U.S. travel getting back to normal after weather-induced havoc
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With airports across the country recovering from a blast of snow and ice storms, unlucky holiday travelers stranded for a second night prepared to wake up Christmas morning at the nation's second-busiest airport.
Tommy and Siobhan Costello of Ireland arrived Tuesday at O'Hare International Airport en route to their honeymoon in San Diego.
About 500 flights were canceled, and weather disruptions meant the earliest flight out they could get was Thursday. Having packed for Southern California, the newlyweds didn't have warm clothes to venture out into Chicago, which was expected to dip into the single digits Wednesday evening.
"This was supposed to be a pit stop," said Siobhan Costello, 30, who wandered the terminal with her husband. "But there's nothing you can do."
Airline officials said the Costellos were among a dwindling group of stranded passengers. About 100 flights were canceled early Wednesday, but the weather improved as the day progressed.
City of Chicago Aviation Department spokesman Greg Cunningham said airlines at O'Hare had requested 75 cots for passengers Wednesday night.
Complicating matters at O'Hare, an American Airlines plane hit an icy patch while turning and slid sideways off the runway Wednesday evening. No one was injured, and 54 passengers were to be put on other flights leaving that night.
U.S. airports had largely recovered from a barrage of snow and ice Wednesday, but in the New York metro area, Newark airport was experiencing delays of more than four hours, and Kennedy was seeing delays of three hours, the Federal Aviation Administration said. But by Wednesday night, Kennedy's delays were down to 15 to 30 minutes.
"The airlines are dealing with nothing but unhappy customers," said Mike Conway, spokesman for Detroit's Metro Airport, where delays were reported because of conditions elsewhere in the country.
Despite more snow falling in the Seattle area, operations at Sea-Tac Airport had returned to normal Wednesday, said spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt.
She said the only flight cancellations were caused by delays or cancellations at other airports.
"I've lived here 16 years and this is the first time I've thought, 'I wish it would rain!' " Betancourt said.
Forecasts indicated she might get her wish, at least briefly, with snow showers changing to rain Christmas Eve.
Amtrak, too, reported improvement Wednesday. Trains out of Chicago and elsewhere were leaving on time -- or relatively close to it -- unlike Tuesday, when several train trips were canceled and some 700 furious travelers waited as long as 22 hours at Chicago's Union Station, spokesman Marc Magliari said.
Elsewhere Wednesday, an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains of northern Utah killed two snowmobilers. The Utah Avalanche Center warned people not to venture into the backcountry.
Three weeks ago, the regular-season finale between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers looked like it would be nothing more than a meaningless game featuring a playoff-bound team versus a team that had already been eliminated from the postseason.
A late collapse by the Broncos and a surge by the Chargers, however, has made Sunday's clash in San Diego a showdown for the AFC West title with the winner going to the playoffs and the loser beginning the offseason.
The Broncos (8-7) have been in sole possession of first place in the West the entire season, and led the Chargers (7-8) by three games with three to go. But they now are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight season and becoming the first team since division play began in 1967 to fail to make the playoffs after holding a three-game lead with three weeks to go.
Pick a Super Bowl ad
For the third year in a row, the NFL is asking fans to pick the pitch that will become its Super Bowl commercial. The winning pitch will inspire the NFL's commercial that will run during Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, Feb. 1 on NBC.
After defeating Kansas City 24-17 on Dec. 7 to move within one win of the division title, Denver lost to Carolina 30-10 on Dec. 14 and blew a 13-0 lead in last Sunday's 30-23 loss to Buffalo.
"Unfortunately we're not going to be able to go up there and take it easy," Broncos Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall said. "We're going to have to go up there in their back yard and prove to them that we're better than them. They're a good team, they're playing better now, and they've got all the momentum."
The Chargers finished November with a 4-8 record, but have rallied to win all three games this month, and reeled off 13 consecutive December victories since a 23-7 loss to the Broncos on Dec. 31, 2005.
"We were 4-8. We could have shut it down," said San Diego Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates after last Sunday's 41-24 win at Tampa Bay. "Honestly, you know, we could have said, 'You know what, Denver ain't going to lose three in a row.' We could have taken that mind-set. But it was more about the San Diego Chargers and what we were trying to accomplish. Eventually that gave us a chance to sit here and play."
The Chargers have won the last two West titles and outscored the Broncos 71-23 in winning the last two meetings in San Diego, and could have actually already won the division if not for a blown call in their game at Denver in Week 2.
In the final minute with the Chargers leading 38-31, the Broncos reached the San Diego 1 but, quarterback Jay Cutler fumbled the ball into linebacker Tim Dobbins' arms. Referee Ed Hochuli blew his whistle when the ball came out, ruling it an incomplete pass.
Two plays later, Denver scored on a 4-yard pass from Cutler to Eddie Royal and successfully converted a 2-point attempt to win 39-38.
Cutler passed for 350 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the Week 2 win over the Chargers, and threw for 359 yards last week against the Bills to break Jake Plummer's single-season franchise record with 4,210 yards.
In his third season, Cutler has been counted on to lead an offense that has been decimated by injury to the running back position.
P.J. Pope became the sixth tailback to start for the Broncos last Sunday, and he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in the first quarter. Pope joins fellow running backs Selvin Young (back), Ryan Torain (knee), Michael Pittman (spine), Anthony Alridge (leg), Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Andre Hall (hand) on injured reserve.
Tatum Bell, who has 163 yards and no touchdowns on 36 carries, is expected to make his third start Sunday.
Cutler has been named to his first Pro Bowl, while his counterpart on San Diego was left off the roster despite an outstanding season.
Philip Rivers leads the NFL in touchdowns (32) and passer rating (104.0) and has been instrumental to the Chargers' turnaround this month. He threw for 287 yards and a career-high four TD passes last Sunday, and has passed for 847 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception during the team's three-game win streak.