PRETORIA, South Africa - The morning dawned crisp and clear in the capital city, but a gloom fell over the nation before the church bells rang.
From Wellington, New Zealand, the 2011 Rugby World Cup produced an epic quarterfinal matchup between the two most successful nations in the history of the quadrennial event - South Africa and Australia.
LANSERIA, South Africa - If you don't have the opportunity to make it to the Pilanesburg National Reserve to see the "Big Five" animals in their natural habitat, the Lion Park outside Johannesburg can offer a convenient alternative.
Just up the road from the Lanseria Airport, the Lion Park sits on a large swath of rolling grasslands. Neither a game reserve nor a zoo, it features two distinctive areas where visitors can drive among the animals at close range.
The largest area is for the herbivores, allowing giraffe, zebra, kudu and various other range antelope to roam freely.
BLAIR ATHOLL, South Africa - George Schwartzel holds out a crumpled paper bag and beckons his visitors to reach inside and grab a handful to taste.
Inside the bag is biltong, a South African staple similar to beef jerky. It looks like a pile of fatty pastrami.
We take a bite while everyone watches to see the reaction. As we nod approvingly while chewing, Schwartzel reveals the secret.
"I usually don't tell people it's uncooked until they try it," said the father of the reigning Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel.
VEREENIGING, South Africa - The African experience wouldn't be complete without some kind of wildlife encounter. You just don't imagine it happening on an airport runway.
About 45 minutes south of Johannesburg in the rural/industrial area along the Vaal River is the small Vereeniging Airport where Masters champion Charl Schwartzel hangars his plane.
Airport is a lofty name for this rural hub with two runways. There's an unmanned security gate, a vacant control tower and a clubhouse tended only by a couple local workers watering the flowers with a leaky hose.
Very rarely has a Saturday so clearly crystallized the picture for the second half of the season.
Undefeateds Clemson and Georgia Tech are heading for a collision course in their annual inter-division rivalry game at the end of October that just might be a preview for a repeat of the 2009 ACC Championship game. They both are offensive juggernauts, but the Tigers' defensive effort at Virginia Tech makes them the team most likely to get through the season undefeated and reach the BCS.
Well, that was quite a night of baseball on Wednesday. The dramatic conclusions to a couple of epic meltdowns/comebacks.
Thank goodness it's football season or the disgust of the Braves' choke would linger longer. No time for a pity party. We've got conference title contenders to pay attention to instead of nursing a collapsing baseball team that had no chance of winning the World Series anyway.
I'm going to step way out on a hyperbolic limb here - perhaps one attached to that Augusta National pine tree Phil Mickelson hit his famous shot from behind at the 2010 Masters Tournament - and declare emphatically that Bill Haas' shot out of the East Lake in Sunday's tense Tour Championship playoff was the greatest shot of all time.
That's right, I said it. Greatest shot of all TIME.
My reasons, however, might not be what you think.
It was Mark Twain who popularized the saying, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Twain would have eaten up the knee-slapping conclusions made in a New York Times recent statistical analysis called "The Geography of College Football Fans (and Realignment Chaos)."