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Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

When I moved to Chicago, the Buffalo Bills hadn’t yet reached irrelevance. In fact, despite their record for the previous year being 5-11, they still seemed like a fairly safe option to get behind. Drew Bledsoe had spent three years in Buffalo and led the Bills to the edge of contention in two of them. He was unceremoniously shoved out the door after the 2004 season to make room for 2004 Draft pick JP Losman, and the team had also dug up Lee Evans and Willis McGahee, respectively a receiver and running back. Both of them were oozing with talent. So if anything, 2005 could have been written off as a growing pain year. But it still panned out in what has since been acknowledged as typical Bills fashion: The Bills not looking bad early in the season, with a 3-3 start after the first six games, only to win just two of the remaining ten.

In Chicago, the Bears appeared to be undergoing the long-promised resurgence. Their record was the mirror opposite of the Bills’ record, and that 11-5 was enough for them to claim the division crown. Their offense wasn’t good, but as any follower of the Bears will tell you, proper Bears football was never about putting points on the board; its always been about keeping points off the board. In that respect, the Bears delivered, and their 202 total points against was enough to lead the NFL. The Bears had even gone the opposite of the Bills in delivering their record; with a 1-3 record after the first four games which looked like another one of the team’s endless post-1985 write-offs, the Bears tore off on an eight-game winning streak before a 2-2 split in their last four games. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton (whom the Bills once yanked out of retirement to lead them to their second winning season this century) pulled just enough decent plays out of his ass to let the Bears fall back on their defense after slated starter Rex Grossman was injured. First round Draft pick Cedric Benson, a running back, suffered a similar fate and had a contract dispute which kept him away from training camp. He was replaced by journeyman Thomas Jones.

I expected to be spending much longer living in Chicago than I did, so I did what my mother did when she moved to Buffalo: I adopted the local teams but held on to my original loyalties. It seemed to be the natural thing to do, even though I didn’t feel a natural draw to most of the local teams. Most of them were pretty easy to talk myself into, though, because there’s little I respect more than a good history, and Chicago’s teams had those in spades. The Cubs and White Sox were both originals teams in the NL and AL for baseball; the Blackhawks were a member of the Original Six; and the Fire had been one of the most stable and consistent teams in MLS since the league was created. The Bulls were a relative baby – they were an expansion team from the late 60’s, some 20 years after the NBA’s formation and the failure of other professional basketball teams to take off in Chicago.

The Bears were one of the founding members of the NFL, and over the course of their history, they accumulated more wins than any other team any more titles than every team except the Green Bay Packers. Every amateur football historian knows that. Every football fan knows the Superfans and the Super Bowl Shuffle. I arrived in Chicago just weeks after the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, which meant I got to spend the summer updating myself on Bears history, and there were some pretty cool things to learn: The 1940 NFL Championship, with the Bears winning a 73-0 squeaker over Washington. It set records for points and point differential. (Gee, ya think?) The Sneakers Game, the dynasty of the 1940’s. But my brain started telling me something was slightly amiss because all the Bears writings and paraphernalia emphasized one thing: 1985. I learned more about the 1985 Chicago Bears than I did about any other era in NFL history because it was the only thing Chicagoans seemed to care about.

I ignored that weird feeling, though, because in 2006, the Bears hit a high they hadn’t attained since 1985. They paced the league at 13-3 and finally made their return to the Super Bowl. Even though they were decisively waxed by the Colts, they won me over on account of the fact that they made football FUN again. The 2006 Bears were third in points against and – absolutely fucking incredibly – second in points scored. Rex Grossman was healthy the whole season. Thomas Jones set the tone on the ground. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs made countless big plays on defense. Kick returner Devin Hester became the team’s secret weapon, running seemingly every other kick into the endzone. The Bears started the season by beating Green Bay 26-0; it was the first time Packers quarterback Brett Favre had been shut out since high school. In week six, they posted an incredible comeback win over the Cardinals, returning from a 20-0 deficit without scoring a single offensive touchdown. Eight of their players showed up in the Pro Bowl. After a 40-7 hammering of the Bills, the first thing I said to my mother was, “40-7?! Please explain that.”

Chicago fans have a national reputation for being rabid and knowledgeable, and during 2006, they were living up to it. In the buildup leading to the Super Bowl, it was impossible to not see anyone or anything decked out in their colors, but the excitement was still a bit restrained. The Bears were going to be facing the Colts, after all, and if there was one name away from 1985 that Chicago knew, it was that of Indianapolis star quarterback Peyton Manning. I developed a respect for the fans because even though they were hoping for the good outcome, they were still tempered with the realization that this was going to be Manning’s year. That should have done the trick.

The euphoria surrounding the Super Bowl didn’t even last through the offseason, and my perception of Bears “fans” was put to the test in the first regular season game of 2007. I asked a co-worker what he thought about the Bears’ odds of beating their first opponent, the San Diego Chargers, and his response was just, “Huh?! Oh, I dunno. DA BEARS.” The Bears lost the game 14-3. During the season, it became apparent that 2006 was an anomaly that came from hitting an early peak and playing two patsy divisions (the NFC West and AFC East) during a time when the NFC was going through a power void. The better AFC West and NFC East were both on the schedule in 2007, and while the Bears acquitted themselves well, they still lost too many key matchups against pushovers and finished 7-9.

2007 was the season that set the tone for my years failing to support the Bears. The team turned from a contender into an indifferent nonentity. Nothing symbolized that more than a running back controversy between Jones and Cedric Benson. While Benson was a first round pick, he wasn’t as good as Jones in any of the ways that matter in his position. The Bears dumped Jones anyway, and that lopping – which turned out to be as bad as every football fan said it would be – gave fans the excuse they needed to spend the year at lunch. The team was facing an uphill battle in the hearts of Chicagoans anyway; the Cubs had hired Lou Piniella as their manager that year and come out on the top of an exciting division race with the Milwaukee Brewers. For all intents and purposes, they looked ready to contend.

The 2007 season ran by inconspicuously. The Bears reversed their record to end the following year at 9-7, but good luck finding anyone who remembers anything that happened. Okay, well, fans knew two things: Rex Grossman sucked and needed to be replaced, and Matt Forte needed to be the new featured back. If we throw in the constant comparisons to the 1985 Bears, that makes three things. Basically, a Super Bowl euphoria was followed with two seasons of blah before the coming of Jay Cutler. The Bears had needed a good quarterback since Sid Luckman back in the 1940’s so badly that fans managed to talk themselves into thinking Jim McMahon was good. Cutler’s first season was maddening. After watching Rex Grossman’s power bombs from 2006 (he’ll always have that one year), Cutler played remedial football. It was routine for the Bears to hang 48 on the Lions in one game, then lose 10-6 to the 49ers in another. They lost 45-10 against Cincinnati but hammered Cleveland 30-6. As often as there were dazzling performances from Cutler, there were weeks when I could have outplayed him, and I can barely throw a football.

