I've had a serious craving for some crawfish at Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar in New Orleans, one of my favorite places in one of my favorite cities. I'm definitely adventurous enough to dip to the Big Easy on a whim just for a big platter of those bug-eyed bugs, but after watching an episode of Dhani Tackles the Globe on the Travel Channel, I got to thinking: What about tackling my world, the NFL?
I'm not just talking about seeing all the legendary stadiums or doing a Grateful Dead-like journey and following one team around for 17 weeks. I want to expand my horizons -- isn't that what the Grateful Dead did? -- and try to see all 32 teams -- yes, even the Detroit Lions -- in 17 weeks.
I'm not quite tolerant enough to dust off the old Winnebago for a road trip or spend all my days going through airports. In fact, let's not worry about how we get there. We'll figure out that part later. Let's just get there and make the best of it.
In my world of the NFL, it's not just about the game. It's about the cities and the events and the people. Especially the people. If we can squeeze in a Yankees-Red Sox game in late September or sample some of the eats at the St. Louis Soulard Oktoberfest, let's do it.
And most important, we have to get to Lucy's.
Thursday, Sept. 10
Tennessee at Pittsburgh: What a way to start the season. I'm sure a holiday will be declared for Thursday and Friday since attendance at work would be minimal. The only thing that will be waved more angrily than the Terrible Towels is the Steelers' attitude. Yeah, they won the Lombardi Trophy, but they didn't like being housed late in the season in Nashville and having their beloved towel defaced by some Titans players as well.
Sunday, Sept. 13
Chicago at Green Bay: The rivalry could take on a whole new life with two young quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, starting the season at Lambeau Field. There are some other good matchups, like Miami at Atlanta (the two biggest rebound teams from '08) and Philadelphia at Carolina, but I'm loving the Bears and Packers and starting off my season in two of the best football cities with some of the greatest fans in the league.
Sunday, Sept. 20
Sunday, Sept. 27
Tennessee at N.Y. Jets: I know, the second time in three weeks that I'm checking out the Titans, but I have ulterior motives. The Yankees and Red Sox have a series starting Friday in New York, so I'm hoping to land seats to a game with some American League playoff implications before watching two potential playoff teams lock horns.
Sunday, Oct. 4
Buffalo at Miami: Terrell Owens faces the Dolphins and two of his former Cowboys coaches -- Miami head coach Tony Sparano and BMOC Bill Parcells. That's old news, though. Bills RB Marshawn Lynch will be off his three-game suspension, and this AFC East game could be a rugged, old-school bruiser. I also can find some good reggae spots down here.
Sunday, Oct. 11
Houston at Arizona: It shouldn't have taken this long to see the NFC champion Cardinals, but I intentionally waited because these are two of the most fun offenses in the NFL. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (maybe) for the home team against Matt Schaub, Steve Slaton and Andre Johnson for the Texans. And there's a Cold Stone Creamery in the mall across the street from the stadium.
Sunday, Oct. 18
Monday, Oct. 19
Denver at San Diego: A coast-to-coast, overnight jaunt, but like I said, don't worry about how we got here, just that we did. Philip Rivers won't have Jay Cutler to jaw with anymore, but the Broncos still could be the Chargers' toughest obstacle in winning the AFC West. Plus, there's no way to ever have enough time in San Diego.
Sunday, Oct. 25
Atlanta at Dallas: By this point, we should know if either of these teams is poised for a playoff run. We also could know if Matt Ryan has become the next great QB that Tony Romo, at one point, looked to be. The quarterbacks might not matter, though. This game could feature the best rugged starting running backs (Michael Turner, Marion Barber) and fleetest backups (Jerious Norwood, Felix Jones) in the NFL.
Sunday, Nov. 1
St. Louis at Detroit: Huh? What? That's right, I'm going to the D to see the two worst teams from 2008 square off. New coaches Steve Spagnuolo (Rams) and Jim Schwartz (Lions) are former defensive coordinators who could have their teams headed in the right direction, or they could be playing this game for the top draft pick in 2010. Hopefully, the good folks in the D have something positive going on to boost their spirits.
