Cincinnati, that pesky young team that all but tore down the goal posts after beating the defending Super Bowl champions in a preseason game last year and then were the only team that consistently located Earthwind Moreland and his fellow off-the-street-to-the-defensive-backfield club on the field last season, are the first opponents against the two-time defending world champions who are again on a quest for the elusive three-peat. The Bengals have Carson Daly Palmer at QB and some slick receivers to throw the pigskin at all game long. They have Rudi Johnson and recently spent an early round pick on Chris Perry at running back.

Cincinnati has one trump card, and that is Marvin Lewis at head coach. The man who made the Baltimore Ravens into one of the greatest defenses of all time and made the Murderer Ray Lewis into the icon he is today. While Marvin Lewis has yet to make Cincinnati into a defensive juggernaut, let it be said here that the problem is not with the coach. Marvin Lewis is the type of defensive mastermind you want coaching if Bill Belichick is not available.

Of course, this being preseason, the majority of the game is going to consist of QBs Riders of Rohan Davey trying to make the squad and Matt Cassell trying to shake off the rust of not playing in a game for five years. Tom Brady may or may not throw a pass, and Corey Dillon will be lucky to get three touches. Health is the main concern for the 35 of the 53 roster spots already cemented in stone. Tonight belongs to the other 45 players trying to latch on to the world champs.

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Speaking of the three-peat, do I have to pay royalties to Pat Riley? Did he trademark that or what? How about Slick Rick Pitino, do I remember him copyrighting or trademarking some inane three-peat phrase like The Quest for Three?

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I will admit it, I am shocked and amazed Joe Thornton is back with the Bruins. The fact that he decided on a three year deal versus a five year makes sense for both sides in the negotiations, as the Bruins protect themselves from over-paying Thornton if revenues decline and the salary cap shrinks and Thornton is a free agent again at the age of 29 and if revenues increase he could earn millions more than his current contract. I thought for sure that Jumbo Joe would be playing on his one-year tender offer and bolt at the end of the year. That is best case scenario, as Thornton would likely have been traded in the next thirty days as there would have been hope to get some kind of value back for him.

Thornton is an uncomfortable superstar in the media glow of the Boston press. Much like players in other sports who were visibly uncomfortable playing in Boston (Nomar Garciaparra, Jim Ed Rice, and Paul Pierce to name a few), Thornton seems like the type of player who does not have the wide shoulders of a Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier or Mario Lemieux. Gretzky and Lemieux were born leaders who commanded the locker room, on-ice, and post-game presence that installed confidence in their fellow players and fans alike. Jumbo Joe is just Jason Allison in the eyes of many here in Boston: he is good, an all-star maybe, but not THE FRANCHISE. He is not the guy who stands up like Larry Bird did and make his point on the court, in the locker room, and to the press.

Of course, hockey being hockey here in Boston, Thornton does not have the opportunity to shine in the spotlight like David Ortiz and Mo Vaughn did by playing for the Red Sox and garnering huge appreciation and adulation from the fan base, media, and business communities (see: peripheral earnings via endorsements). Joe has popped up in a few Dunkin Donuts ads, but even Tim Wakefield can shill for Bernie and Phyls just like Robert Parish did before him.

A good comparison to Joe is Tom Brady. Both are young, athletic, and better looking than the average schmutz writing a blog online. Brady is very careful about his public persona, much like Jumbo Joe. While Brady turns down more endorsement opportunities than all the NHL players receive total, he is still universally adored and admired. What is that Tom Brady has that Joe Thornton does not? Simply put the confidence that comes from winning consistently in the post-season. Imagine if the Bruins had won the Stanley Cup on an overtime goal in game seven: that is the only thing which can elevate Thornton to legitimate superstar status in Boston.

Win, or be a loser. Unfortunately, that is the way it is right now.

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