- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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A matchup between two of the AFC's finest on a beautiful early autumn weekend in New England how does it get any better? Well, the Red Sox host the Yankees at Fenway the same weekend (good luck with the scalpers; or consult StubHub!). Walk the Freedom Trail, wander around Cambridge and Harvard, run along the Charles, take in the Impressionists at the Museum of Fine Arts, drive out to the Cape or up into Maine, order lobster at Legal Seafood; there will be so much to do in addition to the game even Bill Belichick couldn't fit it all into his day-timer.
Whoa. You get Monday Night Football. You get the team everyone rooted for last year, the surprising Saints. You get a rematch of the 2006 Rose Bowl (sort of) with the exciting Reggie Bush and Vince Young. And you get a three-day weekend in New Orleans. And, if you want, you can top it off with a drive up to Baton Rouge for the LSU-South Carolina game (tickets)
and the most delicious tailgating in football. So what are you waiting for? The French Quarter is waiting.
The first of two meetings between the current and former power in the NFC West not only provides you with Shawn Alexander, it also allows you to soak up the rays in what is usually San Francisco's best season. Bike across the Golden Gate. Spend an afternoon tasting wines in Napa and Sonoma. Drive down to Half Moon Bay or Carmel. Gobble up the great Italian fare (and bowls of gummy bears) at Michaelango's in North Beach. And if tailgating on the Bay isn't enough, you can always drive down to Stanford the day before to see the Cardinal take on Arizona State (tickets) or drive across to Oakland to see the Athletics play the Angels (tickets), perhaps for the AL West crown.
The Cardinals? What the hell is this dog doing on the schedule? Well, the Cardinals aren't the draw here; an October weekend in the Valley of the Sun is. Golf at one of the many courses, climb Camelback, drive to Sedona or the Grand Canyon, relax with a drink at the Biltmore or by evening fire at the Hilton's Hole in the Wall. Enjoy a delicious dinner at Richardson's. And all the while forget about the leaves accumulating on your lawn back home.
Because you owe it to yourself to finally visit a foreign country. Because you need to see Big Ben up close. Because you need to pour back pints of Guinness and Stella in an celebrated pub. Because you need to feel the history and culture first hand in a walking tour of one of the world's great cities. Because otherwise you won't be able to figure out what time the game is being televised here in America (noon ET, we think).
You get the AFC championship game everyone wanted to see (or, at least everyone outside of New England) but, more important, you get San Diego just as winter starts knocking on your door. Dine in a Gaslamp quarter restaurant. Stroll the shops and cafes of La Jolla. Walk barefoot across Black Beach. Get a drink at the Hotel Coronado. Be glad you don't have to figure how to stop Peyton Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson.
This weekend is payback time for the Seahawks, who lost to the Bears in overtime in the playoffs. Or maybe it isn't. Either way, it should be a good game and a great weekend. Summer is best, but anytime is good for a weekend in Seattle. If it's sunny, run and lunch along Alki Beach or bike the Burke Gilman Trail. If it's raining, stop by Elliott Bay Bookstore in Pioneer Square or catch an indie film at the Harvard Exit or Guild 45th. Whichever, do yourself a favor and check out the Washington-Cal game (tickets) at Husky Stadium the day before for one of the best college football settings in the nation.
OK. So every year your spouse and kids watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and ask, "Can we go see that some day?" Well, here's your excuse. You go into New York a couple of days early, catch the parade, watch the Rockettes and the Christmas show at Radio City, do some Christmas shopping, see a Broadway show, then cap off the weekend with the Vikings-Giants game. And when you get home, you can take out a second mortgage to pay for it.
Sure, a Lions-Packers game doesn't exactly light up the marquee, but if you're a football fan you have to go to a game at Lambeau Field. And to truly experience Lambeau, you have to be there in the frigid cold and snow of winter. Plus, this may be (should be) the final game of Brett Favre's career. Just bundle up and mix plenty of hot chocolate in your tailgate beverage of choice.
What could be wilder than New Year's weekend on South Beach? New Year's weekend on South Beach with the Bengals in town. Be sure to bring bail money. Oh, and the Joey Porter-Levi Jones rivalry should be fun, too.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His Web site is back up at a slightly different address, jimcaple.net, with more installments of 24 College Avenue. In addition to his book "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," his new book with Steve Buckley titled "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is now on sale.