This is another one of those afternoons where I’m gonna need two screens…

 …only this time, I won’t be watching basketball!  With a week to go until the Grey Cup, the Stamps are looking to punch their ticket to Vancouver with their fourth win over Edmonton this season.  The Esks will most likely have Mike Reilly back at QB, but he’ll probably be playing with a broken foot that hasn’t had time to heal properly–making him a sitting duck for the Stamps defence.  I can’t say I’ve looked into buying tickets for the Big Game yet, but I probably will soon. ;)  Calgary 43, Edmonton 20.

How in the wide, wide world of sports did the Arizona Cardinals get to be the best team in the NFL!?  OK, I don’t think anyone’s picking them to win the Super Bowl–even though it’ll be played at their stadium–but at 9-1, the Cards have the best record in the league this season, a couple games ahead of anyone else in the NFC.  The answer is they’ve been doing it with defense (note the American spelling).  Only the Detroit Lions have allowed fewer points than AZ this season, and no one else in the National Conference even comes close.  Is it any wonder that last week’s Lions-Cardinals game ended in a 14-6 win for the home team?

That said, the Cards are about to fall back towards the pack as they travel to the Hawks Nest this week.  It’ll take a lot more than two TDs to win in Seattle, where the home side rarely loses, especially with Russell Wilson behind center.  And considering that Arizona is without its starting QB, Carson “Bad Knees” Palmer, for the rest of the season, they’ll hafta rely on Drew Stanton against the league’s third-ranked pass defense.  Did I mention that they’ll almost certainly be without Larry Fitzgerald, or that their rushing attack is the league’s second-worst?  Coming off a tough loss in Kansas City, this should be a statement game for the Seahawks.  Seattle 38, Arizona 7.

Of course, the Seattle-Arizona game kicks off at 4:05 pm Eastern Time, while the Calgary-Edmonton game starts around 4:30.  My laptop is charging as I type this.  Cuz hey, if you think you can go to a sports bar to watch the CFL Western Final in Toronto…you don’t actually live here, do you? :P

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Some people pray to Allah, Buddha, Jesus or Satan. On Sundays, I worship Emmanuel Sanders!

While he might not have been the steal of my fantasy football draft–that would go to the guy who got Antonio Gates with the first pick of the last round–I’m still pretty pleased I snagged Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders in the sixth.  Twas a round where many WRs went off the board, accounting for 10 of the 14 players picked, and I took Sanders right after Marques Colston, Terrance Williams and Golden Tate…and just ahead of Reggie Wayne and Brandin Cooks.  Suffice to say, that selection has worked out quite nicely for me; through seven games this season, Sanders has caught 47 passes for 634 yards and four scores.  Those other guys?  Not so much.  Well, except for Tate, who I probably would’ve taken, being an ex-Seahawk ‘n all. ;)

Nevertheless, Sanders has been my most consistent fantasy performer in a season where my RBs (Arian Foster and Ben Tate) have been banged up, my best QB seems to be the guy I decide to bench that week (Cam Newton and Eli Manning), and my second-best WR is a kid from Jacksonville I picked up off the waiver wire (Allen Robinson).  Oh yeah, and I did take Jimmy Graham in the first round–he’s finally starting to look like himself again.  But aside from the two QBs and Foster–who, let’s face it, is a beast when he’s healthy–the newcomer to the Broncos offense has been my fourth-best fantasy player, and undoubtedly my best value pick.  And to think, I actually took Pierre Garcon two rounds ahead of him!

Hey, as a Hawks fan, I’ve got nothing against the Broncos; they provided the fodder for our franchise’s first Super Bowl victory.  And last year, my fantasy team benefited from having Wes Welker, as he was a recipient of several TD passes in Peyton’s passing attack.  I figured that Sanders could play a similar role on my team this year…not knowing, of course, that he would pretty much replace Wes Welker as the go-to speedy slot guy for Denver.