The Bears, in short, were not an endearing team to watch. Their style was as boring as it was outmoded. A bad team can still be fun, but a boring team commits the ultimate crime of sports. What really got to me, though, was the constant harkening back to 1985. Buffalo lost the closest Super Bowl in history because of a missed last-second field goal, but the fans managed to let it go. In Chicago, the Bears WON the fucking game 30 years before, and the fans were convinced that crew of brainless headhunters played the most modern version of football possible. They lionized Mike Ditka, a bad coach lucky enough to ride a good defensive coordinator with a load of talent, and one of the loudest stupid people in sports. 

It was in 2010 that I decided something was badly amiss. The 2010 Bears went 11-5 and won their division, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were, well, good. Racking up wins is one thing, but for a team to be legitimate, it has to be beating opponents in some very specific ways. The first game of 2010 was the famous Calvin Johnson Rule game, where Calvin Johnson was robbed of a touchdown because of an obscure and inexplicable rule about “completing the process.” (That was the official term used in the rules.) The touchdown happened right as time ran out, and it would have won the game for Detroit. That was the setting for a season in which the Bears somehow caught all the lucky bounces. A contender doesn’t win with luck; they beat bad teams decisively and take what they need from the good teams. That wasn’t the Bears of 2010. The Bears took very few chances while nature fell in their favor.

When the fans started endorsing the way the Bears were playing, I stopped trying to wrap my mind around them. The way the fans thought was that hey, the Bears were in first, they must be good! Never mind the fact that the Bears barely beat a 4-12 Bills team in Toronto by only three points, or that they got whomped by two teams with losing records, or that they couldn’t take a game from the eventual Super Bowl winner despite holding them to just ten points. When Green Bay exposed the Bears for what they were in the NFC Championship, fans were flabbergasted. Jay Cutler was removed during the game because his knee was visibly out of place, and every fan in Chicago told him to toughen up. Then they bitched about how much better the current backup was.

2010 was my last football season living in Chicago. Since m time in Chicago had been such a huge game-changer, I tried to remain loyal to my adopted teams, but ultimately the Blackhawks and White Sox were the only ones that made it out with me. I never took to the Cubs, and I dumped the Fire almost immediately. The Bulls held out a bit longer, but after some time being a Buffalo sports fan again, I realized that I was frequently finding solace in watching the New York Knicks rather than the Bulls, and the Knicks finally became my official team. As for the Bears, they proved to be my ultimate holdout, and my slip on them was gradual. As I got adjusted to watching the Bills every week again, I just got more into the games than I ever did following the Bears. In Chicago, I was always eager to learn the Bills scores. I never felt any pull to the Bears, and in one Monday Night Football game where they were dominating the other team, I realized that I just didn’t care. I should have been euphoric, but I didn’t feel much of anything aside from my brain telling me to jump up and down screaming my lungs out.

And that was pretty much it. The final nail in the coffin was coming out to Seattle and finding a huge pocket of raging football fans who knew their team and loved their sport. I chatted up a playoff game one night at work that the Seahawks lost, despite making a stirring near-comeback. When I told my co-worker that it would have been the second-greatest comeback in league history, he knew what the biggest one was. The fans were so good that they were the first thing I latched on to in order to find some semblance of familiarity. The Seahawks also offer a lot more than the Bears – a fleet young quarterback in Russell Wilson, a dynamic running back in Marshawn Lynch, and a dominant group of defensive backs known collectively as the Legion of Boom. Within a few months, I had embraced the Seahawks. The Bears were dead to me.

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The Ultimate Battle of Yours Truly’s Adopted Home Cities

A little over a year ago, I made a choice to throw my life into a major upheaval. After graduating from the prerequisite courses I needed to peruse an education in physical therapy, I decided that I wanted a drastic change of scenery before starting the proper certification program and moved to Seattle. That made Seattle my third city of residence, after Buffalo and Chicago. The adjustment period wasn’t easy, and Seattle proved to be a more closed-off place than I expected, but I managed to get through it, and it’s home now. I’ll be here quite a bit longer no matter what happens.

It’s not making me forget about my other adopted home, though, by which I mean Chicago. (I’m a native of Buffalo; therefore, it doesn’t count.) That’s not because of some ill grudge I’m holding against Seattle, however. It’s because of the conditions under which I was forced to leave Chicago, which leave it as a sort of question mark. I had a life there which I had to leave in a sudden fashion. If it weren’t for social media, no one there would have known I left, or what happened that I had to leave. It’s also because of how much living there changed me. It blew my mind open and awakened me to my own potential as a person, setting me off in a few directions that I hope to continue walking while in Seattle. Also, a lot of the friends I made in Chicago had regular runs to and from Seattle. They had friends and contacts here, and a few made regular visits. Naturally, I decided that warranted an entry in my Ultimate Battle series: The Windy City against Rain City. The Second City against The Emerald City. So let’s do this! Chicago vs. Seattle. One day, I’ll learn.

City Layout
The first thing you notice about both Chicago and Seattle is that both of them use directions to designate their street layouts. Every street in Chicago will be either north, south, east, or west. The point where the directions change confuses me, though; at least in the way that the east/west axis doesn’t make any damn sense. State Street is the dividing line between east and west, which is weird because the placement of State Street limits the east side. The east is fairly prominent if you’re on the South Side, but as you go north, it starts to get blocked by Lake Michigan. The east addresses start to limit themselves to double digits, and when you get up to Lincoln Park, State Street stops and there are no more addresses on the east. Despite this, though, Chicago’s layout is a logical grid, and although a few diagonal streets there can throw you off, it’s pretty easy to navigate and to pick a street you know and follow it down to the end. Seattle uses a fairly simple pattern of numbered streets: 1st Street is the one closest to Puget Sound, and they progress numerically. Unfortunately, Seattle sits on a thin little strip of land between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and gets interrupted by Lake Union, and instead of just building around them, they all got in on the layout and have a habit of tripping things up just when you think you’re starting to understand the pattern. If you’re on the western half of Seattle and try to head north, you’re in for a treat. West Seattle is cut off by Puget Sound the same way Lake Michigan leaves Chicago’s east side. Then when you make your directional adjustment and go through downtown Seattle, the whole grid makes a sudden shift to the northwest when you reach Denny Way. And when you throw in the fact that there are streets with north, south, east, west, northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast designations that otherwise have nothing in common with each other, you’re defining the street layout in Seattle as “a mess.”
Winner
Chicago. And it doesn’t help Seattle’s case any that no one there seems to know how to build a bridge. The number of bridges connecting popular northern neighborhoods like Fremont and Ballard to the business districts is limited and part of the reason traffic there can trip you up at midnight. In Chicago, the bridges crossing the Chicago River are nothing more than extensions of the street – you pick the street you’re looking for and drive into the sunset.

