A new look … and a look at sports cities
I apologize for the absence … it has been a fairly hectic last few weeks. I am now the national columnist for NBC Sports. The move involved a lot of mixed emotions, of course. I love the people at Sports On Earth, I think they do amazing work, and I believe deeply in their vision. And the NBC Sports opportunity is absolutely amazing with great people and a chance to do the work I love doing.
Throughout, I kept thinking about the line in Amadeus when Mozart was trying on wigs and found two he particularly loved: "Oh, they're both so beautiful, I can't decide. Why don't I have two heads?"
I officially started a NBC on Friday with two pieces.
-- The Rise and Fall of Alex Rodriguez.
-- Danica Patrick through the eyes of my 8-year-old daughter.
I don't know how much you care about any of this, but the plan is for me to write for NBC Sports three times a week -- Monday, Wednesday, Friday -- with the Friday column being a deeper dive into a sports topic. Beyond that, I will be contributing to the NBC Sports blogs, particularly Hardball Talk. And I'll continue to write here under a new design, especially non-sports and oddball stuff. We'll see how it works out. I'll try to link to stuff here wherever they happen to appear.
And, to start, I have written a follow up post to one written by my new NBC Sports and Hardball Talk colleague Craig Calcaterra. Last week, you probably know, he looked at each Major League town and tried to guess what is the No. 1 sport in that town.
I had to jump in on that one.
Craig's pick: Baseball, specifically Yankees.
My pick: The Yankees are obviously huge, but I have long thought that the Giants, when good, are the biggest thing in New York. But we might both be wrong. My buddy Vac, who should know as columnist for the New York Post, says that when the Knicks are good, they trump everything.
Well, this is the challenge of this kind of project, isn't it? Truth is, every one of these cities is too big and too diverse for just one team or one sport to overwhelm everything. There are people in Green Bay who cannot stand pro football and people in Tuscaloosa who prefer baseball to college football and people in St. Louis who are, first and foremost, Blues fans. Heck, there are intense baseball fans in Manchester, U.K. -- I hear from a few quite often -- and intense NFL fans in Sydney and intense Formula One fans in Charlotte, N.C. No matter where you go, people are not homogenous.
This is especially true of New York. I think it is a constantly shifting market -- moreso, perhaps, than any other in the country. For a while in the 1980s, the Mets were the biggest thing going. The Rangers, with Messier, took over the town. New York just moves on very quickly. Maybe the Yankees are the biggest thing right now, but if the Yankees stumble (as so many seem to be predicting) people will move on.
Craig's pick: All-sports town, but mostly Red Sox.
My pick: Agree. The Red Sox probably have a little bit more of the town's heart because of the deep and emotional history and because of the way people in New England pronounce "Sox." But the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins have all had their day.
One interesting thought comes from friends who are Red Sox fans. They tell me that something changed after the second World Series win in 2007, something hard to explain. Obviously, the team has had all sorts of problems, but I don't think that's what they mean. Would be interested to hear if some hardcore Red Sox fans don't think the team is quite as much fun to cheer for since 2007.
Craig's pick: Maple Leafs.
My pick: Certainly Maple Leafs. But Toronto was a really good baseball town when the Blue Jays were good and can be again if the Blue Jays start winning.
Honest question: Where do the Argonauts fit in?
Craig's pick: Ravens.
My pick: A small disagreement with Craig. Yes, I think the Raves are the biggest thing right now, for obvious reasons, but I still think Baltimore is a baseball town first. The Ravens happen to be awesome and until last year the Orioles were terrible. So the Ravens have had a run of the city. And it was always a good baseball AND football town. But I really do think, from my own time in Baltimore, that it has the rhythms of an Orioles town. Maybe that's just 1970s nostalgia coming out.
Craig's pick: Maybe the Bucs.
My pick: College football is the biggest thing in Tampa, from my experience, and nothing is especially close.
Rays fans take a beating, and the attendance is low, but I actually think there's a pretty good baseball vibe in Tampa the last few years. It's just that dome is SO bad and such a depressing place to watch baseball that, honestly, I can't blame people for not going to games. It's just a rotten experience.
Craig's pick: Red Wings (though he can be persuaded to go baseball)
My pick: My buddy Michael Rosenberg over at SI says the Lions are far and away No. 1 in town, and he would know. I think he's got it right. I think Detroit -- like Cleveland and Milwaukee and many other places in the upper Midwest -- will get excited about other teams and other sports, but pro football is at the city's core.