And while Sanders has averaged over 90 yards receiving per game, he had none bigger than last week, where he caught nine passes for 120 yards and three of his four TDs in a Thursday night win over San Diego.  That, combined with a three-TD day from Foster, helped my team snap a three game losing streak–the Super Bowl Seahawks are now half a game behind the real Seahawks with a 4-4 record.  We’re also pretty heavily favoured this week against an owner who may or may not be a Raiders fan.

Hey, I know the whole Percy Harvin thing didn’t work out, but can I just say I sometimes dream about Sanders catching passes over the middle for the Hawks, and not just my fantasy team?  Pretty sure he’s on the Broncos no-trade list though…I know he’s on mine!

GO HAWKS!

The Seahawks’ Super Bowl defense starts now*!

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*Well technically, it starts tomorrow, but you think I’m gonna take the time to write this on game day!?

Maaaaaan, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for the start of football season.  NFL football season, that is.  While my Stamps have been kickin’ ass and takin’ names since Canada Day, my other team, the Seattle Seahawks, begins its Super Bowl defense by hosting the Pack tomorrow.  (I was there for the last one.  Yeah, it was pretty sweet…)  Of course, we all know what happened the last time the Hawks played the Pack in prime time… ;)

Of course, there is no more Golden Tate to snatch the game-winning TD from the jaws of defeat, or rather, M.D. Jennings.  (And no more scab refs to uphold the call, either!)  Tate mighta been the biggest cap casualty of the off-season, along with half the D-line and any DB not officially inducted into the Legion of Boom.  (Bye-bye, Brandon Browner!)  The Hawks also did very little to shore up a suspect O-Line, drafting Justin Britt in the second round outta Mizzou to replace Breno “Holding Call” Giacomini.  (Don’t let the flag hit ya on the way out!)  But the team still returns the league’s top all-purpose back, its most exciting young QB and, oh yeah, the best defense in North America!  (Of course, a full season of Percy Harvin wouldn’t hurt, either…)

Hey, as that 43-8 Super Bowl score shows, defence wins championships.  And if the Broncos have any players left who aren’t suspended for violating the league’s “substance abuse policy” *wink, wink* they just might make it back to the Big Game.  Belichick and Brady might have something to say about that, though.  Ditto Andrew Luck and that owner who’s on more substances than the Denver Broncos’ bud girls (no caps).  Over in the Conference of Champions, however, the road still runs through the West–fittingly enough, the next two Super Bowls will be played in NFC West stadiums.  Now, Rams saviour Sam Bradford might be more busted up than ex-Winnipeg QB Buck Pierce after a particularly rough game of patty-cake…but the other two teams in the division have got a decent shot at Seattle.  Especially the Niners. *grrrrr*

In recent years, Seattle-San Fran has become just as fierce as a Calgary-Edmonton hockey rivalry…if the Flames repeatedly crushed the Oilers, saw them driven outta Calgary and heard the lamentations of their women after every home game.  Well, that has been known to happen, but the Niners have never piled up back-to-back-to-back first-overall picks, so bad metaphor.  In any case, San Fran figures to contend again, despite having to replace a good chunk of its secondary in the offseason.  They’ve also added a few weapons…OK, a couple weapons…OK, Stevie Johnson on offense, but they still figure to win games with their defense and Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos.  The NFC championship tilt between the Hawks and Niners went right down to the wire last year, and I would not be surprised to see a similar scenario…before the Hawks prevail to crush Denver in the Super Bowl again.

Seattle 53, Denver 7.  You heard it here first!

Yahoo gave my fantasy football draft a B. Hey, that’s better than last year…

Well, it seems I don’t have much luck when they dole out the draft positions.  After picking last in the first round last year, I ended up with the 11th overall pick out of 14 teams this season.  That wouldn’t be the end of the world…except that Marshawn Lynch was taken 10th overall, just one pick ahead of me.  As a result, I went against my normal RB-first-and-second strategy, and took Jimmy Graham with my first-round pick.  I can’t even remember the last time I took a tight end sooner than the 10th round, but if there’s one TE worth taking with your first pick, it’s Jimmy Graham.