Transit
If you don’t like ferrying yourself back and forth, a good transit system is necessary to a city’s infrastructure. Although widely derided within the city limits, the Chicago Transit Authority – the CTA – usually comes through in spades. Consisting of an expansive bus network and a very good subway called the L – which has the unique quality that most of it is perched two levels over the ground instead of under it – the CTA has its problems, but it’s usually there when you need it. Nothing related to the CTA stops running, although they run with less frequency during lower travel hours. During peak hours, you’ll never worry about missing your bus or train because they come by so often that seeing one go by only means you have to wait ten minutes for the next one. The CTA is augmented by a commuter train network called Metra, which sends trains hourly to and from suburbs both close and distant. If you’re going into a near suburb, there’s a separate bus network called Pace which can help you around, but Pace is far from reliable. It runs only a few routes that don’t start to cover places you may need to get to. Seattle enjoys, well, I’m not sure what services are there. It’s not because I don’t know or have little experience using them, but because there are so damn many of them. There’s SoundTransit, which runs inter county buses, a lightrail called the Link, and a commuter train called the Sounder. There’s King County Metro, which is the bus system all to Seattle… And someone there also runs a streetcar system (which has two lines), a speed bus system called Rapidride, and a trolley system which is really comprised of electric buses. The advantage of Seattle’s transit system is that there’s a significant range which stretches into the local suburbs, which include more independent networks going in Snohomish and Skagit and Pierce counties. They’re not as effective as they could be, but they work, and they give people in those places a rung into Seattle. They’re also working together to simplify travel between those places, so they’re at least not as confusing as it seems. Seattle’s iconic Monorail doesn’t have anything to do with any of them – it’s a tourist trap used to get visitors in a time crunch between Westlake Park and Seattle Center quickly.
Winner
Chicago. Despite having eleventy billion public transit networks, there’s a reason Seattle’s traffic is so harsh: It’s because everyone who lives in the area knows you’re pretty much sunk if you don’t own a car. After years of being a holdout radical, I’ve decided to finally bite the bullet myself and get one. If you’re using the inter county buses, they have limited hours, and those hours are stupid. The SoundTransit doesn’t give a shit about you if you’re trying to go anywhere at noon; you’ll have to wait until the evening to get to Snohomish county. There’s a cute nickname for anyone living anywhere in Everett where the closest bus line is one of the circulators: “Walker.” The Sounder is next to useless. It goes all the way down to Tacoma. Are you planning to use it for a weekend trip to a Tacoma Dome concert or a Rainiers game? No you’re not – trust me on that.

Architecture
One of the important things to remember about architecture is that cities in the eastern and western United States are defined by different styles. There’s a lot more neoclassical architecture in Chicago and cities like Chicago. The west tends to favor more glass and steel superstructures. Although there’s no avoiding the neoclassical buildings in Chicago, the city uses a wide mix of architectural styles. Its tallest building, the Sears Tower, is done in what’s called the international style – a style identified by its square shape, grid-like windows, and facade angles of 90 degrees. Neoclassical shows up in Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. Merchandise Mart combines three building types: The skyscraper, the warehouse, and the department store. The John Hancock Tower is an example of structural expressionism. The architects that have graced Chicago include luminaries like Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Fazlur Rahman Khan, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The crown jewel of Seattle’s skyline would be the Space Needle, an observation tower with a rotating restaurant that was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Seattle also has numerous styles – its well-known Smith Building was once the tallest building on the west coast, and it’s a neoclassical structure. Seattle’s architects have included greats like Frank Gehry, Lawrence Halprin, and the architect of the new library, Rem Koolhaas. Seattle’s architecture has a way of blending into the rest of the city without a problem, while Chicago’s buildings look like they’re trying to fight each other for attention.
Winner
Chicago. I love and respect most of the architecture I see in Seattle, but there are two factors deciding this for me: One is that there is an entire school of architecture named for Chicago, which is frequently called commercial style. Commercial style has managed to spread out of Chicago and found itself in Australia and New Zealand. The other is the nasty wave of gentrification in Seattle turning decent neighborhoods into Tetris block structures, which is a clunky, unseemly, and very unpleasant way to look no matter where it is.

Food
Chicago has one of the most famous food scenes in the world. The people there aren’t the pickiest eaters, but Chicago cuisine involves staples like the Chicago-style hot dog, Italian beef, and deep dish pizza. Although you can find pretty much any kind of food in Chicago, those three stand out as Chicago’s edible exports to the entire world. The pizza stands out – it’s not in everyone’s taste, but it’s known for being almost cake-like in its depth. If you’re curious about it, you can flag down Uno’s, which was founded in Chicago and brought it out on the national level both in restaurants and frozen foods. The hot dog has turned Chicago into a city of snobs who are almost cultish in their devotion – the bun needs poppy seeds, and the hot dog needs to be Vienna beef before they’ll talk to you. But Chicago is also home to the most famous hamburger in the world – McDonald’s is headquartered in Oak Brook, and the corporation has designs on moving into Chicago proper soon. I know that’s barely an argument, but Chicago also has the inarguable burgers served by the famous Billy Goat Tavern, a local chain which grills burgers plain and lets you dress them however you see fit. Seattle is a city that still holds strong to its marine heritage, and that means its food icons were all pulled out of the ocean not too long ago. Fish and chips with tartar sauce, lemon, and ketchup are a common dish. Salmon is a signature of all people in the city, whether they’re decorating it with caviar or cooking it at a backyard barbecue. Smoked, grilled, or turned into chowder, salmon is something that’s going down your gullet at some point. If it’s a quick fix you’re looking for, you can find Asian food everywhere. The argument then turns into what kind of Asian food you’re after. Teriyaki or pho? Also, Seattle is one of the world’s leading producers and sellers of chocolate.
Winner
Chicago. I give Seattle a lot of credit for having healthier options overall, but all those seafoods tend to strain the account after awhile. Also, Chicago’s foods are more versatile (except the food snobs’ fucking hot dogs); they can be cooked in more ways, include different kinds of ingredients and toppings, and leave more room for experimentation. Yes, Seattle’s chocolate is an enormous strength, but if a decent chef in Chicago gets ahold of the right stuff, you can bet your ass they’ll find a way to cook it into a pizza.

Drinks
Chicago’s reputation for liquid nourishment comes from two sources: Intelligentsia coffee and Goose Island beer. You’re not going to find very many detractors of either brand. Goose Island brews 312, a signature beer they named for Chicago’s area code. Frankly, there’s not a weak spot in Goose Island’s beer lineup, and most of their stuff is comparable – and even preferable – to other popular microbrews, including Ohio’s beloved Great Lakes. Intelligentsia was founded in Chicago in 1995, and it spread out to locations on both coasts since then. Of course, those locations are New York City and Los Angeles. Although it’s pretty hard to place anything official on a review of Intelligentsia, their coffee is generally held in high regard. As for Seattle, it can counter Goose Island with, well… Microbrews. Dozens of them, if not hundreds. I haven’t found a defining Seattle brew since I moved to the northwest, but I think that’s because the city is renowned as one of the microbrew capitols of the United States, and people can argue about their favorites the same way they argue about their favorite teriyaki joints. As for coffee, Seattle has, you know, Starbucks! Around Seattle, Starbucks is known as the coffee everyone loves but are ashamed to admit it. Starbucks is basically the coffee god, which you can say about a chain with over 23,000 locations everywhere in the world. For those who not only claim to hate Starbucks but attempt to act on that hate and avoid it (HA!), they have to contend with Seattle’s Best, a subsidiary of guess who! Starbucks! And Seattle’s Best has also managed to penetrate Burger King, Delta Airlines, and Borders back when that was a thing. If you’re trying to avoid Starbucks, there’s also Tully’s, a chain which was started in Seattle and is now trickling into prominent cities in the western United States.
Winner
Seattle. Chicago never stood a chance here. The biggest statement to Seattle’s power here is that you don’t find many people in Chicago going out of their way to get to an Intelligentsia bar if there’s a nearby Starbucks… And Starbucks has a presence in Chicago which is almost as ubiquitous as it is in Seattle. While Goose Island seems to have designs on becoming a go-to brew on a national level the way Samuel Adams has, it still has to compete with Samuel Adams, and don’t think for a second that it’s ever going to catch on in Seattle.

