The veteran knocksthe rookie senseless then helps him up with a grin and a "Welcome to theNFL." There is no precise etymology for this phrase, but it probably datesfrom the early '60s and then mutated into the popular lexicon in the 1969 filmNumber One, starring Charlton Heston as an aging quarterback. Defensive endDavid Rowe of the Saints (playing a member of the Cowboys) tackles Heston anddelivers the line as Heston writhes on the field. It's a much harsher momentthan the veteran schooling the rookie, but there it is--resonating.
The great SIwriter and literary figure George Plimpton used to talk about how at the heartof the game was the simple urge to knock somebody down. "That's what makesfootball so great," he would laugh. "Welcome to the NFL." Old guywhacking young guy or the other way around, it's become the omnipotent punchline, and fans are proud of what it says about the toughness of their favoritesport. Think about it: You don't say, "Welcome to soccer."
The writers andeditors who cover the NFL for Sports Illustrated know this. They also believethat this season will be the best (read toughest) ever in the league's 87years. The NFL has never been more competitive and complicated. This is thebest (also read toughest) of challenges for SI, which now staffs the magazineand website with writers and editors who can stack up 170 seasons of experiencecovering professional football--from NFL editor Mark Mravic, who is in hissecond year on the beat after covering college football, to senior writer Paul(Dr. Z) Zimmerman, who was on the job when it was legal to grab face masks.This was back when Johnny Unitas was a free agent and Y.A. Tittle was the QB ofthe moment (left).
The reporting getsintense when training camps open in late July. Senior writer Peter King alonevisited 18 camps in 26 days. The goal is to gather smart, exclusive informationthat you can't get anywhere besides SI and SI.com. This year every scoutingreport will include a preview of mySI, a free customizable desktop applicationthat works with SI.com's new team pages to collect the most relevant news fromacross the Web about your favorite NFL teams and make it easy for you to accessthat information in one place--on SI.com. What makes this possible is anSI-developed "recommendation engine" that aggregates the top storiesand offers many other new features. It's a useful list: a ticker with thelatest sports news, a new-player search feature, an injury tracker and arotating screen saver that features full-screen team photo galleries.
Welcome to theNFL.
Reporting on the evolving pro game has been challenging and, ultimately,fun.