The time before the first foot officially boots a kickoff each season is a time for fantasy - and a recurring bit of nonsense simply refuses to be tackled: "Do you know me?" the voice says. "I decide who wins football games each week, have for decades, but nobody recognizes me and . . ."
So why can't Mo Mentum go American Express? Much of what at the moment is taken as gospel in some football circles also has a dash of farce. Like Tony Dorsett being measured for the Hall of Fame before he gains an inch in the National Football League. Like Joe Namath making the Los Angeles Rams invincible. Like the Washington Redskins making the Super Bowl.
This is the year - in the colleges as well as the pros - when the significant lasts out number the firsts. For the pros, it is the last 14 game regular-season schedule, the year before two more losers are added to the play offs, the last time the NFL intrudes on our weeknight lives only on Mondays.
Of course, it is the first time Diron Talbert or some other defensive hulk cannot slap Conrad Dobler upside the helmet without being 15 yards worth of criminal. The head-slap ban is one of many NFL rules changes in the last three years or so that have penalized the defense.
"What you have to remember," said Jim Finks of the Chicago Bears, "is that the defense had all the advantages for about a 10 year period."
In the colleges, this may well be in the final year of relatively relaxed admissions requirements for athletes. For several years now, all Johnny needed to recieve athletic aid was a C average for his high-school grades. There is pressure for a return to the 1.6 rule.
All institutions of higher learnings are supposed to be more equal than ever, because of restrictions in numbers of scholarships the last three years. But Notre Dame figures to tip the balance of power its way.
The Irish merely have three players, Ross Browner, Ken MacAfee and Luther Bradley, who will go int the first round of next year's professional draft and another, Ernie Hughes, who might if someone covets a fine guard.
Scouts are especially impressed with Notre Dame, Michigan and Florida, in that order, and speculate that UCLS and Penn State do not have their usual nember of potential professionals this year.
A Notre Dame man, Browner, might win the Heisman Trophy but a Texan, Earl Campbell, might be a superior player. And the fellow who entered Arizona State as John Washington and will leave as John Jefferson also will get plenty of attention from the pros, as will two scarce commodites, passers and white cornerbacks.
Locally, Navy is seeking the sort of positive identity it earned in George Welsh's first winning season as coach two years ago. Maryland is as good as any team in the land yet lacks the overwhelmingly passionate following of an Ohio State or an Oklahoma.
The dedicated fan yearns for dominance now then, an immensely talented collection of players who meld memorably well together, something akin to the Dolphin teams that went 17-0 one year and won the Super Bowl the next, or the '62 Packers.
It seemed as though the Dallas Cowboys had that sort of potential when they stole Tony Dorsett from Seattle during the NFL draf. Now, for a variety of reasons that include injuries, the Cowboys appear mortal; still the best team in their division, if not the NFC, but capable of losing every few weeks.
"Now I'm even more sure that Seattle did the right thing by trading away the rights for Dorsett," said one NFL general manager. "Even with Dallas, with Staubach and Drew Pearson and Too Tall Jones, Randy White and others, Dorsett is getting all the attention.
"It would have been even worse in Seattle - and they wouldn't have won with him anyway for several years. And that sort of thing, the imbalance of publicity, can be very harmful to a team, although Dallas ought to be able to overcome it."
Most reasonable NFL watchers believe the most talented teams are the Rams, Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, with the Cowboys, Baltimore Colts, Cicinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers at a slightly lower level. If the Bears beat out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Central Division, as some suggest, the Vikings might beat out the Redskins for the wild-card berth in the play-offs.
It has been thought for some time here that Namath is among the most over-rated quarterbacks in NFL history, that one game and one contract have eclipsed an otherwise ordinary collection of performances.
Still, the Rams may well have enough fine players that a few spot appearances by Namath will be pivotal en route to their first preseason game, though, it was again evident the Ram's special teams were anything but playoffs caliber.
The Redskins probably will make the playoffs, but not get beyond the first round. You ask how a team with that collection of aging defenders and a quarterback so vulnerable possibly can win 10 games. In truth, there are only four players, Jean Fugett. Mike Thomas, Frank Grant and Ken Houston, who would bring a No. 1 draft choice in the NFL trade mart.
But who is better in the NFC? Probably not St. Louis, even with all that speed and a hungry Terry Metcalf sensing the riches of free agentry next year. The Cards' out-of-division tests include Denver, Chicago. Minnesota and Miami. And probably not the San Francisco 49ers, who must play Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Dallas in addition taking on the Rams twice in their division.
Once again the Redskin schedule has been determined by someone with compassion for over-ripe players with spirit. If George Allen can convince the team it is 0-3 before the season opener, though, the faithful might be more relaxed. Without their backs to the wall, the Redskins often play like wooden Indians.