People
I trust everyone reading this is familiar with the classic Chicagoan stereotype: Tough, takes no shit, but friendly in a midwestern way and able to ward off the most epic bad weather there is. Yep, it’s a long-running narrative, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s because it’s pushed endlessly by overgrown frat megadouchebros who graduated from Big 10 schools and used their lineage and connections to grab six-figure jobs immediately. You see them in Chicago all the time, even though they’re concentrated around Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. The tough person angle gets pushed because those are the guys running the Sun-Times and the Tribune, and writing Redeye, the city’s most prominent free rag. Seattle has an image attached to its people as well: Friendly, but a little bit standoffish and hard to crack. But educated. There’s a good case to be made that Seattleites really are like that, but if you walk up to any random person and end up striking up a few words, they can be pretty chirpy as well. And while there aren’t any weather stereotypes that go with Seattle’s residents, let me say this: I’ve never seen people more resilient to a straight-up drenching. They may not run around announcing their waterproofing to the rest of the world, but why should they? You, the transplant, knew the city was rainy when you moved here. If you’re not willing to learn how to deal with it, tough shit.
Winner
Seattle. There’s no gentile way to say this: Chicago’s people are just dicks. Despite everything you hear about their national reputation, they get so caught up in trying to act HARD that it can be difficult to get straight answers out of people you don’t know. And that’s all the hardness is: An act. Stand your ground against any of those posers and they’ll back down. If they try to start a scuffle, get in their faces and watch them run. The weather toughness is bullshit as well; ten inches of snow and these people buy out the grocery stores before locking themselves up for the next month. Chicago would let itself get invaded by an army of hipsters. It was two or three years before people stopped trying to impress me with how tough and broad-shouldered and cold-weathered Chicago was. When they did, they fell back on the old excuse that hey, they’re sure it’s nothing compared to Buffalo. Which it isn’t, so they better drop the fucking act and stop bragging about their toughness or they need to start fucking backing it up! I don’t pretend Seattle’s people are flawless, but they do know how they are, don’t delude themselves into thinking otherwise, and make the effort to improve.

Weather
Let me clear up a couple of things: First, Chicago’s brutal winters are old hat to anyone who has ever spent any considerable length of time living in a cold weather area. Seattle’s rain is manageable because so much of it comes in droplets, sprinkles, and mist rather than the all-out downpours we northeasterners have come to associate with the wet stuff. That being said, both cities have their reputations for good reason. It gets cold in Chicago and rainy in Seattle. Both places brag about their summers, though, but it’s only Seattle that really gives its people reason to do so; Chicago’s summers are steam baths, and unlike Buffalo, it doesn’t have the Lake Effect there to air condition the city when the harsher summer elements set in. The jet stream blows to the east, and Chicago is situated on the west side of Lake Michigan, so the cool breezes that prevent Buffalo from becoming a sauna are nowhere to be found in Chicago. Seattle’s weak season is the winter, which is the rainy season. Winters in Seattle can bring rain every day for weeks, to the extent that meteorologists talk about Sun Breaks. But the corollary is that Seattle’s climate is pretty temperate for most of the year. There’s none of the incredible extremes that regularly terrorize Chicago. And for a rainy city, there’s surprisingly little humidity.
Winner
Seattle. The rain can barely be called rain, and between that and the moderate climate, it makes for yearlong bicycling weather. It helps that when Seattle isn’t raining, the weather is the next best thing to perfect.

Sports
Okay, let me be clear about something here: When I say sports, I don’t mean the number of teams or championships won by the area. I mean knowledgeability and reaction to the local sports teams. Chicago has teams in all of the big four, plus MLS, and they’re one of two (three if you count Los Angeles) cities with two baseball teams. With the Cubs’ World Series victory, every team in Chicago has won at least one title during my lifetime, and they’ve all racked up respectable totals: The Bears have nine titles – one Super Bowl – which is good for the second-most in the NFL; the Bulls have six, which is better than all but two teams in the NBA; the Blackhawks add another six, tied for fourth-best in the NHL; and the White Sox and Cubs both have three, the third of which came for both after extended droughts. We can add an extra if we want to count the titles the Arizona Cardinals won when they were still Chicago’s team. Of course, the big question is more: Are the fans aware of all that? Well, during the time I lived in Chicago, I received more unwanted information about the 1985 Bears than about the current Bears, or any Bears for that matter. They think 1985 is still the trump card in a bar argument. The Blackhawks spent the last six seasons fielding what advanced stats proved is one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history, but before the 2010 Stanley Cup victory that kicked it off, people forgot the Hawks existed at all, and I’m not saying that as a colloquialism; I wore Blackhawks gear around the city during the last couple of bad years, and people constantly asked me what happened to the team. There was a large chunk of fans who thought they moved, and many other people thought the city’s AHL team, the Wolves, was the primary team in the city. To their credit, though, Chicago’s baseball fans are the best I’ve ever seen. Seattle has teams in two of the big four, plus an MLS team. The more dominant team of them is the NFL’s Seahawks; they’ve visited three Super Bowls, winning one with the most dominant defense since the 1985 Bears. They’ve also been robbed of a storied NBA team which had also been a champion at one point. Their MLB team is the Mariners, who have a large group of core diehards and a contingent of foreign fans due to their willingness to sign Japanese players. The MLS team, the Sounders, is one of the league’s most popular teams, and Seattle is also familiar with its sports history: There are fans who still wear Sonics gear, and I’ve even seen a Metropolitans shirt or two. The Seattle Metropolitans were the first American hockey team to win the Stanley Cup before folding sometime in the 1920’s. But that doesn’t mean the people of Seattle have forgotten their hockey history. This is a hockey city that just happens to not have a team.
Winner
Seattle. Big sports fans is another one of those megadouchebro-fueled myths that started with the frat people running the Chicago media and got around the country. While Chicago’s baseball fan base is unquestionably one of the best in the country, they don’t make up for Chicago’s “fan” missteps: They know nothing of football at all outside the ’85 Bears. They literally forgot they had an NHL team. I guarantee the dumbasses writing for Redeye have discounted the 2016 Golden State Warriors from any discussion because their 73-9 team lost the Finals while Chicago’s 72-10 team won the title. In Seattle, no one forgot the Seahawks’ 2014 title against Denver, and they know their team well enough to take on any Bears fan, but have already put that behind them to enjoy some of the best football in the league waiting for the next one. Seattle hasn’t had a major league hockey team since the 1920’s, but there are hockey fans in Seattle and they recognize my Nordiques and Whalers logos when I wear them; both of those teams have been defunct for at least 20 years. In short, Seattle’s fans may not have Chicago’s exposure or accolades, but they know about and appreciate what they’ve got.