Monday, Nov. 2
Atlanta at New Orleans: Yes! I finally made it to the Big Easy. I want a rubber shark in my cocktail at Lucy's, and the first round is on me. Can someone find out who's playing at Tipitina's? Oh, there's a game? A good one, too. These teams typically go at it, and it's never easy to win in New Orleans. If the Saints have their defense in order, this could be a great game.
Sunday, Nov. 8
Detroit at Seattle: I've been trying to get back to Seattle for a while so I can head to the No. 1 Nordstroms and buy a few ties. Gotta have some salmon pizza, too. I'm also interested to see if Jim Mora can turn around a seemingly decent Seahawks team in his first year like he did with the Falcons in 2004, when he took them to the playoffs.
Monday, Nov. 9
Thursday, Nov. 12
Chicago at San Francisco: How strange is this? Mike Singletary, one of the greatest Chicago Bears players, coaching against the Bears. If Iron Mike has made the 49ers in his image, Cutler better look out for guys coming on his blind side and a stud inside linebacker breathing down his neck. I thought about staying home and watching this game on NFL Network, but I'm on a mission.
Sunday, Nov. 15
Kansas City at Oakland: Since I was in the Bay Area, I thought I'd stay awhile, tour Alcatraz, then head to the Black Hole. JaMarcus Russell and Matt Cassel match up in a battle between the AFC West's (possible) future landmark quarterbacks.
Thursday, Nov. 19
Miami at Carolina: If you've never had Carolina barbeque, now's the time. Have the folks at the tailgate throw some of that tangy barbeque sauce on some pulled pork before you head inside to see if Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning can run that Wildcat stuff against the team with which he first unveiled it (Shhhh. Everyone thought it started with Miami).
Sunday, Nov. 22
Thursday, Nov. 26
Sunday, Nov. 29
Cleveland at Cincinnati: There might be better games played just about anywhere else this week, but that's not what this journey is about. I've come to see all 32 teams, and I'm going to do that by all means. Plus, I'm planning on getting a world of heartburn because I can't resist Skyline chili.
Thursday, Dec. 3
Sunday, Dec. 6
Houston at Jacksonville: OK, I'm a cold-weather wimp, so after spending some time (in a dome) in Toronto, I'm headed to Florida. Though there seemingly are a lot better games on the schedule, these could be surprise teams in '09, especially if the Jaguars' offensive line stays healthy.
Monday, Dec. 7
Baltimore at Green Bay: Uh huh, you thought I'd be running out of steam by now, but I hit you with the weekend trifecta. I took a Facebook poll of some friends, and it was strongly recommended that if I'm a real football fan, I have to watch a game at Lambeau Field while it's cold. I'll take my chances in early December. Don't count on me a few weeks from now.
Sunday, Dec. 13
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants: I haven't spent as much time as I'd like in New York, but I'm figuring one of the city's teams will be in the playoffs and I'll be back. I'm showing some grit with these cold-weather games. And I almost opted for Green Bay at Chicago, but those teams are on my schedule earlier in the season.
Saturday, Dec. 19
Dallas at New Orleans: What did I do to deserve this? I couldn't be more thankful to the schedule-makers to offer me this one. How late is Mothers open on a Saturday? Anyone down for a po' boy? By the way, Tony Romo, you'd better be playing well right about now or the heat could really be dialed up.
Sunday, Dec. 20
Miami at Tennessee: For those of you who don't know, Nashville is a great town. LP Field, where the Titans play, is one of the best stadiums at which to watch a game in the NFL. I have a fondness for NashVegas, and I will try to make it a habit to catch at least one game here -- and this has the makings of a pretty good one.
Monday, Dec. 21
Sunday, Dec. 27
Monday, Dec. 28
Minnesota at Chicago: I specifically saved my Soldier Field adventure. I'm going to sit in the cold and freeze off the warmth of the Gino's East pizza I'll eat earlier in the day. Though the Bears have Cutler, this is a game in which the running backs and defenses step up.
Sunday, Jan. 3
Washington at San Diego: I'm going to be honest: I really don't care much about the game. I'm just headed to the warmth and beauty of Southern California. I'm going to stick around for a few days, then drive a few hours north to attend the BCS national championship game at the Rose Bowl before I make my trek through the NFL playoffs.