Who would have thought that coolest moment of Peyton Manning's first game as a Denver Bronco wouldn't even be about Peyton Manning?
In the pregame coin flip, in which Peyton represented the Broncos, the actual flipping was done by Olympic swimming star and fellow Denver resident Missy Franklin. He was minutes from playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Peyton stuck around at midfield to shake Missy's hand and looked positively starstruck by the teenage Olympic hero.
But it was that kind of week in the NFL's opening weekend. With most of the teams still working out the on-field kinks, unexpected names and young superstars stole the show.
Here are the biggest moments you either caught, or should have:
Robert Griffin III Leads Youth Revolution: An NFL-record five teams started games with rookie quarterbacks. Indianapolis, Washington, Miami, Cleveland and Seattle all turned the keys over to QBs who were partying in frat houses last year. Miami's Ryan Tannehill and Cleveland's Brandon Wheedon played, well, like rookies. However, Indy's Andrew Luck looked like a great No. 1 pick stuck on a bad team while Seattle's Russell Wilsoncalmly led the Seahawks on a last-second drive that fell short only on fourth down with a dropped pass in the end zone.
But the player who emerged Sunday as a star was Robert Griffin III, the Heisman-winning quarterback of the recently terrible Washington Redskins. Griffin has three things never seen together on an NFL resume before: a cannon arm with perfect touch; sprinter's speed and lightning moves; and a 1990 birthday.
Peyton Manning was a high school quarterback in 1990.
Griffin outplayed New Orleans' Drew Brees, threw for 320 yards and racked up a quarterback rating of 139.9. All you need to know about that number is it's the highest ever calculated for a QB in his first game, ever.
But here are the three plays you really need to know about Griffin's era-shattering game:
• Early in the first quarter, from his own 12 yard line, a terrifying spot for any rookie QB, Griffin threw a perfect 88-yard bomb for a touchdown.
• On the first drive of the third quarter, the Redskins faced 4th-and-1 from the New Orleans 33. Rather than kick (the safe move) the Redskins went for it, having Griffin fake a run and roll out to the right for a long bomb, a wildly risky play that most coaches would not trust even a veteran QB to try. But Griffin sold the run then threw a strike to his receiver on the goal line that drew a pass interference penalty, as good as a completion. The Redskins scored on the next play.
• Having wowed the crowd and his coach, Griffin made another play that was entirely for his teammates. After handing off to Alfred Morris, Griffin sprinted ahead, throwing himself into the middle of the blocking scrum. In his coach, watching his superstar throw himself in harm's way, this evoked only terror; but in every single one of Griffin's teammates who will get less credit and make less money than him this year, it drew massive respect.
Mandatory Tim Tebow Drama Level Update: Chillaxed. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (GQ coverboy September 2011) was almost Griffin-like in throwing for three touchdowns and 266 yards in an easy win over Buffalo. His teammate and rival Tim Tebow(GQ coverboy September 2012 ) ran the ball just five times for 11 yards.
Sometimes, Kickers Can Kick Ass, Too: Early in the week, a Maryland legislator demanded that the Baltimore Ravens discipline linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for openly supporting Maryland's proposed gay-marriage law. In response, Minnesota kicker Chris Kluwe penned an open letter to Burns on the Deadspin website that was equal parts constitutional law review and locker-room potty-mouth insults.
Like all American workplaces, the NFL surely still has plenty of employees who would see the issue differently. But that Kluwe, Ayanbadejo or the players who subsequently took to Twitter to express support for them felt they could speak against homophobia in the NFL, and all male pro sports, was a clear sign that a new generation is arriving in the NFL.
Two Things You Need to Know for Your Monday Night Football Party:
1. There are two games tonight, the only time this year. The Chargers play the Raiders and Baltimore plays Cincinnati. We're less than intrigued by both.
2. As discussed above, Baltimore's Brendon Ayanbadejo came out for Maryland's pro gay-marriage law. Growing up, his family lived in an LGBT-designated dorm at UC Santa Cruz, where his dad ran the building, and he wrote a pro-marriage op-ed for the Huffington Post in 2009 (including a backhanded shot at Britney Spears!).
So, how was your Sunday?