In any case, Yahoo likes my draft much better this time around.  While I was graded a B- with a projected 4-10 finish last year, they upgraded me to a solid B while estimating I’ll be 9-5.  That’s certainly not too shabby!

After grabbing Graham with my first pick, I went RB-RB, taking Arian Foster and his ex-backup, Ben Tate.  Both Yahoo and most of my league thought Tate was a reach at 39, but I don’t think he was any worse a choice than the likes of Ryan Mathews and C.J. Spiller–especially since he has absolutely no one to split carries with in Cleveland.  A couple rounds later, I snagged Cam Newton in the fifth, then used four of my next five picks on receivers, building a corps of Garcon, Sanders, Bowe, Shorts and Nicks.  (Steven Jackson will hafta do as my flex RB–did I mention it’s a 14-team league?)

I think I got good value by taking the Cincy D in the 13th round, then spent my last two picks on Seahawks: kicker Steven Hauschka and TE Zach Miller.  Hey, Hauschka worked out pretty well for me as the last overall pick in last year’s draft, and the only time Miller might see the starting lineup is when Jimmy Graham has a bye.

As long as my RBs stay healthy, the only time I gotta worry is Week 10, when Foster, Garcon and Nicks all have byes.  But who knows, I’ll probably cut at least one of them by then.  Let’s just hope it’s not Foster.  I’ve still got a bit of a bad taste from last year…

Bye Bye Buffalo Bills…

Yesterday, it was announced with little fanfare (and surprisingly few comments from the peanut gallery) that the Bills in Toronto Series was being “postponed” for 2014.  Yeah, and the last time I “postponed” a date, I never saw her again.  Looks like the writing’s on the wall for the Bills in TO, and as someone who attended every single one of those games–except for last year’s sorry-ass contest–all I hafta say is “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Let’s face it, the Bills haven’t helped themselves by bringing some gawd-awful squads up here.  This franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since Doug Flutie was their QB (that was 14 years ago, in case you’re wondering), and their results weren’t much worse in Toronto than they were at any stadium in America–a mere 1-5 in six regular season contests.  But it’s not just that they lost those games, but how they lost them: 16-3 to Miami, 19-13 to the Jets, 22-19 to Chicago, 50-17 to the Seahawks…  OK, so I quite enjoyed that last loss.  But it’s no secret I was sitting on the visitor’s sideline for that one. ;)

When they announced the 2013 opponent as the Atlanta Falcons, I was a little less enthused.  After all, I did have a bit of a beef with Atlanta–who knocked the Hawks outta the playoffs on a last-second field goal in 2012–but I figured that the reigning NFC South champs would make Buffalo burgers out of the Bills, who had about as much depth and talent at QB as the Calgary Flames have got in goal.  As it turns out, Atlanta’s season went been shitty *inside joke* in a hurry, and they were about as bad as Buffalo coming in…but even with Seattle playing on MNF that week, I opted to sit at home and watch a Broncos game rather than pay money to see that sorry spectacle.

It figures that last season’s game was the highest-scoring Bills contest in Toronto, with the so-called home side losing 34-31 in overtime.  That could actually be considered exciting–if either team had anything to play for.  But the biggest complaint afterwards wasn’t about the Bills giving up a game-tying TD in the last two minutes, or the piss-poor play of EJ Manuel (18-32, 210 yards, 50.3 QBR); it was about all the fans cheering for the Falcons.  Cuz hey, it may be 1,600 km away, but Atlanta’s still on the East Coast, so their fans’ll still travel.  And it’s not like the visitors making more noise was a new thing–any Bills fans who hadn’t left by halftime wanted to puke, not shout, in that Seattle game.  In fact, Bills center Eric Wood went on local radio afterwards and said stuff like “[Toronto]‘s a bad atmosphere for football. I mean, nobody wants to play there.  I guess for opposing teams it beats the hell out of going in somebody else’s stadium and dealing with a bunch of crowd noise.”  Really, he could’ve been talking about any Bills in Toronto Series game there…except maybe their lone win over Washington.

