Gridiron season is here. So whether you're already headed out on a business trip or just looking for a great weekend jaunt, here are our must-see pairings for the rest of the year.
Let's face facts, we all like to brag. You know, the puffing of one's chest as you tell your office mates about your previous weekend's accomplishments. Then it's back to the fun of TPS reports, joke e-mails, and endless meetings about synergy and team spirit. Rah, rah.
One way to win those Monday-morning bragging rights is to follow our sports fan's ultimate football guide. The objective is simple: See lots of football. The strategy is a bit more daring: Determine how best to travel to the right destination at the right time to see the perfect matchups. The tactics: First, lay out the college and NFL schedules (we'll help you with that one). Then, take out your PDA and see how many future business trips can be extended by a day or two.
We're not suggesting that you shirk work for play, but if you're already going to be in, say, Miami, for that computer convention, why not go a few days early or stay a couple of days after and catch the Hurricanes on Saturday and the Dolphins on Sunday? Of course, if your workplace is tightening the belt (and whose isn't?), or you don't have any business trips on the horizon, just grab some of your sports-loving buddies, throw your toothbrush in a duffel bag, and head to the airport.
To show you how easy it is, during one three-day Detroit-area jaunt, I once caught Florida State vs. Michigan and the Bucs vs. the Lions, not to mention the Orioles vs. the Tigers and the Blackhawks vs. the Red Wings (preseason). Which tells you two things about me: 1) I often plan my life around sports, and 2) I was single at the time.
But enough about me. Without further ado, here's the year's best gridiron matchups. Pack your bags.
SEPTEMBER 6-7 (TWO GREAT OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM)
Saturday: University of Florida vs. University of
Miami at the Orange Bowl. Whenever two of Florida's Holy Trinity of college football get together, the nation is fixated on the Sunshine State.
Sunday: Houston Texans vs. Miami Dolphins at Joe Robbie Stadium. With a Pro Bowl-caliber performer seemingly at
every defensive position, the Dolphins are sure to torment second-year Texans QB David Carr. OR
Saturday: Marshall University vs. University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Get 100,000 orange-clad Volunteers together in the same building and it's bound to be a blast, no matter who they play.
Sunday: Oakland Raiders vs. Tennessee Titans in Nashville. The defending AFC champ Raiders kick off the season with a night game on the road against last year's AFC championship opponents and a prospective challenger to their throne again this year.
Saturday: USC vs. University of California at Berkley. If you're in need of a good campus protest and a great college football environment, this game is for you.
Sunday: San Diego vs. Oakland at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. The Raider Nation welcomes their fierce AFC West rivals at their place for dinner and a movie.
Saturday: University of Miami vs. Florida State in Tallahassee. The second Battle of Florida in little more than a month is another can't-miss showdown. Here's hoping the Seminoles have finally found a kicker with a better compass.
Sunday: Miami vs. Jacksonville at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville. In this much-less-heralded Battle for the Sunshine State, the Dolphins travel north for some revenge. Remember, it was the Jaguars that ended Dan Marino's career with an embarrassing butt-kicking. Sure, that was a couple of seasons ago and Marino's quarterback rating was already slipping, but it was still a tough way to go out for one of the most beloved QBs of all time, not to mention the game's most prolific passer.
ANN ARBOR/DETROIT, MICHIGAN
Saturday: University of Illinois vs. University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Big House on a cool Ann Arbor fall afternoon is why college football was invented. Being part of the largest crowd in the country (107,501) is simply an added bonus.
Sunday: Dallas vs. Detroit at Ford Field. Hearing "Joey Harrington to Charles Rogers" over the PA is something Lions fans hope to hear a lot of in sparkling new Ford Field. And several games into the season is an ideal time to see how well new Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells' team is shaping up.
NOVEMBER 1-2(AGAIN, TWO PRIME PAIRINGS TO PICK FROM)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA/CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
Saturday: Florida State vs. Notre Dame in South Bend. Any place that combines the words "touchdown" and "Jesus" must be serious about its college football. And, oh yeah, a leprechaun leads the team onto the field.
Sunday: San Diego vs. Chicago at Soldier Field. The Bears renovated their historic stadium and will attempt to rejuvenate their winning tradition against the young and talented Chargers. It's only two hours from South Bend, but rent a comfortable car. OR
UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA/EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY
Saturday: Ohio State vs. Penn State at University Park. Two of the game's classiest coaches - Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno - duel in Happy Valley.
Sunday: New York Giants vs. New York Jets at the Meadowlands. The Big Apple - or more specifically, New Jersey - is about 250 miles from the campus of Penn State, but seeing the Giants and Jets duke it out for Empire State supremacy is well worth the trip.
PASADENA/SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
Saturday: USC vs. UCLA at the Rose Bowl. The prettiest setting in college sports during the time of year when much of the country experiences its first snowfall sign me up.
Sunday: Cincinnati vs. San Diego. OK, so the Bengals stink. But by late November, No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer, Mr. Southern California himself, will probably be seeing plenty of snaps. And the Chargers could very well be competing for a playoff spot. It's worth the two-hour drive south - even in SoCal traffic.
DALLAS/COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS
Thursday: Miami vs. Dallas at Texas Stadium. Two of the NFL's most successful franchises, these teams always put on a good show. Last time they met on Thanksgiving Day, Leon Lett's blunder helped Miami squeak out a victory and Dolphins tight end Keith Byars made a snow angel. Classic.
Friday: University of Texas vs. Texas A&M at College Station. The Longhorns have dominated the Aggies of late, but nothing dulls the spirit of Aggies fans. Nothing.
Saturday: Florida State vs. University of Florida in Gainesville. The third clash of Florida titans takes place at the Swamp. And BCS bowl bids will be on the line.
Sunday: Tampa Bay vs. Jacksonville at Alltel Stadium. Warren Sapp chasing around rookie QB Byron Leftwich makes this contest entertaining, even though the defending Super Bowl champs outclass the Jags.
Saturday: Army vs. Navy at Philly's Veterans Stadium. The most storied game in football history never disappoints regardless of the two teams' records. Just being part of this scene is a memory of a lifetime.
Sunday: Dallas vs. Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field. Missed these NFC East rivals battling it out in October? You'll get another chance, this time in the City of Brotherly Love. Will the likely Super Bowl contender Eagles kick sand in the Cowboys' face on their road to regaining the title of America's Team?
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