Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Super Bowl Media Day - January 28, 2014

As an occasional member of the media via my work with Stadium Journey, I was hopeful that I could get a credential to Super Bowl Media Day, if only to hobnob with some non-traditional media who might be interested in my recently completed NFL Road Trip. The league was not particularly helpful, ignoring our followup email while issuing credentials to international media representatives who clown around dressed as Waldo or ask absolutely idiotic questions. To be fair, I had no questions to ask myself, so I shouldn't be too upset at being denied.

Fortunately, there was another way in. Tickets had been sold to the general public for a crazy $28.50 a pop. I was not willing to pay even half of that, but a friend of a friend had a ticket and bailed the night before, so I received a freebie from my pal Eddie. Thanks Eddie!

I arrived at Prudential Center at around 11:30, two hours after the event got underway. Being 90 minutes from home, there was no way that I could have done any better than that as I must maintain the proper impression of an unemployed layabout.

Upon arrival, I was handed a bag of goodies that included a couple of bottles of Pepsi (Max was one, Next the other) some chips, a granola bar, 12 Gatorade energy shots, deodorant, shampoo, body spray, and most importantly, a radio so I could listen to the proceedings.

I arrived just as the Broncos were finishing up (that's the scene above) so made my way to my seat near the top of the arena to await the Seahawks. During the intermission there was "entertainment" in the form of the Rutgers University band, some numbers from "Motown the Musical", the New York Jets cheerleaders, a Springsteen cover band, and interviews with a few NFL stars such as DeSean Jackson. Let's just say that those energy shots were in the bag for a reason.

Eventually, the Seattle contingent emerged and took their places. There were 17 podiums, with Richard Sherman's by far the most popular, with about half of the 6,239 accredited media surrounding it, including Deion Sanders (below). The radio channels were displayed so the 7,000 fans could choose which player to listen to. Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, and Sherman remained on the same channel for the entire hour, while the other two channels rotated among the other players. The NFL Network was broadcast continuously on the final channel.

I flipped between channels, but the big problem was that you could rarely hear the question. Sometimes the player would rephrase the question, but mostly we just heard sound bites with no context. The big controversy was Marshawn Lynch leaving after 7 minutes. So yeah, it was a thrilling day. Everything was wrapped up by 2:00, taking about 4.5 hours, which is how long the Super Bowl will last. Guessing that will be just a bit more interesting.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Toronto Raptors 104 at Brooklyn Nets 103 - January 27, 2014

Now that I am living in North America, my sports road trips are going to dwindle, but I still will attend games in the New York area. I want to avoid posting about those for the most part though as they are not that interesting. As an example, I went to see the St. Louis Blues at MSG last week, but the game was so dull that it wasn't worth writing about the experience. However, I will make exceptions for games when the visiting club is from Toronto, as those are more meaningful.

Last night the Raptors came into town to take on the Brooklyn Nets. A few hours before game time I found a single ticket on StubHub for $8. With these two teams battling for first place in the Atlantic (Toronto at 22-21, 1.5 games in front of the Nets at 20-22, so battling is overdoing it perhaps), I decided to buy the ticket and headed over to Barclays Center.

The game was one of the best I've seen and certainly the most entertaining Raptor game I've ever attended. Toronto sprung to an early 23-13 lead but that 10-point advantage would be the largest for either team on the night. By the end of the first quarter the Nets at recovered and led 26-25. The teams then stayed close through the second stanza, with an Alan Anderson trey giving the Nets at 56-54 lead with 1.3 seconds left. Then Kyle Lowry (below) sank a three-pointer of his own from 48' away (the other side of half in other words) and the Raptors had a one-point lead at the break.

The third quarter was even with the lead changing hands 5 times as both clubs notched 25 points. The fourth quarter saw Toronto take a 94-85 lead with 8 minutes to go, but Brooklyn fought back again, going on a 15-2 run culminating with Paul Pierce's 7th three of the night to send the crowd into a frenzy. The Raptors got within 2 and fouled Pierce who missed one of his shots. After Toronto's Greivis Vasquez drove for an easy layup to make it 101-100, both teams missed jumpers and it looked like Brooklyn had the game. But Vasquez stole the ball from Deron Williams with 22 seconds left and rather than call a timeout and set up for a final shot, he passed to Lowry who drove for the basket, only to be called for the charging foul as he ran into Williams, who did look set. Game over. Well, there was still 19.8 seconds to play, but when Pierce sank two free throws after being fouled on the inbounds play, it certainly looked like Toronto had come up short. John Salmons made an uncontested layup to get back within a point and the Nets took their final timeout. Then the unthinkable happened. Williams' inbound pass was picked off by Patrick Patterson, who gave it to Lowry, who gave it back to Patterson, who sank a twelve-footer to give Toronto the shocking 104-103 lead. The Nets were confused on the inbound play but lacking timeouts there was little they could do and Pierce's last second heave hit the rim, giving the Raptors an amazing win.

