At the Meadowlands, Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson pounded his fist on a lectern in frustration over the plight of quarterback Vinny Testaverde, out for the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon in New York's 30-28 loss to New England.
In Green Bay, Packers quarterback Brett Favre was so overcome with emotion after leading his team to a last-minute, 28-24 comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders, he was in tears on the sideline, then choked up again in a postgame press conference.
And in Cleveland, Browns fans giddy over the return of football to their city for the first time since December 1995 didn't know whether to bark for joy or yelp in agony after their team opened its new stadium and new era with a 43-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In short, it was a wild opening to the NFL season Sunday, a day filled with big plays, critical injuries, improbable comebacks, disheartening collapses and a relatively noncontroversial debut of instant replay.
The Packers got the most help from replay, in use for the first time since 1991, when Coach Ray Rhodes challenged an incomplete pass call and won, keeping a touchdown drive alive midway through the final period.
The most significant blow occurred on the new artificial turf at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, where both Testaverde, and later running back Leon Johnson (knee) suffered season-ending injuries. Ten days ago, Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet broke his foot on the same turf and will be out for another five weeks.
There has been considerable support for installing a grass field at the stadium, but Jets Coach Bill Parcells has not been among the proponents. He has said he is not sure grass can hold up and provide a smooth playing surface late in the year with two NFL teams, a Major League Soccer team and occasional high school and college games being played at the venue.
The season was barely 23 minutes old for a Jets team harboring legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, at least until Testaverde was hurt without being hit. He was injured while diving for a fumble seconds after handing off to running back Curtis Martin, and seconds later he was writhing in pain on the field, his season over not long after it had started.
"I was never in pain until I reached the locker room," Testaverde told reporters in New York today. "It was just knowing that my season was over and it was frustrating for me."
Testaverde came to the Jets' training complex on Long Island and said he would do whatever he could to help his replacement, Rick Mirer, through the rest of the season. Mirer was acquired three weeks ago in a trade with the Green Bay Packers and, like Testaverde, came to the Jets with a reputation as an underachiever despite being picked second overall in the 1993 draft.
Testaverde had flourished under Parcells's tutelage, leading the AFC in passing in 1998 and taking the Jets to the AFC title game. Now Mirer has the football, and he said today he is prepared to work hard to keep the Jets a playoff contender.
"Here the quarterback doesn't need to make a lot of decisions at the line, just execute plays," he said. "I just need to get up to speed."
Parcells has been in this situation before, most notably in 1990 when he was coaching the Giants. Quarterback Phil Simms went down late in the year and was replaced by Jeff Hostetler, who took the team to a Super Bowl title.
"That was 11 games into the season," Parcells said today, "a big difference. It was quite an urgent situation then and a lot was on the line when it happened. . . . Now we just have to try to win a game."
The Packers did just that behind Favre, even if the veteran quarterback was playing with a painful right thumb. He was hurt in the third quarter while hitting his hand on the helmet of Raiders defensive tackle Russell Maryland while following through on a pass.
Favre never left the game, and it appears he will be healthy enough to keep his streak of 110 consecutive starts alive against Detroit on Sunday. Favre had further X-rays today that revealed no broken bones, and Rhodes said he expects him to be available against the Lions.
Atlanta quarterback Chris Chandler may not be so fortunate. He pulled a hamstring late in the Falcons' 17-14 loss to the Vikings and Coach Dan Reeves said today he likely will be listed as doubtful for Monday night's game against the Cowboys. More bad news for the NFC champions: Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders is expected to return after sitting out his team's miraculous 41-35 victory over the Redskins with a sore toe.
In Cleveland, there were mostly battered egos over the Browns' dismal debut before a rocking home crowd primed by comedian Drew Carey, a Cleveland native. Unfortunately for the Browns, the biggest joke of all was an offense that had four turnovers, 40 total yards, nine rushing yards, two first downs and only had the ball for 12 minutes. Farce 1A was a defense that yielded 460 yards and 32 first downs to the Steelers, whose offense was on the field for nearly 48 minutes.
The Browns' starting quarterback, Ty Detmer, called it "embarrassing" and "pathetic." His rookie replacement, No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch, threw an interception on his first pass attempt and had no completions in three attempts.
"There's a reason why we're called an expansion team," said defensive end Derrick Alexander. "And [Sunday night], we played like one. What we got [Sunday] was a good dose of what life in the NFL is like."