will affect your ability to watch what is about to go down.
Marking any Week 1 battle as the “biggest” of an entire campaign that will stretch into February would usually be the height of foolhardiness, but when it is Tom Brady against Drew Brees and all the other layers that go into it, there is simply no other choice.
Each viewer will have their personal favorite out of the innumerable plotlines that makes Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans the most circled spot on this season’s fixture list, but if you can’t find something that interests you about this one then you’re probably not much of a sports fan, in which case this story might not be for you.
Let’s start with the obvious, in that this is the first time that Brady will be taking the field in a non-New England Patriots uniform since his University of Michigan days back in a prior century. No more royal blue with silvery accessories. No more Bill Belichick in his ear. No more weight of collective excellence to lean upon.
Combine that with the fact that on the opposite sideline is Brees, who is trying for what may be one final hurrah with the Saints after a career of awe-inspiring productivity. So, now do you see why this is the game that has got everyone talking?
“Father Time's going to get us at some point, but we're trying to beat him out right now,” Brees told reporters. “I've got nothing to lose. So, I'm turning it loose and letting the chips fall where they may.”
Brady is cognizant enough about time and its myriad concepts that he allowed access to his life for a documentary called “Tom v. Time” and the way these players can defy the body clock is a genuine talking point. This is the first time in NFL history two gentleman of such advanced years have duked it out at quarterback, with 43-year-old Brady and 41-year-old Brees being closer to the required age for one of those over-55 retirement communities than they are to most of their teammates.
Yet while no one has ever shown elite excellence at that age - in that position - neither has anyone ever done what Brees and Brady have managed across their career. If you’re statistically minded and fond of records, you’ll like this bit. Brees holds the all-time accolade for most passing yards and touchdowns, with Brady in second place behind him. Plus, of course, Brady needs two hands to accommodate all of his Super Bowl rings.
“Little did we know we would have the opportunities that we've had in the NFL,” Brees said. “I'm sure I speak for both of us when I say that I think we both kind of pinch ourselves, the blessing and the opportunity to be able to play this long and play for so many great teams and with so many great players.”
Football has snuck up on us this season, the absence of preseason games and the general mayhem of our altered lives being responsible for that. Now America’s game is here again, and it is not tiptoeing around.
“When the NFL schedule was released in May, we highlighted the top 10 must-watch games,” wrote Yahoo Sports’ Frank Schwab. “The answer for No. 1 hasn’t changed in four months. It happens Sunday. The NFL schedule makers didn’t bother easing us into the season.”
The much-anticipated Buccaneers vs. Saints tilt kicks off at 4:25 p.m. ET, while the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers host the new-look Arizona Cardinals at the same time, with both games airing on FOX.
FOX Bet’s odds bears out the reality that these aren’t just two top QBs, but two teams considered highly capable of challenging for a championship. The Saints are listed at 12-to-1 odds to hoist the Lombardi Trophy this season, while the Bucs come in at 14-to-1, which puts them at the fourth and fifth best Super Bowl odds, respectively.
When it comes to Brees and Brady, each respects the other, because, well, how could you not?
“Obviously when you go against great players like Drew and a great team like that, you know there's not a lot of margin of error,” Brady said.
It is a matchup that will tell us something about each team and where they are at in terms of getting on track quickly. It is a blockbuster, it is mouthwatering, and it is hard to think of a better way to get the first weekend rolling. If you like football, you know you’ll be watching, now you just need to decide the way to plan for it.
It’s up to you. You can get as deep into it as you like. You can go fully immersive and watch old clips of when Brady and Brees did battle in college, or any of their five NFL matchups. For the record, Brees leads the pro head-to-head 3-2, but his Purdue team got smoked in college.
You can get in some fancy coffee and dial in an order of donuts ahead of time. You can wonder how a duel headed by guys with a combined age of 84 is so darn compelling.
Or you can just sit there, comfortably and prepare to be entertained.