The NFL's opening weekend was all it took to remind us what made baseball's owners and players suddenly so agreeable.
They didn't need a swift kick when a gentle nudge was enough. They must have realized that once football started for real, nobody would miss them.
Is there still any debate about which game is the national pastime?
Didn't think so.
Pro football is faster, wilder, woollier and its fling with steroids is already in the past. Stadiums are packed because every game means something. And 99.9 percent of people who follow it have no idea when the next round of labor negotiations begin - or the last one ended.
Contrast that with baseball.
There are too many games and most are too long and way too predictable. Too often it looks as if they're being played in front of relatives. After the weekend, all but a handful of baseball's 30 teams have already been mathematically eliminated from contention or threatened with contraction.
The NFL, meanwhile, officially reopened for business in Houston, a nifty move for a sports league that left town a half-dozen years ago to yawns. But the second the Texans beat the Dallas Cowboys, that $700 million Bob McNair plunked down to revive football in Houston seemed like a steal.
That one win gave his town bragging rights in a way that a World Series between the Astros and Rangers would be hard-pressed to match. And it wasn't even the best game on Sunday's schedule.
Three went to overtime - the New York Jets beat Buffalo, Green Bay edged Atlanta and New Orleans topped Tampa Bay - marking just the second time in league history that many games went to an extra period on the opening weekend. But despite two kickoff returns for touchdowns by the Jets' Chad Morton, none of those were the best games, either.
That designation probably belonged to the Kansas City at Cleveland game. Thinking he'd sacked Chiefs quarterback Trent Green to end the game, Browns defender Dwayne Rudd tossed his helmet downfield. Because he had his back to the play, Rudd didn't see Green flip the ball to tackle John Tait, who rumbled 28 yards to the Browns 25.
First an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on and then, because games can't end on defensive penalties, kicker Morten Anderson got to attempt a 30-yard field goal with no time on the clock. The Chiefs won 40-39.
What made the whole thing even better was Rudd's postgame response to questions about the play. He didn't whine, wince or threaten to call the union and grieve the decision.
"That was a great call by the ref," Rudd said, and left it at that.
Almost as wild was the finish in New Orleans at Tampa Bay. Backed into his own end zone and handcuffed by the snap, Buccaneers punter Tom Tupa tried to avoid being tackled for a safety. With no prayer of getting off a kick, he tossed a weak, left-handed pass directly to New Orleans' James Allen in the middle of the end zone.
"I'm disappointed," Bucs coach John Gruden said. "But I'm not going to be the one to let this fester for very long."
Right. And this from a guy who already shows up to work most mornings by 4 a.m.
But look at it this way: At least Gruden didn't get hurt.
In Washington, NFL rookie Steve Spurrier cut the middle finger of his right hand trying to rip off his headset over a holding penalty. But at least his team won.
"This is one to remember," said Spurrier, a tough guy to impress. "It's a big deal that we won."
And a whimsical deal, too. NFL teams look after details better than their counterparts in other sports leagues, and the Redskins look after details better than anybody. Owner Dan Snyder paid Spurrier $5 million, and coughed up another $1 million to bring former Ravens whiz Marvin Lewis in to handle the defense. He spent a fortune on players and charged fans to watch his team practice.
But for all the time, money and effort invested in Spurrier's debut, nobody bothered to check on the health of kicker Brett Conway, and the lack of a backup nearly sabotaged those grand plans.
Conway, bothered by a hip injury during training camp, experienced what he called "a total failure" in his leg in the first half. With no contingency plan, Spurrier pressed Wuerffel into emergency duty. He kicked off so short that he had to make the tackle himself at Washington's 42-yard line.
Spurrier threw his playbook to the ground. He wouldn't say afterward whether he envisioned losing the game or his quarterback - or both.
"It's dumb of us to not test him out thoroughly," Spurrier said. "We'll have another kicker in here next week."
Though it's probably the last untapped market for major league baseball, Washington doesn't have a team yet. That's probably a good thing, since all anybody there will be talking about all week is where to find a good leg.
Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
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