Now, there are some–including The Mayor of This CityTM and his First Brother–who think that as a world-class city, we deserve a world-class team in a world-class football league.  Well, the Bills may play in the NFL, but they haven’t been a world-class team in 20 years.  And as I’ve said before, Toronto’s just not that big into football.  I mean, the Argos haven’t brought a decent crowd out to Rogers Centre since Doug Flutie was their QB.

Speaking of which, it’s probably just as well that I won’t hafta pretend to be a Bills fan once a year anymore.  Even after dropping a lotta weight these past few months, I just barely fit into my Flutie jersey…

*James Franco voice* “Looook at all ma sheeeeet!!!”

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After the Seahawks won the Super Bowl 43-8!!!!!, there was no way I was leaving The Big Apple empty-handed.  Cuz unlike those Broncos fans who’ll be burning all their Super Bowl gear (among other things) after their loss, this is a moment that I’ll cherish forever…or at least until Seattle repeats next year.  In any case, I certainly purchased my share of merchandise, to say nothing of the freebies obtained at the stadium.  That’s right, attendees of the Super Bowl receive a gift bag–or a gift seat cushion, as it were.

156I actually bought this shirt at the Newark airport, where everything Super Bowl related was on sale Monday.  Those magnets only cost me a couple bucks–while that pint glass woulda been a lot cheaper had I picked it up at the airport instead of paying 20 bucks for it at Macy’s (roughly the same price as that program).

157This was one of the most popular items at Macy’s: the Super Bowl t-shirt with the full Seahawks roster on the back.  I actually had to scrounge through a rack of assorted items just to find one in my size!

158Funny story about the lanyard; I went to just about every merch stand on the 100 level of the stadium, and they didn’t have any.  I bought that one at the Newark airport the day after the game (it came with a pin, which is blocked in the shot).  The rubber band was a freebie I picked up at the security tent; the hat cost me 25 bucks or so at Macy’s.

159Ah, the aforementioned Super Bowl seat cushion full of stuff.  You’ve got a football-style hand pouch with three packs of hand-warmers, earmuffs, a game-day radio, faux leather coffee-cup holder, Super Bowl branded chapstick(!), a handkerchief, New Girl gloves (hey, I watch that show!), the light-up toque from the halftime show…and last but not least, a pack of tissues.  But not just any tissues–Puffs Plus with Lotion!  Cuz a nose in need deserves Puffs indeed, y’all!

(Of course, with game-day temperatures well above freezing, I didn’t actually use any of that stuff.  Not even the seat cushion–I wasn’t watching this one sitting down!)

Scenes from Super Bowl Weekend…

013(The view from Hoboken.)

Suffice to say, New York City is expensive at the best of times.  Sticking the Super Bowl in the nearby Jersey swamp means 14-dollar beers and 16-dollar cheesesteaks…but hey, at least the former comes with a souvenir sippy-cup?  OK, so Super Bowl Weekend was an overblown, overcrowded disaster, but the end result was all that matters.  Can you say 43-8?

43-8!

Where to begin?  How about Super Bowl Boulevard, the blocked artery on Broadway where movements were as frequent as a constipated granny.  Bad visual?  Well, you shouldda seen the place!  People were completely crammed, especially at the NFL Shop at Macy’s, where everything was 50 per cent off…on Monday after the game.  Yeah, I was there Saturday.  And in a sure sign that the Seahawks were gonna win, they put up this display of Russell Wilson–not Peyton Manning–in store:

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Speaking of Russell, there he is in Times Square…or not.

