Sun., Dec. 31
NFL: PACKERS AT BEARS
Soldier Field, Chicago
Bears vs. Packers. Given their season records, there wouldn't seem to be much heat to this game, yet there is, as always. Start with the fact that this is the greatest of all NFL rivalries. Factor in the questions surrounding Rex Grossman, the beleaguered Bears QB -- this is his last tune-up prior to the playoffs. And then consider the biggest issue of all: This could be Brett Favre's final game. Soldier Field (1410 S. Museum Campus Dr.) will be wild.
Web site: http://www.chicagobears.com/
Do: Concert heaven! Snoop Dogg performs at the House of Blues (329 N. Dearborn St., Tickets) Sat., Dec. 30. Los Lobos plays at the Aragon Ballroom (1106 W. Lawrence Ave., Tickets) Sat., Dec. 30. Ring in the new year with Magic Slim & the Teardrops at Kingston Mines (2548 N. Halsted St., Tickets) Sun., Dec. 31.
Stay: The Magnificent Mile is surprisingly affordable. Stay downtown at the 4-star Hotel 71 (71 E. Wacker Dr.), where rooms start at $118, or the 4-star InterContinental Chicago (505 N. Michigan Ave.), with rooms from $119.
Eat: Head to Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush St., Web site), the city's premier destination for steaks and celebrity watching. Order W.R.'s Chicago cut or loosen that belt and go for the "big" porterhouse for two.
Mon., Jan. 1
NCAA FOOTBALL -- ROSE BOWL: USC VS. MICHIGAN
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif..
The Rose Bowl never meant more than back in the day, when the Pac-10 champ met the Big 10 champ in the grandest of all bowl games. As fortune would have it, that's the setup for this year's event. No. 8 USC and No. 2 Michigan both had dreams of playing for No. 1. No matter. This promises to be a great game. USC QB John David Booty threw for 2,956 yards and 25 TDs this season. WR Steve Smith, his favorite receiver, caught 8 TD passes and averaged 15.2 yards per catch. Michigan QB Chad Henne totaled 2,199 yards and 14 TDs. RB Mike Hart rushed for 1,515 yards and 14 TDs, and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Which team will prevail? Head to Pasadena's historic Rose Bowl (1001 Rose Bowl Dr.). Hungry for some hoops? Make it a doubleheader. Trek to Pauley Pavilion (650 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles) Sun., Dec. 31, to see No. 1 UCLA take on No. 17 Washington.
Do: The best parade of the year -- any year -- is the 118th annual Tournament of Roses Parade. George Lucas serves as Grand Marshal of this year's event. It begins Mon., Jan. 1 at 8 a.m., at the corner of Ellis Street and Orange Grove, and lasts 2 ½ hours -- leaving you ample time to find your Rose Bowl seats. You can claim a sidewalk spot noon on Dec. 31 -- or be civilized and purchase a grandstand seat (Tickets). We suggest the latter.
Stay: Deals are hard to come by. Stay in Pasadena at the 3-star Holiday Express Hotel & Suites Pasadena-Colorado Blvd. (3500 E. Colorado Blvd.), where rooms start at $118, or at the 2-star Courtyard by Marriott Old Pasadena (180 N. Fair Oaks Ave.), with rooms from $199.
Eat: Go to Saladang Song (383 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena), one of the best Thai restaurants you'll find in the U.S.
Thu., Dec. 28
NBA: JAZZ AT SPURS
AT&T Center, San Antonio
San Antonio, led by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, is on a roll. But so is Western Conference Northwest Division leader Utah. Their two leaders -- Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams -- have been unstoppable. The teams have played once this year, with the Jazz winning 83-75 in Salt Lake City. This time they meet at San Antonio's AT&T Center (1 AT&T Center Parkway). Time to even the score? Make it a weekend and hit the Alamo Bowl -- featuring local favorite No. 18 Texas vs. Iowa -- on Sat., Dec. 30 at 3:30 local time at the Alamodome (100 Montana Street).
Web site: http://www.nba.com/spurs/
Do: First stop: the Alamo (300 Alamo Plaza, Web site), where in 1836 Texans made a heroic (if doomed) stand against Mexican general Santa Anna's army in their battle for independence. Then amble the 2.6-mile River Walk (Web site), a pair of quiet pathways alongside either side of the meandering San Antonio River. You'll pass a cornucopia of downtown galleries, shops, hotels and restaurants.
Stay: The price is right. Stay downtown at the 4-star Wyndham St. Anthony Hotel (300 E. Travis St.), where rooms start at $169, or the 3-star Holiday Inn San Antonio-Downtown Market Square (318 W. Durango Blvd.), with rooms from $158.
Eat: Boudro's Texas Bistro on the Riverwalk (421 E. Commerce St., Web site) is where to go for Louisiana/Texas-style seafood and steaks. Order the center-cut strip sirloin or the Gulf yellowfin tuna.
Sat., Dec. 30
PROFESSIONAL INDOOR LACROSSE:
BUFFALO AT PORTLAND
Rose Garden, Portland
Opening day. The defending Western Division champion Portland Lumberjax lace it up against the defending Eastern Division champion Buffalo Bandits at Portland's Rose Garden (1 Center Court). You want fast action, this is it. But don't stop there. Want a first look at the next generation of D-I basketball stars? Head to Liberty High School in suburban Hillsboro, Ore., 18 miles west of Portland, where 16 top high school teams gather for the annual Les Schwab Invitational (21945 NW Wagon Way, Tickets). No. 1-ranked Oak Hill Academy is the favorite, led by G Nolan Smith, who will play at Duke next year. Also catch local favorite Kevin Love -- rated as the No. 2 player in the U.S. and headed to UCLA -- and his Lake Oswego (Ore.) H.S. squad.
Web site: http://www.portlandjax.com/
Do: Portland is a city of gardens. Roses are in bloom in the International Rose Test Garden (400 SW Kingston Ave., in Washington Park) from April to October. The Portland Classical Chinese Garden (NW 3rd St. and NW Everett St.) comprises an entire city block and is the largest garden of its kind outside of China. But the city's tour de force is the Japanese Garden (611 Kingston Ave., in Washington Park, Web site), considered the finest of its kind in North America. Five different garden styles are displayed over 5 ½ acres. From certain vantage points, you can spot the peak of Mt. Hood. Stop for Japanese tea in the garden's teahouse.
Stay: The price is right. Stay downtown at the 4-star Fifth Avenue Suites-A Kimpton Hotel (506 SW Washington St.), where rooms start at $134, or the 4-star Governor Hotel (614 SW 11th Ave.), with rooms from $148.
Eat: For some of the best New York-style pizza outside of New York, venture over to Apizza Scholls (4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Web site). Try the New York White, a four-cheese pizza, or the Apizza Amore, a margherita pie with hot capicollo.
Various airlines are offering vacation package deals to Raleigh, gateway to Durham and Chapel Hill. Tickets are limited, so hurry: Orbitz deals
The theme this week is two-fers. One city, two great basketball games. Head to Chapel Hill's Dean E. Smith Center (Skipper Bowles Dr.) Thu., Dec. 28, to see No. 2 North Carolina, behind forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Brandon Wright, play Rutgers (Tickets). Then drive to Durham's Cameron Indoor Stadium (301 Whitford Dr.) Sun., Dec. 31 to watch No. 6 Duke, led by G DeMarcus Nelson and F/C Josh McRoberts, take on San Jose State.
Between games, visit the North Carolina Museum of Art (2110 Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh, Tickets) to see its wonderful Monet in Normandy exhibit. These 50 paintings span Monet's career, including seaside images, his water lilies from Giverny and Garden of Sainte-Adresse, his earliest masterpiece.
Various airlines are also offering package vacation deals to Detroit. Tickets are limited, so hurry: Orbitz deals
NBA weekend. Detroit is rolling behind Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. Head to the Palace at Auburn Hills (5 Championship Dr., Auburn Hills) Fri., Dec. 29, to see the Pistons play Jermaine O'Neal and division rival Indiana (Tickets). Return there Sun., Dec. 31, to see the Pistons take on red-hot Phoenix, led by Steve Nash and Shawn Marion (Tickets).
Between games, trek to the Motown Historical Museum (2648 W. Grand Ave., Detroit, Web site), the birthplace of Motown soul. Tour the original recording studio where the Supremes, Jackson 5, Temptations and others recorded their biggest hits.
Mon., Jan. 1
Bowl-o-mania! There are 18 (count 'em) college football bowl games between Thu., Dec. 28 and Tue., Jan. 2. Book a flight. Here are three of the best: Head to Glendale, Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium (1 Cardinals Dr., Glendale, near Phoenix), Mon., Jan. 1, to see No. 9 Boise State face No. 7 Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Or travel to Orlando's Citrus Bowl (1610 W. Church St.) Mon., Jan. 1, to watch No. 6 Wisconsin play No. 12 Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl.
Or trek to Miami's Dolphin Stadium (2269 Dan Marino Blvd, Miami Gardens) Tue., Jan. 2, to see No. 5 Louisville line up against No. 15 Wake Forest in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
Go to our College Bowls travel guide for more info and also look for tickets via StubHub.
Sun., Dec. 31
FIRST NIGHT BOSTON
Various Locations, Boston
Some cities sponsor New Year's Eve fireworks shows. Others hold parades. Boston does all that and more on First Night (Web site). Theater, dance, jazz concerts, puppet shows, museum openings, statehouse tours, film fests, ice sculptures in Boston Common. It's an all-day affair that attracts thousands annually. All that's missing is a Red Sox home game.
You can catch Boston College, though. Head to Conte Forum (2599 Beacon St., Chestnut Hill, Tickets) Sun., Dec. 31, to see BC, led by F Jared Dudley, take on F Bennet Davis and local rival Northeastern.
Fri., Dec. 29
WORLD CUP SKIING: MEN'S DOWNHILL
Ski Slope Stelvio, Bormio, Italy
There's no ski event more thrilling than the men's downhill, and the run at Stelvio (Web site) is among the world's fastest. It's 3 ½ kilometers long, with a vertical drop of more than 1,000 meters and an average slope gradient of 30 percent. This event will attract the best World Cup competitors. 2002 Olympic champion Fritz Strobl of Austria won here in 2001.
Between races, tour the village of Bormio (Web site), whose history stretches nearly 2,000 years. Located in the middle of the Italian Alps, near the Swiss border, it is rich in architecture and history. Tour the Piazza del Kuerc, the village's central plaza. Many of Bormio's churches predate 1400.