Craig's pick: Browns
My pick: Definitely Browns. But Cleveland, like many other places, can and will adjust year to year. When the Indians were good, Cleveland was as good a baseball town as anyplace -- they sold out 455 games in a row, a record at the time. When the Cavaliers had LeBron, the city was NBA crazy. Basically, Cleveland craves a winner -- and as a Clevelander I crave a winner. It is true, though, that he Browns are dominant in the city every year, regardless of how good they are.
Craig's pick: Bears, but he wants to hear arguments because of how excited people get about baseball in the summer.
My pick: Da Bears and it isn't really all that close. Chicago, of course, is a big place with wide interests -- and Wrigley Field is its own industry -- but I think Bears interest is basically as big as all the other teams in Chicago combined.
Craig's pick: Chiefs.
My pick: He's probably right. The Royals dominated the town in the 1970s and 1980s, the Chiefs dominated the town in the 1990s and 2000s. It's no coincidence that this corresponds to when those teams were good, and the Chiefs have been top dog in Kansas City more recently.
I've always thought Kansas City would be a great baseball town again if the Royals started winning -- and I still believe that -- but I've also never been in a city so dominated by pro football as Kansas City was from 1995 to 1997. The answer to 'which team will rule KC?' probably depends on which team gets good first.
Craig's pick: Vikings (or youth hockey)
My pick: Yes, Vikings. I will say, though, baseball in the new stadium is a beautiful thing. I always the the Metrodome was a TERRIBLE baseball park, but a GREAT football stadium. That probably says something about the sports themselves.
Craig's pick: Seahawks (by default)
My pick: Seahawks … I think Seattle is a very underrated football town. This is the place that popularized the wave (for better and worse).
Seattle, like Minnesota, has a beautiful ballpark, and I'd like to see what happens when the Mariners get good again. Obviously, many, many people in Seattle want pro basketball back, and they deserve to have it back
A brilliant reader made a pitch for Seattle as a soccer town, and that's a great call. That Seattle-Portland soccer rivalry has become something pretty special
Craig's pick: Raiders
My pick: Raiders. It's funny -- I don't think there is a city in America where the fans seem as disparate as in Oakland. Think about it: Do you ever think of Raiders fans and A's fans being the same people? Do you think of the guys wearing spikes on their shoulders and skulls on on their faces as the same people who root for Billy Beane's Moneyball teams?
Oakland has had a long and convoluted relationship with baseball -- going back to the dominant A's of the 1970s. And Raiders fans are famous for being Raiders fans.
Craig's pick: Texans.
My pick: College football. ... I know that Texas has this reputation for football being first, second, third and so on, but I think it's easy to underestimate just how enormous Houston is as a city (fourth largest in America behind only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) and fifth largest in Metro population (behind those three and Dallas). It is one of the fastest growing places in America and that means it is a much more varied place than people realize.
My point being, even if college football is No. 1 (and that's a guess), even if the Texans are No. 1 (another guess), there are millions of Rockets and Astros fans. And I do believe that Houston is a better baseball town than it gets credit for.
Craig's pick: Lakers (status city/status team)
My pick: Dodgers. Here's our first big disagreement. It's always been funny to me that Los Angeles has this reputation as this lackadaisical baseball town -- you know, arrive late, leave early to beat traffic, be seen, all that.
Maybe that stuff is true. But the Dodgers draw three-plus million people every year, they have led the National League in attendance 20 times since 1973, Dodgers announcer Vin Scully is an American icon (as is the Dodger Dog), they just signed a television deal for the ages, and baseball games at Dodger Stadium remain one of the great experiences in the country. The Lakers are big, no question, and they have the Nicholson star power, but I think the Dodgers are way bigger in Los Angeles.
Craig's pick: Cowboys
My pick: Yeah, Cowboys. But once more we have to say that Dallas is a huge city with amazing diversity; the cliche of it being ONLY a Cowboys town is probably off. I think the Cowboys are No. 1, but people will get very excited about the Rangers or Stars or Mavericks -- and they have in the last decade for all three of those teams.
Craig's pick: College football and Falcons.