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One of the major attractions on Super Bowl Blvd was the giant toboggan, which dropped down faster than Peyton Manning’s QB rating:

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There was apparently a three-hour wait to get your picture taken with the Lombardi Trophy.  Most people just took a photo from outside–although I did get a clearer shot of it the following evening. ;)

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There was supposed to be a Seahawks rally in Times Square at 7 pm, although where in Times Square wasn’t specified.  To me, though, that meant the big red steps at W 47th and Broadway.  Turns out that FOX Sports had already set up shop…

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And there wasn’t much of a rally.  I got to see some Seahawks (and Broncos) cheerleaders, and watch Donovan McNabb throw a few footballs into the crowd.  Oh, and there was also a drumline:

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I spent Saturday evening at the Legion of Boom Fan Cave, which was basically the covered terrace of the Copacabana Club with a few 12th man banners on the walls.  That, and eight-dollar Heinekens.  But to their credit, the evening’s designated rappers had a pretty catchy number about “Hawks on top, Broncos on the bottom” that turned out to be quite an accurate prediction.  Man, this place had everything: Chips and salsa, white girls twerking, two different versions of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”…  (I left during the techno remix.)

Saw a late-night pizza spot somewhere around W 48th that advertised two slices and a drink for four bucks.  What they don’t tell you is that offer only applies to cheese-pizza (aka plain) slices.  Also got to see the wonderful New York customer service on display.  “Yous betta have exact change, cuz we ain’t got no stinkin’ coins!”

I should mention that I stayed in Long Island City, which isn’t in Long Island, but rather the borough of Queens.  That neighbourhood is worthy of a full post in itself, so stay tuned for that.  I woke up relatively early on Sunday, and being that there’s nothing to do in LIC, I ended up taking the PATH train over to Hoboken, where fishing is apparently pretty popular:

015Hey, we are on the Jersey Shore… ;)

Anyways, the bar I ended up at was almost directly across from the train station, was named after two southwestern states and packed a playlist full of classic rock, oldies and AC/DC.  Hey, I’ll take it over Robin Thicke and Jay Z.  (Turns out “Empire State of Mind” is pretty popular around these parts.  And they play a lot more Bon Jovi than Springsteen!)  That said, the girls working there all seemed like the type who spend their Friday nights at Karma.  Let’s just say yoga pants, spray tans and cleavage were also on the menu next to the nachos and fajitas…not that I’m complaining.

The bar’s proximity to the train station allowed me to hop aboard the 2:20 to Secaucus, from where I had to take another train to the Meadowlands.  Even though the game didn’t start for another four hours, Secaucus station was already pretty sweaty:

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Fortunately, all the people pictured made it onto the next train, myself included, on which we witnessed MetLife Stadium rise up out of the swamp…

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A few thoughts about the stadium itself.  Did I mention they had 14-dollar beers (16 for imported) and 16-dollar cheesesteaks?  Hell, I even switched to Miller Light to save a couple bucks–that stuff only went for 12.  Alas, the concession stands seemed to be as unprepared as NJ Transit.  The deli counter ran out of pastrami well before kickoff (I presume they killed another cow by halftime?) and the aforementioned cheesesteak stand had an equipment malfunction, namely the processed cheese machine.  Cuz without that stuff, it’s just steak.  Luckily, they got it up and running after oh, about a half-hour wait in line…

I eventually made it to my seat right around the time my phone died.  But this game being sponsored by Verizon, they actually had set up a rather elaborate charging station, complete with finger-scan technology.  Only downside was that it’s halfway across the concourse, so I missed Queen Latifah singing “America the Beautiful.”  No biggie.

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This is the view from Section 101.  If it looks like there were more Broncos fans than Seattle supporters here, you’re probably right.  It definitely seemed louder when Denver was on defense, at least for the first couple quarters.  The orange-clad noise sure died down after that, though.  To their credit, while there were thousands of tickets for resale in the two weeks leading up to the game, every seat in the place was full, and just about everybody was wearing either a Denver or a Seattle jersey.  I did see a couple broads–and even one dude–in expensive fur coats though, haha.

