LOS ANGELES, August 3, 2014 — Six months ago, the Seattle Seahawks throttled the Denver Broncos 43-8in the Super Bowl. Six months from now, there will be another Super Bowl.
The midpoint of those events brings sheer football beauty. Yesterday saw seven new enshrines inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
On this Sunday, for the first time in six agonizingly long months, actual football was played.
It began with the soothing voice of one of the greatest play-by-play announcers of all time, Al Michaels. Michaels spoke of the “new beginning.” Then he introduced to a raucous crowd the newest inductees, Andre Reed, Ray Guy, Aeneas Williams, Claude Humphries, Derrick Brooks, Walter Jones, and Michael Strahan.
That is the past. Football always moves toward the future. Michaels turned to color commentator Chris Collinsworth to discuss the Hall of Fame Game they were there to cover.
As the song, “Sitting in the Hall of Fame,” blared, Canton prepared to take its center stage as the inaugural city for every season.
Cynics will point out that preseason does not count. The starters barely play. “Real football” does not begin until the Thursday after Labor Day, just over one month away. After six months of nothingness, the first preseason game is something. Everything is magnified.
In Los Angeles, the sound was overdubbed by a flash flood warning. For true leatherheads, the only thing that mattered was telling the guy predicting Noah’s Ark to be quiet and get back to football. People not in Ohio should have been indoors anyway watching the game. The doppler warning subsided.
Everything is magnified. The Giants won the toss and elected to receive. At 8:10 p.m. Eastern, The Bills kicked off for a touchback.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw a quick pass that was slightly off the mark and dropped. After a running play lost a yard and a short pass failed to gain a first down, the Giants punted.
The Bills began on the ground and gained little. Bills quarterback EJ Manuel completed a pass just past the marker for a first down. After a deep bomb was incomplete, Buffalo punted as well.
Preseason games do not count in the history books, but they still matter, especially the Hall of Fame game. While the Bills and Giants were hitting each other, the other 30 teams were itching to do so. They had to settle for practice scrimmages, and like many fans, these other teams still had yet to see live football action.
At 8:21 p.m. the football world saw the first big play of the preseason. Manning scrambled, got hit, and fumbled. The Bills recovered at the Giants 22 yard line as the first camera shot of Giants coach Tom Coughlin looking aggravated took place. A former military man, nobody looks aggravated in football like Coughlin.
That play also saw the first penalty of the season, offensive holding against the Giants. That led to the second Coughlin-cam.
At 8:26 p.m. and midway through the first quarter, Bills kicker Dan Carpenter hit a 30-yard field goal. The first points of the 2014 preseason were a reality.
At 8:34pm, on the third Giants drive, Big Blue crossed the midfield stripe. New York Giant football for the longest time was smash mouth, even as the NFL became a passing league. On this Day Coughlin went retro as big bruising running backs blasted into the red zone.
At 8:39pm, from the Buffalo three yard line, Williams powered in for the first touchdown of the preseason. The Giants led 7-3 with only 49 seconds left in the first quarter. Captain Grumpy Coughlin was so pleased that he almost smiled.
One new wrinkle that the NFL is experimenting with only in the preseason is the extra point. Only five extra points were missed in all of 2013. This preseason, teams not going for the two-point conversion have to kick the extra point from the 15 yard line rather than the one yard line. The 33-yard extra point attempts were made by both teams in this game. Once the regular season starts, the extra point will be snapped from the one yard line just as it was last year.
As for this game, EJ Manuel was already done for the night, and Manning was ready to put on a baseball cap and hold a clipboard as well. Backups would take over and reduce this to what it is, a preseason game.
It is still football, the greatest game in the world.
For those obsessed with the score, each team tacked on another ten points. Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Giants backup quarterback Ryan Nassib connected with Corey Washington on a 73-yard touchdown bomb. With the Bills trailing by four with 1:40 to play, they faced fourth and 24 from their own 16 yard line. A pass over the middle that could have meant a first down was dropped. Had it been caught, the play would have been nullified since the quarterback was beyond the line of scrimmage when the ball was thrown. This is preseason football.
The Giants 17-13 victory over the Bills came 24 years after these teams met in a Super Bowl for the ages.
An even-keeled Tom Coughlin knows not to get too high or low over one preseason game. He mentioned the mistakes and penalties, of which there were enough.
While the game itself was not a thing of beauty, it was football. After not having football for half of an entire calendar year, this game being played was beautiful. That it was played with the importance of Canton, Ohio in the background made it downright gorgeous.
The National Football League is back, and not a moment too soon.