With the win, Toronto moved into third in the Eastern Conference, tied with Atlanta who lost to Oklahoma City. The league-leading Thunder are visiting Brooklyn on Friday and tickets are currently starting from $65 on StubHub. Hopefully they will drop as game time approaches, but there's no way I'll be getting in for $8.


With the assist on the winning basket, Kyle Lowry totalled 31 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals. According to Elias Sports, no other NBA player has had a 30/5/5/5 game this season and the only three players to achieve the arbitrarily measured feat last season were Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.



Monday, January 27, 2014

New York Rangers 7 at New Jersey Devils 3 (NHL Stadium Series) - January 26, 2014

I have never been particularly interested in the outdoor hockey craze that started with the Cold War back in 2001 when Michigan State hosted Michigan in East Lansing. Of course, it was the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo that really got the puck rolling, and now there are outdoor games all around the world every year. I did plan to attend the 2013 Winter Classic with the Maple Leafs scheduled to face Detroit, but the NHL lockout put paid to that idea, and my NFL Road Trip precluded a visit to the 2014 edition. However, this year the NHL went a bit crazy, scheduling five other outdoor games, including 2 in Yankee Stadium as part of the Stadium Series, so I had a chance to go.

However, I had heard mixed reviews of the outdoor hockey experience from friends, and wasn't particularly eager to attend either game here in New York. The issue for me was not the cold, but the view. Watching a hockey game from so far away just didn't seem enjoyable. Add on the outrageous ticket prices and it was a no-brainer to stay at home.

With two games during Super Bowl week though, the NHL seems to have oversaturated the market and ticket prices dropped dramatically as the games approached. The night before the first game featuring the Devils and Rangers, I saw tickets below $50 on StubHub. I started following the prices and found a ticket with a face value of $229 for $54.50 including fees. The forecast was for a chilly day but nothing that I wouldn't be used to having grown up in Ottawa long before global warming. A rare impulse purchase for me and on Sunday morning, I found myself taking the 4 train to Yankee Stadium.

StubHub has an office at the Bronx Terminal Market just a few blocks south of the stadium. I stopped in to pick up my ticket and was surprised at how many other customers there were. This was clearly a game in which the secondary market would provide much of the attendance, a sign that the league had overpriced the game and overestimated the demand. Walking north on River Avenue, I noticed about the same number of Devils and Rangers fans making their way toward the stadium, although this was officially a home game for New Jersey.

Entering the stadium was easy enough and I made my way around the lower concourse, which was already very crowded an hour before scheduled puck drop at 12:30. Seats here were the cheapest, just a $79 face value, as you really can't see the ice surface that well from down low. However, it was probably a bit warmer than being in the upper deck.

The view from the bleachers (above) was not much better but slightly more expensive at $119 or $149. Monument Park was open but many of the plaques had been removed for the winter.

The upper levels, usually the cheap seats, provided the best view of the entire ice surface. I was in section 423 which had a good angle towards the net next to the first base foul line. The seats in the 200 level are probably the best but they are still quite overpriced, even on the secondary market.

This shot below is from Section 420B, which was directly at center ice. This was taken before the game and much of the ice surface was covered by a tarp. That didn't seem to improve matters and Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur was highly critical of the ice while discussing the pre-game delay due to glare on the ice surface.

The festivities didn't get started until 12:50 with the Jersey Boys cast performing a few songs, which did not impress the fans, who just wanted to watch some hockey. After the players warmed up, we sat around for another 20 minutes until the colour guard appeared along with the NYPD and FDNY pipes and drums band to play the teams onto the ice. The temperature at puck drop was 24 degrees, and it seemed to remain fairly constant throughout the contest. That wouldn't be a problem normally when you are enjoying some outdoor winter activities, but sitting around in a wind blown stadium is not the best way to deal with the chill. I heard several fans say that this would be their sole outdoor hockey experience and I cannot disagree. It is something to experience once but going again is not something I will consider, regardless of the cost and the weather, as you are just too far away from the action. You can barely hear the sounds of the game, an integral part of seeing the game live. I know they have microphones around the rink but they can't have the sounds broadcast to the stadium because the players say naughty words. Can't be any worse than what I heard from the fans in attendance though; the rivalry between these two can get heated. Unfortunately, that would be the only warmth found on this day.

