The start of the NFL season is just one month away.
And here in Florida, there is an incredible excitement in air. We are counting down the days. Fans are rushing to buy tickets. They are bantering back and forth about whose team is better. There is championship fever in the air.
Yes, the NFL season is just four weeks from today, and we Floridians absolutely cannot wait for opening night … of the NBA season!
It's OK, you can admit it. All of you NFL helmet-heads can come out of the closet and confess that you are much more excited about LeBron, D-Wade and Dwight than you are David, Chad and Josh.
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That would be David Garrard, Chad Henne and Josh, um, uh ... Freeman? Yeah, Freeman, that's it.
Those are the starting quarterbacks of the three NFL franchises in Florida. We know them in this state as the Jaguars, Dolphins and Bucs, but nationally they are about as anonymous as Matt Kuchar's swing coach.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew told ESPN the other day that the Jags are "America's Team." Puh-leeze. The rosters of our three NFL teams are closer in stature to America's Got Talent than they are to America's Team. Sadly, the Dolphins, Jags and Bucs aren't even the most intriguing NFL story in their own state.
What's it tell you when the biggest NFL personality in this state is Tim Tebow — and he plays 2,500 miles away in Denver?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying basketball is overtaking football in popularity in this state — that would be foolish. Even Magic coach Stan Van Gundy won't go that far.
"This is the first time in a long time that both in-state teams are expected to be among the best teams in the NBA," Van Gundy says. "Naturally, that makes the excitement for the NBA here in Florida as high as it has ever been. Still, I don't think anything can diminish Florida's love of football at all levels."
Magic general manager Otis Smith grew up in Jacksonville and doesn't entirely agree with Van Gundy. Yes, there is an intense football passion in Florida, Smith says, but it's not necessarily at all levels.
"Football will always be king in this state, but it has nothing to do with the NFL," Smith says. "It has everything to do with college football. People who were born and raised here grew up on college football."
Exactly. College football is the reason Florida will always be a pigskin peninsula, but when it comes to professional sports, you cannot deny Florida is quickly becoming an NBA state.
Baseball, of course, is not even in the conversation. The Florida Marlins are next-to-last in the league in attendance while the Tampa Bay Rays, even though they have the second-best record in baseball, are 23rd out of 30 teams.
In the NFL, all three state teams are coming off losing seasons and are having problems at the box office. It's not surprising considering their story lines are almost non-existent.
Let's take the Bucs as an example. Seriously, can you think of anything or anybody on that team that is even remotely interesting?
In Jacksonville, the biggest story line of the preseason came when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell essentially told fans in the city to either start filling the stadium or risk losing their franchise. It's reached a panic point where Mayor John Peyton is begging fans to buy tickets to avoid the league-high number of blackouts the Jaguars had last season.
As for the Dolphins, the only reason they are interesting is because they acquired talented but tempestuous wide receiver Brandon Marshall during the offseason. But let's face it, when LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat tipoff the season in late October, the Dolphins will shrink to the size of guppies.
Every Heat game this season is already sold out while the Magic will take a 75-game sellout streak into the 2010 season. The Magic have already sold a franchise-high 14,000 season tickets — 2,000 more than last season.
The Heat-Magic should be contenders for years to come. The Miami-Orlando rivalry has the feel, intensity and interest of Florida- Florida State. Decent tickets for the two teams' first game Oct. 29 in Miami are already going on-line for close to $1,000. If you tried hard enough, you could get a ticket to most any NFL game in the state this year for $10.
In Florida, there is but one reason to be excited about the start of the NFL season.
Because it means we will be four weeks closer to opening night in the NBA.[/color]