Accompanying Body of Water
Chicago, of course, has Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes, which – if you can believe this – is the largest collection of freshwater bodies in the world. Back when the Rust Belt was the undisputed trading route of the country, Chicago was the largest city on the Lakes, and so a lot of ships have come in and out of Chicago, and there are even a few famous shipwrecks at the bottom of the lake. Seattle is located on the eastern bank of Puget Sound, an inlet of the Salish Sea that eventually opens up into the Pacific Ocean. Given Seattle’s location in the northwest, that location made Seattle an ideal transportation hub and port. The mariner culture which grew up around and in Seattle is still prevalent.
Winner
Seattle. It’s clear that the culture of sailing had far more of an influence on Seattle than on Chicago. Puget Sound also has a much more direct route to the ocean. A ship on Lake Michigan has to go east through the other Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, so there are limits on the kinds of ships that can get there. That means Seattle has also hosted a wider variety of ships than Chicago – Puget Sound has had Nimitz-style aircraft carriers dock, and those are ships the Great Lakes are too shallow to let pass. You may make the argument that since Lake Michigan is freshwater and Puget Sound is saltwater, you can drink the water in Lake Michigan. As someone who’s spent most of his life so far in Freshwater Nation, I don’t buy it. Chicago’s location and history mean Lake Michigan spent decades as an industrial hub which shamelessly polluted the water with every chemical known to man. It wasn’t until less than ten years ago that fisherman were given the all-clear to actually eat the fish they caught in any of the Great Lakes, and even now, you’re an idiot if you actually try to do that.

Popular Culture
Here’s the question of how well Chicago and Seattle have been represented in popular culture. Chicago has a huge early start here, since most of the population of the country was scattered throughout the northeast and northern midwest back at the start of the 20th century, and Chicago – after having been burned to a crisp during the 1870’s – grabbed its spot as the second-largest city in the country and didn’t let it go until Los Angeles pulled itself into second during the 80’s. Not that Chicago lost very much – it’s still firmly in third, which means that anything on a worldwide tour WILL make it there. That means Chicago is a place which has had a good century and a half to capture the imaginations of producers and entertainers everywhere. First, there’s no getting around Chicago’s comedy scene, especially if you want to specialize in sketch or improv; you’ll pass through Chicago at some point before a decent troupe even considers you. Sketch and improv are to Chicago what theater and music are in New York City or screen entertainment is in Los Angeles. The list of musicians who have written songs glorifying Chicago is long and includes heavyweights like Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Wilco, Common, Elvis Presley, Weird Al Yankovic, Brian Wilson, Buddy Guy, The Doors, and Frank Zappa. Books set there include The Razor’s Edge, The Time-Traveler’s Wife, and Upton Sinclair’s law-changing classic The Jungle. Plays include American Buffalo, A Raisin in the Sun, and Glengarry Glen Ross. Films are too numerous to even begin to cover, but include classics like Ordinary People, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, High Fidelity, The Fugitive, The Blues Brothers, Eight Men Out, A League of Their Own, Risky Business, and almost everything John Hughes had anything to do with. TV shows set in Chicago include The Bob Newhart Show, Chicago Hope, Early Edition, ER, Family Matters, Married… With Children, Perfect Strangers, and The Untouchables. Seattle hasn’t gotten the attention going back that far; right until the 60’s, all Seattle had to draw attention to itself was Boeing. Attention was pretty slow to find Seattle, and the remains of the old industrial identity are still all over the place. But during the second half of the last century, Seattle started getting more people until it began to boom. The cultural tributes to Seattle aren’t even close to what they are with Chicago, but there’s some definite quality to it. Songs about Seattle include Arthur O. Dillon’s “Seattle the Peerless City,” which is the city’s official song. It was written in 1909. After that, save a couple of odd time signature appearances in the 70’s and 80’s, Seattle falls off the map until – yeah, you guessed it – the 90’s. At that point, the music scene exploded, and Seattle found itself with numerous songs shouting out to it by the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Macklemore, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Queensryche, Harvey Danger, Duff McKagan, Soundgarden, and Marcy Playground. Sherman Alexie emerged as a popular literary voice for places all over Washington, including Seattle. The list of movies set in Seattle is long and very respectable. It includes Singles, Sleepless in Seattle, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Ring, Wargames, Say Anything, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. TV Shows include Frasier, The 4400, Millennium, Reaper, Six Feet Under, Twin Peaks, and Weeds.
Winner
Chicago. Come on, even if Chicago’s insane head start was factored out, it’s still going to swamp Seattle. Although Seattle’s music scene is a who’s who that can fight blow for blow with anyone – for god’s sake, Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix came out of Seattle before it was cool – there are surprisingly few songs ABOUT Seattle. Seattle isn’t a referential must or a place comics move to hone their skills in anything, while the influence of Chicago’s comedy is apparent in almost every variety and sketch comedy on the air. I couldn’t find any live theater set in Seattle; they NAMED a whole musical after Chicago. (Even if it was a lousy musical.) The most important book set in Chicago changed food regulations to make sure corporate greed didn’t make us sick. True, Seattle’s TV settings are damn good – Frasier remains one of the best and best-aged sitcoms there is and one of the few real adult sitcoms ever made; Reaper was an experiment with an edge that was popular on the WB when it was here but which wider audiences just weren’t ready for; Six Feet Under and Weeds were popular everywhere; and Twin Peaks is a beloved cult classic which there are constant rumors of a revival of. Chicago’s TV shows were popular, but a lot of them were popcorn schmaltz – Miller/Boyett liked to set sitcoms there. But even if we cut off Chicago before 1962 – which is the year of Seattle’s World’s Fair, which was sort of the city’s coming out when the Monorail and Space Needle opened – Seattle is still getting washed out.

Landmarks
Neither city is lacking here. Chicago has the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the country (yes, it’s called the Sears Tower, and no, a panel of New York City-connected architects handing its title to Freedom Tower doesn’t change how tall it is), and Seattle has the Space Needle. Chicago has the John Hancock Tower, Seattle has the Smith Building, which was the tallest building on the west coast for decades. Seattle has the Monorail, Seattle Center, and Pike Place Market while Chicago has Lincoln Park… You know what?
Winner
Fuck it, this one is a tie. I’ll let Seattleites defend their landmarks and Chicagoans whine about how I didn’t give this to them all they want, but this really is one of those fanboy things. Both cities stand out.