I also had the added perk of being right near the Seattle tunnel, which gave me a pretty decent vantage point when the Hawks ran out onto the field:

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They even brought the 12th man flag out…

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…oh, and this flag, too:

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And if you thought Renee Fleming singing the national anthem was impressive, you shouldda seen the chick signing the anthem:

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Broadway Joe (in fur coat) actually botched the coin toss the first time around.  But apparently, the tuck rule was in play, so it’s all good:

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Aaaaand with that, we’re underway!

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Didn’t pull out my camera in time for the opening safety, which happened in the end zone right in front of me.  Pretty sure this was on the ensuing possession, though:

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Unfortunately, this drive came up a little short.

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They honoured the 2014 class of Hall of Famers during a timeout.  That’s ex-Hawks tackle Walter Jones in the middle:

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That said, I much preferred this form of commercial-break entertainment:

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Now, I’d hate to be the guy who paid five-grand for seats on the 50-yard line only to have Bruno Mars’ band’s backs to him at half time.  They set up the stage right along the sideline, which meant that I had a pretty decent vantage point, although I had to zoom in to the max to get a few half-decent pictures.  Hell, I didn’t even realize this was Bruno on drums for the intro:

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Of course, the TV camera got in the way of a couple of these:

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071(I dunno guy, but I don’t think Flea’s bass is plugged in to anything…)

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I went on a beer/bathroom run during Bruno’s last song, so I missed the big fireworks at the end.  But, more tragically, I also missed the bigger fireworks at the start of the second half.  See, there’s some New Jersey state law that says the only valid form of ID is a US ID.  (God bless America and no place else!)  But it turns out, three of the four times I went to buy beer, they didn’t even ID me.  Unfortunately, I got the one senior staffer who took the “anyone that looks under 40″ rule a little too seriously when I made it to the front of the line a couple minutes before the second-half kickoff.  And when I showed her my Ontario license, I learned of this silly law.

Now, I wasn’t about to go back to my seat empty-handed, so I went over to the next beer line instead.  I had finally made it to the front when Percy Harvin took the second-half kickoff 87 yards back for a TD to the end zone near where I was sitting.  Yeah, I saw it on a video screen on the concourse…  But I did get this picture of the receiving corps celebrating Jermaine Kearse’s TD later in the quarter:

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How do I know that it’s garbage time?  Robert Turbin’s getting the carry off the left-hand side…

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Of course, I already posted my post-game celebration photos last night.  As Broncos fans rushed to the exits, I made my way down the aisle until I ended up in the third row, behind two rows of professional photographers.  I’m sure there were plenty of pictures of me, taken both by fans and professionals, although I haven’t seen any of them.  Hey, maybe if I tell you what I look like…

In any case, there was such a stampede of Broncos fans that the stadium ran an announcement on the video board telling anyone who was taking the train to stay in the stadium due to congestion at the track.  That was fine by me–I stuck around until there was nothing left to see except security and confetti on the field.  But even then, there was a massive swarm of folks gathered outside when I finally left.  Put it this way:  I walked out of there around 11, and didn’t get back to my hotel until 1:45 am.  And I swear, I didn’t even stop at a bar, or parade naked down Times Square in nothing but my Seahawks gloves and a Super Bowl lanyard…  I’m pretty sure that picture would’ve made it in the paper!

Speaking of newspapers, though, I picked up a couple the next day for souvenirs (and also to read about people bitching about transit as I spent six hours in Newark Airport on Monday).  The New York Post had a pun on Peyton’s name, while USA Today appeared to imply the Hawks talked a lotta smack…

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But the best cover had to go to Newark’s The Star-Ledger, which ran this double-sided pullout of the TD return I watched from the concourse:

154(This one’s going on my wall…as soon as I find a frame for it!)

Final thoughts?  Best sporting experience of my life, by a country mile.  Most expensive, too–but worth every penny!  That said, I don’t know what I’ll do if the Hawks make it back to the Big Game in Arizona next year…  Anybody got a rental property in Phoenix with a private jet to spare? ;)