The Game

Outdoor hockey in the NHL has been traditionally low scoring, with 41 total goals scored over the previous 9 games. That average of 4.5 goals per game would be bested in the first period alone as New Jersey's Patrick Elias scored twice and Travis Zajac (#19 below) added another to give the Devils a quick 3-1 lead, much to the delight of their fans.

After that though, the Rangers dominated. Marc Staal added a fluke goal that snuck through Brodeur's legs before the end of the first to make it 3-2. Mats Zuccarello added a couple in the second to give the Rangers the 4-3 lead and then Carl Hagelin scored a beauty that had Brodeur completely flummoxed.

When Rick Nash (#61 above) scored another fluky one with just 29 seconds left in the middle frame, the game was pretty much over and many fans packed up and left.

Brodeur was replaced to start the third (that's him on the bench above as Marek Zidlicky skates by) and Corey Schneider came in to face just 5 shots. The only one that got by him was a Derek Stepan penalty shot (below) that made the final 7-3 Rangers.

It was an entertaining first two periods, but Brodeur's complaints turned out to be prescient, as a couple of lucky bounces really helped the Rangers.


Calgary remains the only home team to win an outdoor contest in regulation with their 4-0 victory over Montreal back in 2011. Boston won the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway in overtime. The other 8 teams have lost.

Both teams wore special uniforms for the game, with the Devils resorting to their red and green throwbacks while the Rangers making some minor changes to their typical road attire. All in the name of separating the fan from his money and it worked quite well, I saw several fans with one of these special jerseys, which made a great Christmas present I guess.

The Islanders "host" the Rangers on Wednesday in the second game of the series in New York. Upper level tickets with good views of the ice are currently (as of Monday morning) $87 and up, but I expect those prices to drop.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 5 at Colorado Avalanche 2 - January 21, 2014

This past few months has been an incredible run of luck for me in terms of scheduling these sports road trips. First, the NFL schedule was nearly perfect, allowing me to complete the 2013 NFL Road Trip during which I saw a game in all 32 stadiums. Then the playoffs came along and New England and Denver had home games on the weekend before the Maple Leafs would be in town. Getting tickets to both those NFL games wasn't easy and I needed a friend's help for the one in Denver, but when all was said and done, tickets had been acquired and I was able to make the trips. Fantastic coincidences that allowed me to see the Leafs in two more road rinks.

Pepsi Center

Denver was the second city I visited when I began this blog nearly five years ago and I've seen the Pepsi Center a few times since then, but these venues are always changing. Just this past offseason, a massive new scoreboard was added, spanning the entire neutral zone.

Of course, the Avalanche moved here from Quebec, and in case you thought that Nordiques merchandise was no longer available, think again. Tons of options at the team store for nostalgia buffs, such as this toque below, only $22.

The Avalanche allow you into the lower bowl only when the teams skate out for the warm up. Other rinks generally allow anyone down low to take pictures until the skate around finishes, but this way doesn't make much difference. As soon as the players skated out of the tunnel, I raced down and took some pictures of the Leafs.

That's Morgan Rielly above, a rookie who played his junior hockey in Moose Jaw. Below is James Reimer (the I before E rule gets confusing with these two!) warming up. Some advice for James: you can see the puck better with your eyes open.

I haven't followed the Avalanche much over the past few seasons and knew perhaps half their roster. One newcomer is Marc-Andre Cliche (below), who toiled in the AHL for the L.A. Kings for six seasons before getting his chance with Colorado. Even then, I understand his interviews are pretty boring for some reason.

I found tickets in the first row of the upper deck behind the net where the Leafs would shoot twice. At $32 on StubHub, this was one-third the price I paid in Boston the week before for similar seats. A nice view as you can see below. We were also beneath the flags of the two nations represented.

I really enjoy seeing events at the Pepsi Center. The RTD system is great - I parked just three stops away at Decatur-Federal and after the game, was on I-25 just a couple of minutes after the train arrived. That parking lot is used during Denver Broncos games but empty otherwise and a good spot to leave the car if you want to avoid the parking charges at the rink. There are a few bars around there for pre-game libations, including Brooklyn's across the street and Blue Sky Grill inside the arena. Ushers are friendly, although be aware that there are new security procedures in operation where you must remove your cell phones and cameras and slide them down a small chute while walking through a metal detector, but it all went quickly enough. Of course, the game was the highlight and amazingly, I saw another Leaf road win in regulation!