Bicycling
Bicycling has been making a hard charge to establish itself as a viable form of transportation in recent years. That means cities have been racing – okay, well, more or less, anyway, in Buffalo it’s WAY less – to set up a workable infrastructure for cyclists. Chicago activated a plan a couple of years ago to set up a citywide network of bicycle paths, and progress so far is pretty good – I spotted traffic lights during my last trip to Chicago which were there strictly for bicycle traffic. But that’s nothing compared to Seattle, which already has every possible line painted on its streets and every possible trail set up for bicycling back and forth. Of course, if civil rights can teach you anything, it’s that even if the laws change, the people don’t necessarily go along with them without kicking and screaming. Especially in Chicago, where the people specialize in kicking and screaming. While I was living in Chicago, the city barely did anything to adapt to cyclists beyond painting a few lines on the side of the road. Bicycle lanes still don’t exist for a lot of streets, including the most prominent street in the city, which is Western Avenue. I’ve already noted that the people in Chicago are whiny little assholes about a lot of things, and cycling is one of them. Pedestrians still don’t look around when flinging open car doors. If the need should arise to get onto the sidewalk – and it will – don’t be surprised by physical assault. Yes, there’s the Lake Shore bicycle path, but that’s pretty well out of the way, and the floating trail which cuts through Wicker Park isn’t that long. Seattle, of course, is in the place that spearheaded the return of bicycling – the pacific northwest. It shows, too – trails and lanes are a dime a dozen around the city, and they’re pretty much everywhere in the park system. Despite the difference in terrain – Chicago is flat while Seattle is replete with spectacular hills and inclines – Seattle has managed to normalize bicycling to such an extent that Seattleites had to come back around from the other direction to make it niche again: The Naked Bicycle Ride was created in Fremont! Yes, there is a share of people who hate cycling in Seattle too, and no doubt there are those who like to assault cyclists, but Seattle as a whole is recognized as one of the best cities in the United States to commute by bicycle.
Winner
Seattle. Chicago isn’t outwardly hostile toward bicyclists, but its been playing a huge game of Follow the Leader. There isn’t anything Chicago has done yet that wasn’t done – and likely done better – in other bicycle-friendly cities already. The fact that it took Rahm Emanuel to sign the current bicycle plan into law should tell you just how far Chicago is behind its contemporaries.

Destructive Historical Fire
Because a good city should have a good comeback story, okay? Chicago’s fire ran from nine at night on October 8, 1871 to October 10. If you’ve ever been to Chicago, you already know the tale of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow, but for those outside the Chicago bubble, here’s the story. Or the sentence, rather: The was a family called O’Leary. The Wife, Catherine, owned a cow. The cow kicked over a lamp and the fire spread out of control. That’s the popular tale, anyway. Another version blames a group of gamblers who happened to be using James O’Leary’s barn. The most common cause is probably related to a bunch of other fires that were going on in the midwest that day, but the truth is that no one ever determined who or what started the fire. What we do know is that the popular building material in Chicago at the time was wood. Held together with tar. During an unusually dry summer. In trying to control the fire, watchman Matthias Schaffer sent the department to the wrong place, and the fire destroyed damn near everything in Chicago, killing 300 and leaving 100,000 people homeless. But in stunning contrast to the way the people of Chicago today would have reacted to such a disaster – they would kick, whine, and scream about never becoming a world-class city LIKE NEW YORK CITY before spreading to places in Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin and leaving the remains to rot – Chicagoans back then WERE tough. I like to imagine two Chicagoans looking at each other in the ashes. One asks, “Well, what now?” The other replies, “Get some tools and start buildin’.” The way Chicago built itself back from the dead is the reason it’s called The Second City. Only five structures from then are still up: St. Ignatius College Prep, St. Michael’s Church, the Chicago Water Tower, Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, and a cottage at 2121 North Hudson. Seattle’s fire happened on June 6, 1889. Seattle was going through an unusually dry summer – not that rain would have helped, because the rain would only have spread out the thin turpentine all over the floor when the fire started. See, the fire was started by an assistant named John Black at the woodworking business of one Victor Clairmont in Pioneer Square. Black was trying to heat glue over a gas fire, but the glue boiled over, caught fire, and spread all over the turpentine and wood chips strewn about the floor. Seattle’s fire department did get there on time, but there was so much smoke that no one could find the source of the fire. So the fire was free to spread to a nearby liquor store, which of course blew the fuck up, which presumably helped spread the fire to… At least two saloons. The booze fire quickly wrecked an entire block. Attempts to fight the fire were inadvertently thwarted by Seattle’s own sewer system, because the pipes back then were made of wood. You can guess how that went. An attempt to stop the fire by blowing up a block went wrong when the fire skipped that block. After burning for two hours, everyone knew downtown Seattle was going to be a weird rumor very soon. Smoke was visible from Tacoma. The fire finally fettered out at three in the morning, and by then, 120 acres of Seattle were ash. Although thousands of people were displaced, damage was between $8 million and $20 million, and 5000 workers now had to find new jobs, the actual loss of life was apparently pretty low. But like Chicago, no one spent too long complaining. Not only did Seattle rebuild, the people also raised the street levels by 22 feet. In the year right after the fire, the population doubled, which made Seattle the largest city in Washington and a leading contender in being the terminus of the Great Northern Railway.
Winner
Both of these are awesome stories, but I’m giving the edge to Chicago. For one thing, it’s really cool that there are tours of the underground which take people through old Seattle from before the fire. But one of the remaining structures of old Chicago, the Water Tower, has become one of the city’s civic icons, and so it sits perched in a prime sightseeing area right at the northern end of Michigan Avenue. Also, we know the exact cause and trajectory of the Seattle Fire. We don’t have nearly as much info about the Chicago Fire, and there’s just something about that which screams CHICAGO! Perhaps it’s the fact that no one ever found the real culprit, and that the reporter who wrote the story – a fellow by the name of Michael Ahern – admitted in 1893 that he pulled the O’Leary’s cow out of his ass just to find a reason to bitch about the Irish. While the family was never charged with anything, the poor cow was so entrenched in local mythology that the city took the ridiculous step of exonerating the O’Learys and the cow in 1997. But the myth still lives on to such a point that the Chicago Fire Academy is located at its start (speculated) starting point. Besides, the Chicago Fire did more damage to its city. The four square miles it destroyed was pretty much all of Chicago.

Okay, this one is getting a bit too epic even for my tastes. We have a tie at six apiece with one draw, and I don’t want to be bothered anymore with trying to get one of these cities to lose this thing. If anything, I think I’ve sufficiently proved that no matter how many other ways you can think of to measure these two cities against each other, neither is a loser. Although I do have one note to give to one of them:

Chicago, stop whining. NO ONE finds your inferiority complex with New York City endearing.

Every Team Ever

Every Team Ever

So a few years ago, on a review website called Lunch.com, I started a little reviewing project. The goal was to write about every professional major league sports team in the United States and Canada. It took awhile, but I pulled it off, and it was read and liked by thousands of people.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t very long before the moderators on Lunch stopped doing their jobs. Going to Lunch now reveals a message that says they’ll have thing up and running again before you can say “Who doesn’t love Lunch?” Well, apparently saying those four words is a process which is now pushing two years.

