The National Football League will feature star wars beginning Sept. 18 and continuing for the next 17 weeks when, along about Super Bowl time, someone will discover that it was, perhaps. Oakland's offensive linemen or, maybe, the Dallas linebackers who were the true catalysts of success.
The New Faces of 1977 are Tony Dorsett of the Dallas Cowboys and Ricky Bell of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Los Angeles Rams are hoping for a replay of Carroll Rosenbloom's Super Bowl victory in a different conference - the National - if a Hollywood facelift for Joe Namath works.
The new element of suspense is - how good will the latest arrival to the playoffs, New England, be with what is regarded as the easiest schedule, based on the number of victories its 1977 opponents achieved in 1976?
The old element of brinksmanship once more will be provided by the Minnesota Vikings, Will personal success - and outside earnings - spoil Larkenton's capability of rousing the other members of the over-30 generation in his organization one more time?
What can the prototype of The Man Facing Adversity, Bud Grant, say to inspire the Vikings toward a fifth shot at the Super Bowl? Will the Chicago Bears justify the speculation that says they will pass the Vikes in the NFC Central this year?
There will be an early reading next Sunday when the Cowboys turn all that young talent loose in Minnesota.
The curiosity is also mounting quickly about whether the supposedly "controlled violence" - one of the sport's baser appeals to vicarious thrill-seekers - will stay within the control of officials, bolstered by rule changes.
As was the case with hockey, pro football finally landed in the courts over the issue of violence where non-athletic types were left to deal with harsh accusations.
The rule changes that have caused the most reaction from coaches are the prohibition of the so-called "head slap" by defensive linemen: reducing the use of hands by offensive linemen by prohibiting contact above the shoulder through the use of jabbing or pumping action of the hands and a revision that further restricts bump-and-run tactics by defensive backs.
The last change provides that a defender will be permitted to contact an eligible receiver either in the three-yard zone or beyond the line of scrimmage, but not both.
There are six new head coaches, counting those who took over during the 1976 season. Ken Meyer, a former Ram assistant, got the job at San Francisco after new owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. and new general manager Joe Thomas fired Monte Clark.
Another Ram assistant, Leeman Bennett, was hired by new general manager Eddie Lebaronat Atlanta to succeed Marion Campbell.
Bob (Red) Miller, former Patriot assistant replaced John Ralston at Denver, Walt Michaels, former New York Jet assistant, replaced Lou Holtz as head coach under new president Jim Kensil, former executive director of the NFL.
John McVay, coach of Memphis in the disbanded World Football League, begins his first full season with the New York Giants, after replacing Bill Arnsparger.
Tommy Hudspeth, former Detroit assistant, begins his first full season as head coach of the Lions.
Relative peace was expected to result from a new collective-bargaining agreement, at a cost of $107 million. A legal challenge to the terms of setting a class-action suit involved in the labor contract was dismissed, but there have been several holdouts by big-name players.
Forty-two veterans played out their options last season but most were bampered by the modified Rozelle Rule in the new contracts in shopping their talents to the 28 clubs.
The same teams that made the playoffs last year are expected to be in contention, particulary in the dominant AFC.