Days later, some people are still trying to make sense of it. Cliff Lee is back in Philly. It wasn't some form of cruel, Bud Selig- imposed punishment. Lee chose this course and seemed happy to do so. That remains a tough thing for out-of-towners and the national media to accept.

To hear outsiders tell it, this isn't a place anyone should choose over New York (or any other place, for that matter), and certainly not for less money. It's a city you're supposed to run away from, not toward.

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Big bad Philly, after all, is populated by lawless cretins and slobbering savages. There's old stock footage of poor St. Nick being pelted with snowballs, and if you go to a baseball game all 45,000 people will get exceedingly drunk and projectile-vomit on you. The president should declare martial law and ring the city with the National Guard. No one in or out. It's safer for everyone that way.

And yet here Lee is. Again. He came back and brought his two small children and his wife, Kristen (who raved about the city).

"It feels great to land back here in Philadelphia. . . . Here I am," Lee said. "I never wanted to leave this place in the first place."

That will almost surely short-circuit the hard-wiring of columnists and talking heads across the land. Beyond the city limits, there was no shortage of shock over Lee's move - partly because no one saw it coming, mainly because a lot of people had a difficult time merging this new reality with the old, hardened, lazy stereotypes of what Philadelphia is and isn't.

Lee was asked about that more than once when he was reintroduced to the town and the media. And more than once said: "Once the Phillies got involved . . . it was a no-brainer."

The Phillies added another ace to their staff. They have four legitimate No. 1 starters now, and they're the favorites according to Vegas to win it all next season. That was obviously a huge attraction for Lee. Like the rest of his teammates, he wants to win a championship. The Fightin's gave him the best opportunity to make that happen.

Lee said quite a few times in quite a few ways how fond he is of the organization and the players. He's comfortable here - with the Phillies and the city, too. There's reputation and then there's reality. Lee is smart enough to know the difference.

"I think the intensity that you can feel when you get in the game - you can feel the volume," Lee said. "Every game has got an elevated feel to it compared to everywhere else. It's completely different. I don't know what the fans do to create that much more volume and excitement in the stadium, but it's definitely something extra here. I don't know what it is, but it's something they're doing.

"They get excited. They're passionate fans. They understand what's going on. They don't need a teleprompter to tell them to get up and cheer. It's exciting. It's an historic town. I didn't realize until I got here how interesting the city is. My family really liked it. I mean, that played a big part in it."

Weird, right? Shouldn't he be concerned for his safety? People all over the country are no doubt counting down the hours until he gets Tasered.

It's the last start/bench of the year before Page 2 goes on holiday hiatus. To the people I helped reach the playoffs: You're welcome. I expect to receive a nice thank-you card from all three of you.

Start

QB: Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman

RB: Felix Jones, Ryan Torain, Jonathan Stewart

WR: Mike Williams (TB), Pierre Garçon, Jeremy Maclin

Flex (RB/WR/TE): Thomas Jones, Deion Branch, Zach Miller

Bench

QB: Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, Carson Palmer

RB: Fred Jackson, Jahvid Best, Tashard Choice

WR: Santana Moss, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes

Flex (RB/WR/TE): Shonn Greene, Lance Moore, Dustin Keller

Sunday Sixer

(Home team in CAPS)

Last week: 3-3

Season: 30-27-3

STEELERS minus-51/2 over the Jets: Making a human wall is illegal. So is tripping a member of the other team. But being the fall guy is always allowed.

Browns plus-1 over the BENGALS: The losing city should shut down. Possibly the winning city as well. Something for the politicians in Ohio to think about.

Falcons minus-6 over the SEAHAWKS: Another game for the Falcons, another step closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

RAVENS minus-11/2 over the Saints: I'm picking Baltimore because, as I write this, Snoop from The Wire is on my television. I believe this is also how Vegas sets its lines.

Cardinals plus-21/2 over the PANTHERS: Steve Smith derided Jimmy Clausen and said, "This isn't Notre Dame." Take that, college boy.

Eagles plus-3 over the GIANTS: The NFL fines for pretty much everything these days. How does Eli Manning get away with making that awful sour milk/pout face on TV every weekend?

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.
Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophilly