Elements won't stop me from being in my element in snowy Philadelphia

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PHILADELPHIA - If you're an Eagles fan and you're going to Lincoln Financial Field for this afternoon's NFC championship game against the Atlanta Falcons, you might want to keep an eye out for the guy in the picture to the right.

He might be standing next to you at your tailgate party (if he gets there while you're still standing) or behind you in the concession line where they sell the chains and the studded dog collars.

He'll look like your brother, or - in some extreme cases - your sister. He'll probably be holding a drink, but the dead giveaway will be the fact that he hasn't spilled it on himself yet.

Yes, I'll be there today, braving the snowy weather but not brave enough to show up without a disguise. If you want to give me a piece of your mind, you're going to have to sort through thousands of nondescript guys dressed just like me. It'll be like a game of "Where's staggering-drunk Waldo?"

Look for the guy with the non-alcoholic beer and the Terrell Owens jersey that still has the tags on it (in case I want to exchange it for a Michael Vick model tomorrow). It was kind of pricey, but it came with a set of crutches.

Of course, I chose the T.O. jersey because Owens all but guaranteed that the Eagles will end their three-year NFL title game curse today, chasing away the collective angst of their legion of fatalistic fans.

Nobody wants to see that happen more than me. (Editor's note: He's lying.) And nobody will be happier to see joy reign again in the City of Brotherly Love after what happened to the Phillies last year. I believe Atlanta had something to do with that, too.

The Eagles clearly are the superior team, but Vick is the kind of explosive talent that can truly fuel the paranoia of the Philly faithful. If he puts some big moves on the Eagles' defense early in the game, the Linc is going to turn into a pressure cooker for Donovan McNabb and Co.

But that's too big an "if" to pick the Falcons. I should be biting my tongue right now, but my gut says the Eagles win this one fairly handily ... say, 34-16.

In the battle of the rookie quarterback and the two-time Super Bowl winner, I'm going with young Ben Roethlisberger over Tom Brady for a couple of reasons that have nothing to do with Big Ben - the weather and Jerome Bettis.

The Bus will grind it out all night and the Steelers will win a low-scoring field-position game: Steelers 16, Patriots 13.

When the people at Laurel Park invited me over to test drive their new Horse Wizard betting machines on Thursday, I was skeptical.

Gambling machines with video displays and card readers? Does House Speaker Michael E. Busch know about this?

Turns out, they only look like slot machines. The Horse Wizard was developed by Magna Entertainment to make horse racing more attractive to novice bettors by providing a casino machine platform to wager on the ponies even if you don't know a Beyer rating from a bull roast.

"Racing has been criticized for not reaching out to make it comfortable for newcomers," said James Gagliano, executive vice president of Maryland racing operations. "This is our first attempt at that."

The machines really are simple, so simple that it took just a couple of minutes for two stunning young Wizard-ettes (Jen and Dawn) to walk me through the whole process. Of course, you trot out two beautiful models and I'd let them walk me through a plate glass window, but this was much more pleasant.

I am absolutely not making this up. A professor at the University of Calgary is doing a study to determine why women flashed crowds of Calgary Flames hockey fans during last year's NHL playoffs.

"There are gender role issues here," Mary Valentich, of the University of Calgary's Faculty of Social Work, told the Canadian Press.

There also appear to be nutty Canadian feminist college professor issues here. Preliminary results from this ground-breaking study showed that alcohol was cited as a contributing factor in almost every case, which should come as a huge surprise to anyone who has ever bought an infield ticket for the Preakness.

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