My pick: I do think the University of Georgia football team is the biggest thing in town. The Braves were obviously a big deal in town during the 1990s when the team was really good, but that interest fades in and out … it is hard for Atlanta to keep its baseball energy up over long seasons.
Craig's pick: Maybe Phillies, but close with Eagles.
My pick: Eagles … I don't think it's that close. Of course there's a lot of passion for all sports in Philadelphia, lots of fury and fire for the Flyers, Sixers, Phillies, but based on my own Philadelphia experiences and the Philly fans I know, I think Eagles are about as big in Philadelphia as Browns in Cleveland and Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Craig's pick: Redskins.
My pick: Yeah, Redskins, and it's not close. I'm glad to see some baseball excitement, though, and the Nationals could make some real strides in Our Nation's Capitol over the next few years.
Craig's pick: Dolphins … with some Heat excitement when they're good.
My pick: Dolphins, for sure. I was having this discussion with someone: What FORMER PLAYER has the biggest impact on the town where he played? George Brett is still a huge star in Kansas City. Stan Musial, obviously, was Mr. St. Louis, and I'd say Cal Ripken still has a hold on Baltimore. Michael Jordan when he returns to Chicago is still the biggest thing (unless it's Mike Ditka or Dick Butkus). Who else? Joe Montana in San Francisco? Joe Namath in New York?
Anyway, my answer at the moment is: Dan Marino in Miami. He's such an icon there it's easy to forget that it has been almost 15 years since he played quarterback for the Dolphins.
Craig's pick: Cardinals
My pick: I was surprised just how big the Rams became in St. Louis when they got so good with Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk and the rest. People were pretty fired up.
But, yeah, I think in St. Louis it's Cardinals first and last … similar to the Cowboys in Dallas.
Craig's pick: Reds
My pick: Yeah, Reds, but don't sleep on the Bengals. Cincinnati has a great reputation as a baseball town, well deserved, but whenever the Bengals show signs of life, the town goes absolutely crazy for them.
This is also a great college basketball town with UC and Xavier, and Kentucky just across the river.
Craig's pick: Packers
My pick: Packers. It doesn't matter that Green Bay is an hour and a half drive away. The power of the Packers overwhelms everything. Milwaukee is another underrated place to watch baseball, though. You may notice that I think a lot of places are underrated places to watch baseball … maybe that's just because I think watching baseball is underrated.
Craig's pick: Steelers
My pick: Steelers … same story as Cleveland and the Browns. The city would unleash some great energy if the Pirates ever got good. And I think Pittsburgh has one of the two best stadium experiences in all of baseball (with San Francisco). But the connection of Pittsburgh to the Steelers is on a different level.
Craig's pick: Giants
My pick: It's utterly remarkable how the Giants have won over San Francisco. Obviously, if you put a gorgeous new stadium by the water and then have a team that wins two World Series in three years, you have a pretty decent formula for success. But San Francisco is a different kind of city, and so to see the Giants so overwhelm this complicated place is pretty cool. They love their Giants in San Francisco, and the ballpark experience -- best in the game right now.
Of course, the 49ers are still a monster in the city, and those Bill Walsh teams will always have a particularly special place in the city's collective memory.
Craig's pick: Chargers.
My pick: Chargers. Well, I think "living" is probably the No. 1 sport in San Diego -- beach, weather, art, food, it's a spectacular place. But there is a lot of Chargers love, even if that stadium is a wreck.
Craig's pick: Broncos
My pick: Broncos. The Rockies, when good, are fun, and let's not forget the Rockies led the National League in attendance their first seven years. And the Avalanche had a huge impact on the town when they were good.
But yeah, from my experiences, the Broncos are kings. I have to say, one of the coolest thing in sports was at old Mile High Stadium when the place was so crazy the stands would actually start shaking. That was probably really dangerous.
Craig's pick: Stumped … perhaps Diamondbacks
My pick: Yeah, I would guess Duamondbacks. I think there's a special connection to the Diamondbacks because of that remarkable 2001 World Series. But the area can and will go crazy of the Cardinals when they are good, and for a long time the Suns were the only game in town.
The thing about Arizona is that it is SWAMPED with sports. It's easy to lose sight of this. You have spring training, golf tournaments, tennis tournaments, NASCAR events, celebrity games, there are sports there all the time. It's a great place to be a sports fan. I don't know if that passion carries over to teams as much.