All that hard work I did is now gone, but earlier this year, I came up with another good idea: I would do the same project all over again, but this time, I would do it as a wordpress blog so it wouldn’t be exposed to the shortcomings of lazy moderators.

So far, I’ve got about 15 teams down. This is going to take a little bit of time, so you’ll just have to check back in regularly and know that I’m going to get to your own favorite team eventually.

Here’s the link:

https://everyteamever.wordpress.com

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Five: Blank Space

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Five: Blank Space

With a list like this, there are going to be a bunch of names that come up which are too good to be really worth complaining about, but not good enough to be worth raving about; names which are extraordinarily difficult to rank because you have no clue exactly where to put them. So in order to get them rankings that are at least somewhat safe, you write up the list from both ends until you have the blank space in the middle which is the only place they’ll fit. Again, none of these names are truly bad, and in this leg, we’re going to start seeing the good names crop up. It’s just that they didn’t go very far either here or there, so they come off as fillers.

53: Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL
Named after an old Civil War unit, this name isn’t so bad. The problem is that it’s so, well, innocuous. Old imagery tends to associated jackets with certain kinds of bees. Jackets is also a remnant of sports teams past which has definitely seen its day, and not only does it feel old, there’s no anger or intensity to be associated with the color blue. There have been many teams in many sports known as the Yellow Jackets and Red Jackets, and while those names project intensity, Blue Jackets projects calm and cool. Which could explain why the Columbus Blue Jackets don’t have a ton of success to their name just yet.

52: New England Patriots, NFL
Oh, goodie. Another pretentious name trying to enclose its entire geographical, multi-state region. Patriots is actually a fine name for the team – it was created to honor the original separatists who wanted the 13 Colonies to break free of England. Of course, one of the major focal points of the events leading to the American Revolution was Boston, in whose suburbs the Patriots play. And that’s precisely why the New England Patriots would be best off named with the name they came up with upon emerging in the AFL in 1960: The Boston Patriots! The branding doesn’t work, though, because generally a patriot is someone who loves his country, and I happen to think it’s kind of rude of the Boston (excuse me, New England) team to try to earn fans through this kind of exclusivity. Boston already has a nasty air of pretension, and their fans are already some of the most self-important people on Earth, and there’s really no need to fuel those feelings by enabling anyone to say either you cheer for their team or you hate America. Of course, it’s not like it would stop them from such self-congratulatory hubris anyway, but it doesn’t help matters.

51: Washington Capitals, NHL
Finally, a place where the word “capitol” is spelled in proper grammatical context. It’s spelled with an O at the end, meaning a place, instead of an A at the end, a way of denoting currency. Also, both words have three syllables, and the final syllable of each starts with a T, so there’s a good balance. The Capitols name works because Washington is the capitol of the United States, after all. Furthermore, since the Capitol is also the name of the building where Congress gathers, the name doubles as a recognition of the federal government. And since the Capitol is one of the most famous bits of architecture in the country, the name further triples as a celebration of great architecture in a city full of historic architecture. This name should be higher up, but it’s no one’s fault the name of the Capitol is so bland. (Edit: At least, that is what I would write had the Capitals been that smart, as I wrote this thinking they were. Apparently they’re not. So while the A in Capitals makes sense to the way the federal government is run, it does a huge disservice to the city. Fuck this name.)

50: Oakland Raiders, NFL
The coolest pirate name on the list. This name would be more of a failure if the Raiders were still in Los Angeles, but it holds a lot more meaning in Oakland. Oakland is a historical hotbed of political activism, and that activism is more often than not against the prevailing government policy, prevailing social norms, and frequently against the so-called knowledge and ideas of the common, white, insufferable coffeehouse intellectuals as well. Oakland’s political reputation has a real grassroots attitude, and you get the feeling that the people of Oakland are a hands-on bunch who try to enact change one place at a time with their bare hands. That makes the Raiders a true team for revolutionaries; or, as much of society would prefer to think of them, pirates. See, not every pirate image is bad, even when you are talking about one of the nastiest fanbases in the country. It’s also cool to say – two double-syllable words with hard beginnings and ends with easy middles.

49: Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
People frequently gripe about proper grammar when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They argue this is a shitty name just because it isn’t the grammatically proper Toronto Maple Leaves. This team, however, was named after a Canadian Army battalion called the Maple Leaf battalion. I don’t know why grammar rules work the way they do, but experts tend to argue that the name makes perfect sense since we’re not talking about actual leaves. The maple leaf, of course, is the dominant symbol of Canada, and once again we’re into trying to both nationalize and regionalize the fans at the same time. In this case, it works a lot better, because there’s no attempt at exclusivity in the Maple Leafs name. It’s just grabbing the symbol and latching on, subtly inviting people instead of saying “You’re either with us or you’re against us.” The name is also a lot more balanced than it looks – both Toronto and Maple Leafs are three-syllable terms. See folks, you can use national symbols for names, just as you can use generic animals, as long as you can do it the right way.

48: Arizona Coyotes, NHL
The newest name on this list, the former Phoenix Coyotes changed their official name to the Arizona Coyotes just days before I began. It really doesn’t change very much except the number of syllables. A coyote is a good animal to name the team after – it has nothing to do with fellow canine family member wolves, and it’s very much an Arizona animal. The name change makes the whole name of the team a little clunkier, but it doesn’t do any real damage.

47: Chicago Bears, NFL
Chicago is a burly city name. (Unlike the people who live there.) It has power and crunch. What to name the football team? An animal that has the same! Bears is another small word with big impact. It’s also a great parallel allusion to one of Chicago’s baseball teams, the Cubs, something that wasn’t lost on the owner when the team was named. The Bears once played in Wrigley Field, and in exchange for the lease, the original owner said he would name the football team after the baseball team. Since cubs are most often taken in the context of bear cubs, and this owner noticed football players on the whole were larger than baseball players, he named the football team the Chicago Bears.

46: Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB
The most famous move remnant of all time rolled a lot nicer with its original name, Brooklyn Dodgers, and that’s where the animosity toward Los Angeles Dodgers begins. Then again, I already mentioned a couple of posts ago that Brooklyn is such a great name that you can slap virtually any nickname onto a team there and have it come off halfway decent. The trouble is that since the name Dodgers comes from the original name Trolley Dodgers – people in Brooklyn who used to have to cross the streetcar tracks to get to the field – it makes at least as much regional sense in Los Angeles as it did in Brooklyn. Los Angeles does, after all, have a descendant of the old streetcar lines – a lightrail system. And when the team moved, they weren’t walking away from a string of lousy seasons – they had won the World Series just two years before moving, and had a run of Pennant years. And let’s face it, the name Dodgers is some of the best branding out there. There’s no mistaking it, even with the diehard Brooklynites who won’t shut up about the Dodgers still being Brooklyn’s team. Guys, they’re not going to return. If you hate the Yankees so much, buck up and turn to the Mets, okay?

