Thank God, football's finally back!

BY foxsports • September 7, 2011

At long last it’s back.

Tonight, we get Aaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees in a game that matters. We get football on the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field. We get to settle into our couches in our homes, crack open beers and soda and sweet tea wine and, that’s right, watch some NFL football.

Can you feel it? That’s the real thing tickling your sports funny bone: Games that matter, brought to you by our nation’s biggest and baddest sport after a season of lockouts, over-reaching punishments by an overly eager commissioner, speculation, contract drama, holdouts and sports boredom in general.

Forget the commercials of footballs falling out of the sky. There’s no more need for nifty marketing tricks by a league that threatened to undermine itself during the offseason. No need to feign interest in tired preseason games or put in the effort to pretend all but 10 Major League Baseball teams are playing for anything other than pride.

We’re past trying to convince ourselves tennis is the most important sport on earth. Past arguing half-heartedly that because it’s on television, poker must be a sport. Autumn is here, and with it, thank you God, so is some meaningful football.

That means so much, it’s a wonder some pandering politician hasn’t pushed through the notion of making the start to the NFL season a national holiday.

Here’s what else it means:

It means we get to sit in bars for hours — all day Sunday — and in no way risk the label of lowlife degenerate. It means many of us get an NFL exception from our spouses for blessed hours free of mowing lawns, painting cupboards and cleaning homes because they know football matters. Baseball can’t give you that. Neither can the NBA, which has its own problems these days, or any of our college sports.

For this, NFL, we thank you.

We thank you for the Dallas Cowboys at the New York Jets, and Romo vs. Sanchez, and whatever crazy, goofy wisdom Rex Ryan drops on us afterward.

We thank you for Atlanta at Chicago on Sunday and the chance to see whether Jay Cutler can lead a team most believe he abandoned in last year’s NFC Championship Game.

We thank you for the hope in St. Louis and Oklahoma that Sam Bradford will become a top-tier quarterback, proof that college injury need not end big-time professional dreams.

We thank you for the Todd Haley meltdown watch that commences in Kansas City starting in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

Houston’s particularly thankful. They get to stop pretending they’re a natural part of SEC country and focus instead on having a real crack at beating an Indianapolis Colts team without the injured Peyton Manning.

Coast to coast, game to game, every city gets a little bit of its own rivalry, anticipation, storylines and old-fashioned NFL football. Yes indeed, let the good times roll.

Let Philadelphia head to St. Louis and show us just what a football Dream Team looks like when the game matters. Let Vikings QB Donovan McNabb find out, along with everyone else, whether he has anything left.

Let Mike Shanahan either get it done in DC or finally taste his first back-to-back losing seasons in his long, illustrious, now turbulent career. Let Detroit have a shot at being better, and let fans from Boston to San Diego rejoice in the game’s return.

Hell, let’s let Cutler have the first word about the good will of a fresh start. About time he was heard from in some meaningful way.

“It’s been kind of up and down this offseason with the lockout, and then having to rush through camp and have to squeeze everything in,” he said this week. “I think everyone is excited in the building, to finally kick it off and get the season going.”

You’re right, Jay. Everyone is.

It’s been a long way coming. College football has been somewhat soiled by scandal after scandal, and as glorious as it is — and there’s a joy to it — it ain’t the NFL.

Baseball has reached its inevitable end-of-season status as relevant only in a few (mostly) rich sports markets. (Sorry baseball fans, even those hanging on in places like Baltimore and Houston, but that season mostly ends when the NFL begins.) Basketball may be heading toward its own long-term lockout, and even when in full swing, its start is not the same as the NFL’s.

There’s so much to love. The reinvention (you, Mr. Cutler), the question marks that matter (hello, Peyton Manning), the rags-to-riches-to-prison-to-riches-again saga playing out between the lines (hey there, Michael Vick), mercifully a season with no Favre watch (stay quiet down there, dude, not one peep), the villains (insert opposing team’s star players here) — all of this starts now.

Let’s enjoy it. Let’s soak it in. We, the fan, have earned it. There have been lockouts and holdouts, punishments and scandals, injuries and egos — all the stuff that comes with the territory.

All of it was the price to pay for something beautiful, something grand, something starting right now: the greatest game on earth.

You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at