The Game

The Leafs are in the middle of a terrible travel schedule and had played in Phoenix the night before, winning their 5th in the row. I expected them to be tired, and they looked out of sorts early with Colton Orr taking a stupid penalty in just the second minute. Shortly after they killed it though, Dion Phaneuf sent a long pass from inside the Leafs zone. The puck bounced off the end boards next to Semyon Varlamov and Phil Kessel (below) swooped in behind the Avalanche defense and banged it home for the surprise 1-0 lead.

Later in the first, the Leafs had their own power play (ranked 4th in the league if you can believe it) and James Van Riemsdyk tipped home a Cody Franson shot to make it 2-0 after one period.

The Leafs came out strong in the second and when Jake Gardiner (above) scored 2:55 in with a seeing-eye shot to the corner, Varlamov was pulled and ex-Leaf Jean-Sebastien Giguere (below) took his place.

That didn't help matters much as Kessel soon added his second of the night and the Leafs held a commanding 4-0 lead. Reimer continued to play well, making saves such as the one below, but late in the period, first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon showed his incredible speed and skill, zooming into the zone to take a pass from P.A. Parenteau and beating Reimer with a perfect shot to give Colorado some life heading into the third.

Five minutes in, MacKinnon snapped another shot past Reimer and suddenly it was 4-2. I immediately began to panic, but the Leafs did not and although the Avalanche outshot them 17-7 over the final 20 minutes, Reimer was equal to the task. An empty netter by Jay McClement (below, passing the puck to me) sealed the deal and the Leafs win streak reached six with a solid 5-2 win!

There's the final with the three stars.

Another look at the gigantic scoreboard.


Nazem Kadri won only one face-off in the offensive zone, beating Cliche below. He then impeded Cliche, drawing an interference penalty. I just like this picture, so that is why I am mentioning it.

Next Up

That does it for road trips for a while. I will be seeing the odd game in the New York and Philadelphia area, including the Super Bowl I hope, and updating the 2014 schedule as that happens (but few blog posts). The main goal now is to complete Club 122 by the end of the NBA season, so I'll be planning short jaunts to Chicago, Raleigh, New Orleans, and Orlando. Check back as those develop.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Denver Cutthroats 5 at Rapid City Rush 2 (CHL) - January 20, 2014

Monday was MLK Day and I needed to find a sporting event close to Denver to complete the weekend road trip. There wasn't anything in Colorado that I could find, but I did notice a CHL game in Rapid City, South Dakota, coincidentally with the Denver Cutthroats as the visitors. Rapid City is 400 miles away, but the drive is an easy one through some beautiful backcountry and the Black Hills. With the weather still perfect, I had no excuse to skip this opportunity to add another state to the list of those in which I have seen a sporting event.

It took just over six hours to get to Rapid City, with about half that time spent on empty back roads, including Wyoming-270, a 40-mile stretch in which just 6 cars passed me going the other way. I love driving when the scenery is beautiful and the highway stretches into the distance with nary another car in sight, an experience few can enjoy in their urban settings. I arrived around 4 pm and after a quick break at the hotel, headed over to the arena.

Rushmore Plaza Civic Center

The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is a multipurpose venue located just north of downtown Rapid City. It opened in 1977 and the first event was a concert by Elvis Presley, just seven weeks before he died. There are two arenas within: the Don Barnet Arena which seats 10,000 and is used for concerts and other events; and the ice arena, seating 5,132 for hockey.

Parking is free and includes the lot at the high school across the street. If you are staying overnight, the Howard Johnson hotel is just a block away and a good deal. If you enter from the high school lot, you will find yourself in a large lobby that includes pictures of past concerts that took place here, such as Elton John in 2009.

The box office is slightly hidden, but signs direct you there. The cheapest ticket was $17, a bit costly for this level of hockey, but it is actually the best seat in my opinion, high up in one of the end zones. Well, high is a relative term, as there are only 16 rows in this section, so you are still close to the ice, but without the glass blocking your view. The place was pretty empty when I went as I guess Rapid City folk were out celebrating the holiday, but I didn't move around much as I enjoyed being the only one in my row.

