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Starting Over

Warner, Parcells and Smith are among those who can't wait to see what new season brings

September 01, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The NFL season begins Thursday when the New York Jets play at Washington, the team that plucked four key players off New York's roster in the off-season. Nearly four months later, on Dec. 27, San Francisco's Terrell Owens faces Seattle, the team he galled last season when he caught a touchdown pass, pulled a pen from his sock and autographed the ball for someone in the stands.

In between, this season is all about the three Rs: Revenge, Redemption and Rubbing it in.

From Emmitt to Vinny, Jake to Kurt, Kordell to Mooch, players and coaches -- even ridiculed officials -- all over the league are ready to prove they still have what it takes, to leave their critics pummeled, pouting and punk'd.

So pull out your Sharpies and circle these games:

WEEK 1 -- New England at Buffalo: Mr. Bledsoe, this is Mr. Belichick. Mr. Belichick, this is Mr. Bledsoe. Oh, you've met?

Drew Bledsoe is nearing Doug Flutie status in Buffalo, but the Bill quarterback was thoroughly embarrassed last season by his former team. Patriot Coach Bill Belichick absolutely outfoxed him at Foxboro, drawing up a slew of confusing defensive looks, one of which featured no down linemen. Bledsoe's stats the last time he played the Patriots: 22 of 51 for 328 yards ... and four interceptions.

WEEK 2 -- Dallas at New York Giants: Bill Parcells kicks off his My, You Look Familiar Tour against the team he coached to two Super Bowl titles. Later, he plays at the Jets (Sept. 28), Tampa Bay (Oct. 26) and New England (Nov. 16). He coached the Jets and Patriots, and jilted the Buccaneers after agreeing to an offer. Rotten eggs incoming!

WEEK 3 -- Oakland at Denver: If the Broncos are determined to prove their mastermind, Mike Shanahan, was worth his enormous contract extension, and their new quarterback, Jake Plummer, isn't your everyday Griese kid stuff, then this is the game to do it. The Raiders beat them in Denver last year, ending a losing streak in Denver that started in 1995.

WEEK 4 -- Green Bay at Chicago: This will be the debut of the new Soldier Field, or "2003: A Space Oddity." With its mix of old and new, it has been described variously as interesting modern art, a Martian ship that crash-landed on the lakeshore and a futuristic toilet. A toilet, Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey noted, is better than a urinal -- which is what the old stadium smelled like. The place hasn't even opened, and already it's in need of redemption.

WEEK 5 -- Arizona at Dallas: Cardinal running back Emmitt Smith returns to play the team that helped make him the NFL's all-time leading rusher, then cut him loose. Smith told Sports Illustrated he felt like "a diamond surrounded by trash" last season. The Cowboys are out to prove Smith is a non-recyclable. This grudge game barely beats out the one happening in San Francisco the same day, where former 49er coach Steve Mariucci brings the Detroit Lions for a visit.

WEEK 6 -- Atlanta at St. Louis: The Rams make their "Monday Night Football" debut, and Kurt Warner gets a chance to show the nation he has awakened from the nightmare of last season, when he suffered a broken pinkie on his throwing hand, another broken bone in the same hand upon his return, and a broken record for his personal all-time-low passer rating: 67.4, compared with 101.4 the season before.

WEEK 7 -- Kansas City at Oakland: It's the only Monday night game of the season for Kansas City, and it's a good chance for the nation to see whether Chief Coach Dick Vermeil can work his third-year magic. Vermeil, remember, got the Eagles to the Super Bowl in his third season, then won it all with St. Louis in his third season. The Chiefs haven't been to the playoffs since 1997 and last won a postseason game in 1993.

WEEK 8 -- Denver at Baltimore: This game was supposed to be a Monday night laugher last season, pitting undefeated Denver against the winless Ravens, who had mustered seven points in two games. Well, it was a laugher, only it was Baltimore busting a gut. The Ravens scored 31 by halftime and won, 34-23. Some memorable moments the Broncos might like to forget: their defense's five penalties in six plays to set up a Baltimore touchdown, and a record 108-yard touchdown return by Chris McAlister on the Broncos' botched field-goal try.

WEEK 9 -- Green Bay at Minnesota: The Metrodome has been one of the hardest places for Brett Favre to play, but maybe that ear-splitting noise will drown out all the trash Viking defensive tackle Chris Hovan is talking. Hovan and the Packer quarterback are locked in one of the league's most colorful feuds. "Five or six years from now he'll go, 'God, what an idiot I was,' " Favre said this summer. Responded Hovan: "Yeah, I'm an idiot. I don't need Brett Favre to tell me that."

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