You may have thought the 2007 NFL Season ended on Sun., Feb. 3, around 9:30 p.m. ET, when Eli Manning found Plaxico Burress wide open in the left corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII. Perhaps -- and probably if you're a Patriots fan -- the season ended around, say, 9:34 p.m., after Tom Brady's final desperation Hail Mary pass on fourth down bounced off the grass and coach Bill Belichick headed up the tunnel to the locker room even though the game wasn't yet technically over.
Maybe, I'll grant you, if you're a real diehard football fan, you'd consider Feb. 10 to have been the end of the '07 Season. The NFL's annual all-star game, the Pro Bowl, kicked off around a quarter to noon in Honolulu and ended about three and a half hours later. I think that's around 8:30 ET, but the Pro Bowl -- an exhibition match played just seven days after the Super Bowl -- well, the descent from season's Most Important Game to season's Least Important Game in just 168 hours can be a devastating gravitational implosion, at least athletic-emotionally, and I very rarely watch, often finding myself surprised to click to familiar Fox coverage of familiar names in familiar helmets (but often jarringly unfamiliar Pro Bowl uniforms) playing football in balmy daylight on primetime national television after the season is over.
For me, the season ends tonight, or rather tomorrow, Feb. 29, 2008, at 12:01 a.m. ET, when NFL rules stipulate that free agents are, well, free and allowed to negotiate with teams other than the particular ones with whom they have just finished the season. Teams, which up to this point -- if only by NFL law -- had maintained their '07 identities, will lose them just after midnight. Agents -- not necessarily a bad breed of characters by any means -- will strategically peel players away from teams; owners -- themselves not necessarily a bad breed of characters -- will strategically shed salaries and stars or spend fortunes to stockpile for a Super Bowl XLIII run next year in Tampa. Headlining the speculation is the Patriots' Randy Moss, perhaps the most dangerous wide receiver in the league, whose one year contract with the team expires at the end of the 2007 season -- whenever the team's and Moss's lawyers determined that to be.
Teams, naturally, create a football season. They are the characters; we thread narratives to expand or contract storylines: Dolphins' receiver Greg Camarillo's overtime touchdown in Week Fifteen over the Ravens, for example, emerges as the 1-15 team's season-saving grace instead of simply a well thrown pass from quarterback Cleo Lemon to man-of-the-moment Camarillo; the embarrassing decline and sudden rebirth of a complex 47-man -- most of whom have generally similar but not always congruent ideas about how to play football -- operation in New York is pinned on 27-year-old Eli Manning's back, his single pass to Burress becoming the defining moment of his organization's clichéd but true story of success-after-failure.
Football, of course, is a team game; I love it as a team game (and sometimes it's hard to tell who's who anyway unless you've got a roster handy). The teams, then -- San Francisco and Seattle and St. Louis -- are to be dismantled tonight. The teams that delivered one of pro football's greatest string of victories, one of pro football's greatest upsets, and the ups of, say, the surprisingly successful Browns; the chagrin of the disappointing Saints, the refreshing mix of geriatric future hall-of-famer Brett Favre and a bunch of youngsters of the Packers, the (literally) homicidal, emotional wreckage and rebirth of the Redskins.
This season -- this 2007 Season -- has been phenomenally entertaining, from Spygate's surfacing in Week One to Green Bay's Ice Bowl II versus the New York Football Giants in the NFC Championship to, well, I'm not sure if Super Bowl XLII has been given a nickname (a la the "Tuck Rule Game" or "Wide Right"), but it certainly played out like a fairy tale.
If anything, this season was a season of superlatives. Tom Brady and Randy Moss broke records for touchdowns thrown and caught, respectively, usually from one to the other. Brett Favre broke every single significant career record a quarterback can break, from touchdowns to yards to interceptions, not to mention his ongoing Ironman 253-consecutive-starts longevity streak. The Pats' Ellis Hobbs recorded a 108-yard kick return for a touchdown against the Jets this season, the longest play on record--until San Diego's Antonio Cromartie returned a missed field goal for one-o-nine against the Vikings eight weeks later, thus setting, perhaps, the NFL's first unbreakable mark.
And now John Clayton, ESPN's "Professor," broadcasts tonight with a digital timer that ticks down, second by second, to 12:01:00 a.m. ET. Some teams, he reports, have acted early to secure their would-be franchise players; others have done the opposite. Onetime Super Bowl star defensive end Jevon Kearse, "Da Freak," has been cut by the Philadelphia Eagles, essentially to save money. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, another high-priced Super Bowl veteran, will return to the Patriots, Clayton reports, who are willing to pay millions to keep the twelve-year veteran around.
So the teams will whittle and thin and decapitate themselves and any number of things tonight. And then, my 2007 Season will be over. Tonight, the season rests in peace.