The single concourse is wide enough, with concessions fairly typical. There is a small stand selling pulled pork sandwiches for $5 which is my recommendation (they also have beef brisket for 2 bucks more). All sizes of soda pop can be refilled once for $1, something I have not seen before.

As is common in these smaller rinks, you cannot walk around the entire concourse as one area is blocked off for dressing rooms. However, there is a spot you can stand at the glass and take pictures, next to Section S. That's starter Keaton Hartigan below in warmups.

The Rush were founded in 2008 and have quickly become one of the most stable franchises in the CHL, which currently boasts 10 squads, including a new one in Brampton this season. The team is named for nearby Mount Rushmore, and their secondary logo reflects this.

Their primary logo is simply an "R" appearing to move rapidly, as you can see on this 2010 championship banner.

Overall, I quite enjoyed my short time here, more than I can say for the fans, who endured a rather poor showing from their league-leading Rush netminders.

The Game

Tim Boron is the regular goalie for Rapid City and leads the league with a 2.35 GAA and a 19-5 record. But he was hurt recently and was not dressed for this game, so backup Hartigan got the start, only to be beaten early by Daniel Barczuk. When Robin Soudek (below) added a power play marker at 8:28, the fans grew restless, not used to losing to Denver, a franchise in only its second year of existence. As an aside, I find their nickname not particularly suited to hockey (yeah, I know a cutthroat is a type of fish, but I can't help flashing back to Clint Malarchuk).

Another power play ten minutes later resulted in an easy score for Garrett Bembridge as he slid one past a befuddled Hartigan, who was replaced by John Griggs (on the left below). Griggs was recently signed after Boron's injury and comes to the team from Pensacola of the SPHL, where I saw him play back in October. Always interesting to see a player in two locations in two different leagues, although it doesn't happen in the same season that often.

With the damage done, the rest of the game saw Rapid City pepper Trout keeper Kent Patterson (below, making another save) with 33 shots, while Denver coasted, testing Griggs just nine times. Unfortunately for him, the first shot he faced in the second period rebounded straight to Barczuk who sent it home to make it 4-0 and pretty much end the battle.

Although Rapid City ended the shutout with a Jared Brown score in the middle period, Bembridge tallied his second of the night and league-leading 30th early in the final frame to make it 5-1. A late reply from Winston Day Chief (below), a native Canadian, made the final only slightly less embarrassing.

Despite outshooting Denver 41-19, Rapid City found themselves losing 5-2, although I suppose etiquette demands that you treat your guests properly. With 11 power plays and the home team out of it early on, this game wasn't one that I'll recall fondly in my later years. Regardless, it was well worth the 850-mile round trip to visit Rapid City and add another venue to my list.


This was venue #466 and my 91st hockey rink.

I have yet to see a sporting event in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Yet another stupid thing that I'll be tracking going forward.

When the three stars were announced, I was surprised they were all from Rapid City. Turns out that is a local thing and not official, the CHL summary showed the three stars to all be from Denver.

On the way back to Denver, I made a brief stop at Mount Rushmore, about 30 minutes south of Rapid City. Parking is a hefty $11, but there are a couple of roadside turnouts where you can stop and take pictures without being gouged.



Monday, January 20, 2014

New England Patriots 16 at Denver Broncos 26 (AFC Championship) - January 19, 2014

The NFL playoffs unfolded pretty much as expected with the two top seeds hosting their respective conference championship games on Sunday. I certainly didn’t expect to be in Denver or Seattle for either contest as I would have to fly, and acquiring game tickets was made doubly hard by restrictions on who could buy them. In both cases, only those with billing addresses in the states surrounding the home team’s state would be allowed to purchase tickets. Without even an American billing address, I thought I was out of luck. Until I remembered that I did have one option: my friend Meg, who lives in Denver. Tickets went on sale last Monday at 10 am local time and she managed to avoid meetings at work to snag me a single at the cheapest price. So I immediately booked flights and headed back to Denver, arriving Saturday night in time for an NLL contest.

The AFC Championship game was a 1 pm local start and the weather couldn't have been better, with kickoff temperature a balmy 63F. I arrived around 10:30 am and found Gate 4 to be already open. Upon entering, I noticed that the concessions at the Mile High Village area had a "Happy Hour", $2 beer and $3 pizza or nachos until 11 am, when general gates opened. I opted for a slice and a beer, which lasted me the whole game.

