- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Last year The Washington Times gave offensive tackle Jon Jansen a chance to voice his opinion in his weekly From the Trenches column. This season TWT gives a player on the other side of the ball an opportunity to speak out. This is the first installment of safety Matt Bowen’s Secondary Glance.

When I was approached by the professional writers at The Washington Times about writing a weekly column, I was a little skeptical. To begin with, how do I start this? Where do I draw the line? I don’t want to write anything that winds up on another team’s bulletin board. Most importantly, what in the world do I write about each week?

My mind turned into a vast cave of nothing, almost like an episode of “Seinfeld.” Maybe this was the direction I needed. What’s wrong with having a column about nothing, when a show about nothing is still being aired daily in syndication, still producing laughs and never getting old?

I don’t think so.

I really do have a degree in journalism from the University of Iowa. And I’ve written in the past for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Pro Football Weekly.

Now I’m not on the verge of winning a Pulitzer Prize by any means, but I still have a few creative words tucked away in my mind.

So what do I want to write about? The opener. Yes, this is my topic.

Baseball vs. football: which Opening Day is grander? Tough, but I believe I know the answer.

There is something great about the integrity and pageantry of the NFL opener. Now don’t get me wrong, I love baseball. I’ve been a Chicago Cubs fan since I can remember — please, no Bartman jokes — and I’ve been to my share of Opening Days at Wrigley Field.

But it’s just one game out of 162. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t even matter if you win on Opening Day in baseball.

In pro football, though, Sundays count — every one of them. Lose the opener and you have only 15 more chances to get it right. You won’t ever hear, “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow” in an NFL locker room.

There is just so much anticipation that goes into an opening Sunday. When I was a kid, I had one of those Christmas calendars with a little piece of chocolate for every day of December. No matter how hard I tried, or how much chocolate I ate, the days never seemed to move fast enough.

It’s kind of like that, only better. Instead of Christmas morning, you get big runs, huge hits and glorious passes only some of us throw in our minds. It’s the beginning of something new, and it could be the beginning of something great.

Growing up, I couldn’t wait to watch the pros play on that first Sunday. It didn’t matter who was playing, I just wanted to see the action. Afterward, I would rush to the backyard and pretend I was them. I would recreate the touchdowns and put my brother in position to take the big hit I had just seen (followed by him running into the house crying).

Crowds come alive on the first Sunday of the season. Take FedEx Field last weekend. You couldn’t ask for a better day: sunny skies, a warm breeze, the Redskins marching band dusting off the old drums and trumpets — do bands have trumpets? — and the chant of “Defense, defense!” before the opening kickoff. The largest crowd ever to see a game in Washington.

It almost had the feel of an early-season Big Ten game. Fans love this stuff. But you know what? The players do, too.

Every team that comes out of the tunnel on opening day knows it has a chance to be a great team. At FedEx, you’re standing underneath that giant, inflatable Redskins helmet, and you can just hear the crowd around you. It’s unbelievable, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Once Sunday’s game got going, we felt early on we had a very good chance of winning. I mean, you always have a feeling you’re going to win; you wouldn’t go out there if you didn’t. But on Sunday, we knew if we played team football, no matter what happened, we were going to win that game.

That’s a direct reflection of our coaching staff. In any great organization, whether it’s sports or business, everything starts at the top. When you have great leadership at the top, it filters down to everyone below. And it just makes everyone else better.

That said, as emotionally high as we were after Sunday’s game, it only lasted until the end of the day. Because then you realize all the mistakes you actually made. And you realize you have to correct those mistakes immediately, because you have another new challenge in front of you in 6½ days.

That’s the best thing about the NFL — it starts all over again the next Sunday. The games never lose their luster. They never get rained out, and you never run out of pitchers. It is unique.

Just like my writing style.

Staff writer Mark Zuckerman collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them to [email protected]

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