Opening Day or Opening day?

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 31, 2011 – 1:20 pm

A few musings on Reds’ Opening Day and the differences between baseball and football.

That’s the first difference.

Opening Day.

Or Opening day?

In the NFL, it is Opening Day.

In baseball, it is Opening day.

It doesn’t mean any more or less, it is just different.

The Reds open the second season of the second decade of the 21st century Thursday with 19th century pageantry and it is goose bump stuff for everyone carrying scorecards or iPads. The thing is, there will be an off day Friday before they’ll do the exact same thing Saturday and for the next 160 days after that.

In the NFL, the opener is one of just 16 games, so naturally it carries more weight. But it is a lot more than that. The weight is crushing. The mentality of a town and a team takes shape in that first game. NFL openers can define seasons.

 You can just look at the Bengals’ Super Bowl seasons of 1981 (backup quarterback Turk Schonert’s come-from-behind win over Seattle in the wake of Ken Anderson’s benching) and 1988 (the goal-line stand in the final minutes against Phoenix) and wonder what would have happened if those had been Ls.

One of the many amazing things about the 2009 AFC North title is that the Bengals won four straight after losing the angst-ridden opener. In the wake of losing to the longest winning TD pass in the final   minute in NFL history (Denver’s infamous 87-yard Spike Strike), the Bengals somehow recovered to win in Green Bay before beating division foes Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore in the final  minute. Only once before, 1973, had the Bengals made the playoffs after losing the opener.

If Edinson Volquez gets lit up or Joey Votto goes 0-for-4 in the opener, there is no panic for the manager, players, media, or fans. It’s baseball. You have bad days. But in football, if you lose the opener, there are reasons and trends that show up quicker and harder. It’s football. It is what it is.

There are exceptions. In ’06, the Bengals started 3-0 but didn’t make playoffs because they lost the last three. And they opened ’07 with one of the more thrilling Opening Days ever, a Monday night home win over the Ravens with a goal-line stand. But they lost the next four.

Still, the opener sets a pretty good course.

 With their star receivers pouting during the 2008 offseason, they fell flat on their faces in the opener in Baltimore by amassing just 154 yards and even if Carson Palmer went on to miss 12 games, you wonder if it would have been 4-11-1 anyway. In 2010, nobody showed up in the rout in New England and the tone was set when the post-game discussion centered on wide receiver Terrell Owens’ decision to get his shoes fixed before the Bengals had a shot at a Hail Mary on the last play of the half. When Palmer’s bomb to Jordan Shipley ended up three yards short of the end zone, it didn’t take your British Lit professor to interpret the symbolism for the next 15 weeks.

Even the ’09 opener provided clues. They survived on defense and a sputtering offense that played best backed up against the clock but offered only one play longer than 20 yards.

It’s football. It is what it is. In baseball, it is only until the next day.

Sure, you get trends in baseball. But they seep into box scores and wriggle into averages during days, weeks, and months. In football, they’re ripped raw right away on the body, psyche, and film.

More differences:

In baseball, you get to throw out a first pitch. In football, they let you carry the ball out to the field, but the ref takes it from you.

In baseball, you kneel in the on-deck circle. In football, you’re no longer on deck when the player you’re backing up is kneeling in a circle.

In baseball, the defender plays the hitter. In football, the hitter is the defender.

In baseball, a changeup is an off-speed pitch. In football, a changeup is a running back that keeps defenses off balance with speed.

You want to know the difference? The scene in the post-game locker room

In baseball, win or lose, there is a beeline for the post-game spread and beverages. Even if it is a vintage 1-0 game that took all of two and a half hours to play, the participants generally behave as if they’ve been on a deserted island for two months and knock you over to make a ham sandwich.

In football, win or lose, the only things getting ingested are IVs. In the time it takes a lineman to tear the bandages off his bloody hands, a pinch hitter who didn’t break a sweat could have already had three bowls of chili. Sometimes a guard or tackle who is bent and broken after 60 minutes of pounding will ask you to help him fasten his cuff links. In baseball, they might ask you to pass the mayo.

It’s not better or worse.

Just different.

In baseball, there’s another day. In football, it is what it is.

Happy Opening Day.

Or Opening day.

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