I made my way down to the field where the Patriots were warming up. Despite the ticket restrictions, a few Pats fans were in attendance and cheering on their heroes. Owner Robert Kraft and Jon Bon Jovi were along the sideline briefly as well, but few seemed to care, being more concerned with the players. Ryan Allen, who was injured in last week's game against the Colts, had recovered and practices below.

My seat was in section 504, row 27, which is 5 rows from the top in the picture below.

And this is the view from the seat, essentially at the south goalline, on the west side of the stadium. I was surrounded by some great fans - a few were drinking beer but no one was drunk, a nice change from last week at Foxboro. They wanted to watch their team advance to the Super Bowl, something they had not done since the 1998 season. One lone Pats fan stood amongst us and received some good-natured ribbing that never seemed to bother him.

The pregame ceremony featured skydivers from a local club, with five of them making dramatic entrances.

The cheerleaders performed, the anthem was sung, and thousands of orange balloons were released. The Broncos theme this year was "United in Orange" and nearly every fan was wearing something orange to great effect, as you can see in the second shot below.

The Denver highways were not as empty as you would expect; we sports fans like to think the world revolves around the games we love, but far more people couldn't care less.

The Game

This would be the 15th time that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (#18 below, handing off) would meet, although no one seems to realize they are never on the field at the same time. Anyway, New England had the ball first and punted after 3 ineffective plays. Manning managed a couple of first downs before the Broncos were forced to punt, but again the Pats went 3-and-out. On their next possession, Denver drove 10 plays for 73 yards before settling for a Matt Prater FG to open the scoring.

New England started a decent drive after that but an offensive pass interference penalty pushed them back and out of field goal range. Allen punted and the ball was downed at the Bronco 7 on the first play of the second quarter. Manning then led Denver on a 15-play, 93-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard pass to Jacob Tamme (that's Manning rolling out on the play below). The drive took 7:01, with 8 rushes and only 7 passes (3 of which were incomplete) and was a sign of things to come.

Both teams added field goals on their next possessions and we went to halftime with Denver up 13-3. The second half began with the drive that sealed the game, an 80-yard, clock-draining march that took 7:08 and ended with Demaryius Thomas catching a 3-yard toss from Manning. Those two drives were probably the best I had seen on the trip, totalling nearly 15 minutes and resulting in 14 points. Clinical, time-consuming, and tiring the defense, who are not used to the altitude here. Amazing to watch.

Although those of us in the stadium did not realize it, the Patriots were essentially done and dusted right there. The third quarter ended with Denver leading 20-3 and an early Prater FG made it 23-3 with just over 12 minutes to go. No one dared to jinx the lead with an unnecessary comment, as New England had at least two miraculous comebacks during the season. Sure enough, Brady did finally get going against a prevent defense, hitting Julian Edelman for a touchdown (below) to make it 23-10 with 9 minutes left.

On their next possession, Prater kicked his fourth FG on the day to make it a 16-point advantage. Again Brady used a loose Denver defense to march down the field, scrambling for a 5-yard touchdown with 3:13 left. Fans were suddenly nervous, could this be another amazing Brady comeback? Nope. Shane Vereen was stuffed on the 2-point conversion and finally the Super Bowl chant could be sung in earnest. New England never saw the ball again as Denver punched their ticket to the Super Bowl with a convincing 26-16 win that was not nearly as close as the score indicates.

All four touchdowns were scored in the end zone above which I was sitting, something that few fans might notice but makes a difference to me. Another stat related to the thin air in Denver: all eight New England possessions started from their own 20, seven touchbacks on kickoffs and one punt that bounced into the end zone.

Thanks Meg for getting me that ticket, one of the best experiences of my NFL Stadium Journey, lots of fun with great fans all around.


Afterwards, I made my way to Donkey OT, a bar just across the way from the stadium. They had already posted this sign. I hope too to be Super Bowl Bound!

I watched the first half of the late game here, which provides a great view of Sports Authority Field.

At halftime, I walked over to the Original Brooklyn's, a slightly more upscale establishment. The scene around the stadium was quiet.

There is a small Ring of Fame plaza that I somehow missed on my first visit. Turns out it was opened three weeks after I was there and I was glad to find it as I wandered by. That's Craig Morton with the number 7 pillar by the way, not John Elway.

As Denver was the first stop on my trip, I always thought I might have overrated the experience there, but having had a chance to see it again, there is no doubt that it is a top 5 NFL stadium. Good luck to the Broncos and their fans in the Super Bowl!