(This is an article written by Richard Graves, a presenter and broadcaster for over 25 years, covering sports’ biggest events and interviewing the biggest names. Richard has covered the last 8 Super Bowls along with countless other major sporting events. You can follow him on social media here.)
As opening day matchups go, they don’t get much bigger. The reigning World Champions against “America’s Team.”
While the Cowboys may be the richest franchise in sports, the Buccaneers hold the prize everyone else in the NFL wants to rip from their grasp – the Vince Lombardi trophy.
It’s been 17 years since a team won back-to-back Super Bowls (2003 & 04 Patriots) but those teams had Tom Brady at quarterback and now he leads a Bucs unit which is returning all 22 starters from Super Bowl LV.
As we head into tonight’s matchup, what are the key components?
Now 44 years old but showing no sign of slowing down. He has 7 Super Bowl winners rings – SEVEN!
That’s more than any other single franchise in the NFL! 12 months ago, the question was, can Tom Brady enjoy the same success away from New England? Well, he took the Bucs straight to the Super Bowl.
That was without a proper pre-season, due to the pandemic, a coaching staff he hadn’t worked with and an offensive philosophy, different to what he was used to with the Patriots.
Now he’s had a year to work with this team, they’ve already won the Lombardi Trophy – just imagine how much better they’ll be with a true off season under their belts!?
How the Cowboys missed their signal caller in 2020. Until Dak went down with a season ending ankle injury in week 5, he was on a record setting offensive pace.
Dallas showed their commitment this off season, giving him a 4 year, $160m contract – now come the lofty expectations!
Armed with an array of offensive weapons – a wide receiving corps that is no doubt the envy of many of their rivals – Dak can’t afford to start slowly and neither can this offense against the much vaunted Bucs D.
Tampa’s only other Super Bowl success (2002) was built on the famed “Tampa 2 defense.”
Well, the 2020 Bucs defense set about creating their own legacy. Led by Devin White, alongside Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, this might be the best linebacking group in the NFL. They stifled Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in successive games to win Super Bowl LV.
Add the mass of Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea on the defensive line into the mix, this unit is enough to give Dak and the Cowboys offensive line, shawn of star guard, Zaxh Martin, sleepless nights leading into this game.
THE RETURN OF FANS
Be it in America or anywhere else in the world over the past 18 months – sport has missed its’ fans and the fans have missed being at live sporting events.
Tonight will see the first capacity crowd at an NFL game since February 2nd 2020, Super Bowl LIV.
For those of us attending that day, it was inconceivable what would transpire over the next year and a half. The saying goes, big time players make big time plays, in big time games!
Well, without fans at the game, the occasion never seems quite so big. Going for it on 4th & 2 in a half empty stadium doesn’t feel quite as pressurized as when a partisan capacity crowd is willing you to fail with the game on the line and the adulation of victory is never quite so great as when 60,000+ of your home fans are right there, celebrating with you.
Make no mistake, tonight will be a party as Tampa Bay celebrates its all conquering heroes – and for the NFL audience at home, the colour and noise they bring will be a very welcome addition.
An estimated American audience of 20 million viewers tuned in to watch last year’s season opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.
Expect that figure to be higher tonight! Whether they are good or bad, the Dallas Cowboys draw a crowd. There’s a reason tv networks scramble to fill the maximum of 5 primetime slots allowed for any one NFL team over the course of a regular season.
The Dallas Cowboys are box office! Fresh off appearing on this years’ Hard Knocks, expectations in Big D are high once again.
Align that with the reigning Super Bowl champions, led by the most successful player in NFL history and tv executives start salivating. So, fire up the bbq, throw on some wings, brisket and burgers and kick back with a cold beverage in your favourite chair.
The NFL is back!