45: Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
This is a strange name. A buck is a male deer, it has no balance, no connection to the Milwaukee area, and, well, I really can’t think of a whole lot to say about it. (Kinda like the team itself!) It stands out, so that much I can offer, but deer are common enough to still be legal to hunt, and I don’t think they drink beer. I’m giving this a nod largely on branding, just because deer are stronger, more dangerous animals than we give them credit for, so that avoids any complaints about it being generic. And really, it’s not such a bad name.

44: Miami Heat, NBA
This is easily the best name on this list that doesn’t invoke a plural. Heat may be an amorphous concept, but it’s an amorphous concept with a very specific definition. Heat can burn you, dehydrate you, make you vomit, and give you strokes and heart attacks. We go out of our way as human beings to avoid exposure to too much heat at the same time, and when we have no other choice, we carry a ton of water with us. So yeah, heat is very nasty business, and it also happens to be something the city of Miami has in abundance. Miami is famous for its heat. While heat can be found in many, many other places, the name also has a good rapport with the city name, and it comes off like an extra syllable, almost. This is a very rare case where I’m going to award bonus points for not making the name a plural. Since Heat feels like an extension of Miami, the T at the end gives the name a bit of heft and finality, which would make it look ridiculous if we tried to pluralize it. Miami Heats. It just doesn’t sound quite as right, does it? On the other hand, non-plural names are still old 90’s hubris.

43: San Jose Sharks, NHL
It’s strange that of all the generic natural critters people like to name sports teams after, the shark is so generic, and yet so underutilized. The name does have a connection to the Bay Area which makes it work out pretty well. The Pacific Ocean contains seven different kinds of shark, and the Bay Area is the location of an area of water called the Red Triangle which is home to a huge population of sharks. The name’s balance comes mostly from the fact that it’s a three-word name, with the syllable counts being one-two-one. That gives it a better, easier sound than it really has a right to have, and I wouldn’t be lauding it if the NHL didn’t take a chance on San Jose and decided instead to create the San Francisco Sharks – the four syllables in Francisco are just beasts. The branding of this team shouldn’t work, just because sharks comes off as another one of those generic 90’s affairs with animal ferocity, but the fact that marine naming is so uncommon makes it pleasant and quirky rather than bland and generic. We might criticize the NHL’s efforts at expanding during the 90’s, but this is an instance where it worked.

42: Phoenix Suns, NBA
I could write a lot of the same things about this name that I wrote about the Miami Heat: The nickname feels like a very natural extra syllable, the location is perfect since it celebrates something both regionalized and fierce, blah blah blah. The thing with the sun, though, is that it’s the generator of heat, which gives it an extra push. Think of it this way: Heat alone isn’t quite enough to melt your car in a hundredth of a second flat – you need a lot more than, say, a blowtorch. The sun is also the source of our ability to exist; it keeps the Earth in orbit. It has a major role in the operations of the solar system that mere heat alone doesn’t have. Also, it’s a plural, and since non-plural names are 90’s marketing hubris, it gets extra points.

41: Tampa Bay Rays, MLB
Here we have another sun-related name. Changed from the 90’s hubrisful Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in about 2007, the new names aspires to bring the Rays a new reputation as rays of light, as in a beacon of light to the baseball world, or as rays of sunlight. I’m giving this name a lot of credit for trying to be something so different, and it undoubtedly helps the branding – devil rays weren’t a real relatable creature to name a team after. Although the idea of a ray of light certainly holds weight in the Tampa Bay area, calling the team the Rays is taking a different approach than a lot of teams. It’s not aiming to create an image in ferocity or history or regionalization, but in inspiration. That makes it unique to any of the four major leagues, although I have my doubts that a lot of other people see it that way. The originality is stronger than most want to credit it with, but whether devil rays or rays, the branding doesn’t lend itself to wonderful imagery.

40: Miami Marlins, MLB
The most lovably dysfunctional team in baseball – yes, even more so than the Mets – gets its name from a popular gamefish. You have to give it credit – the Marlins were created in the 90’s, but instead of going with typical 90’s ferocity, they went with a less aggressive name. If you consider it, you have to eventually figure out that many of the truly great (or truly popular) names in sports aren’t aggressive at all. So in a way, Marlins is evoking many of the sports names of the olden days, concentrating on finding something the team’s fans can uniquely call their own instead of trying to appeal to a national fanbase of prepubescent boys they hope worship ferocious imagery. And coming up with a name of such a popular gamefish gives the name Miami Marlins a sort of Hemingway feel. Author Ernest Hemingway was a big time gamesman, after all, who lived in Florida for a long time and wrote a book called The Old Man and the Sea, which was about a fisherman trying to make a big catch.

The Levels of Losing: New York/Illinois Edition

The Levels of Losing: New York/Illinois Edition

Several years ago, a sports columnist named Bill Simmons decided to take a stab at the rather difficult science at quantifying sports pain. Simmons isn’t the strongest sports columnist out there – he has his flaws, but I generally enjoy his work, and his column about the Levels of Losing strikes a nerve with everyone who’s ever been a fan of any team. In it, he takes losing big games and turns 16 easily identifiable levels out of it. He’s also from Boston, which means the majority of his example were also from Boston. So I’m going to take a mighty stab at the Levels of Losing myself today, with New York and Illinois serving as my examples. Sit back, relax, read, and, depending on your loyalties and feelings toward professional sports, either enjoy or cry.

Level 16: The Princeton Principle
Definition: When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the ’89 NCAAs). … This one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes. … Also works for boxing, especially in situations like Balboa-Creed I (“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!”). … The moment that always sucks you in: in college hoops, when they show shots of the bench scrubs leaping up and down and hugging each other during the “These guys won’t go away!” portion of the game, before the collapse at the end.
2007 NBA Playoffs, Second Round: Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons
Yes, this was a disappointment, but at least it was a good one. The Bulls, you see, had no business even getting this far. A 3-9 start to a season is usually a written-off ticket to the lottery. Teams that start 3-9 don’t usually go 49-33 on the season and make the playoffs as the third seed. And even if they do, they don’t sweep out the defending Champions in the first round. In the second round, the Bulls reverted to their season-starter form when they let their archrivals, the Detroit Pistons, run them into a 3-0 hole. No basketball team ever came back from that, but that didn’t stop Ben Wallace, Luol Deng, and crew from throwing their best at the Pistons and forcing a sixth game, putting the pressure on the Pistons before finally bowing out. Those were the pre-Rose/Noah Bulls, and despite being in the insurmountable hole, they held on and, for a hot second, looked as though they might succeed in doing the impossible.

Level 15: The Achilles Heel
Definition: This defeat transcends the actual game, because it revealed something larger about your team, a fatal flaw exposed for everyone to see. … Flare guns are fired, red flags are raised, doubt seeps into your team. … Usually the beginning of the end. (You don’t fully comprehend this until you’re reflecting back on it.)
2011 NFC Championship
I was probably the only person in Chicago who wasn’t brazenly confident about the Bears’ chances in the 2011 NFC Championship. Sure they walked in with an 11-5 regular season record, and having plastered the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. But they had also been wearing charm bracelets all year, and their record could have easily been almost reversed had it not been for a bunch of breaks hinged on luck – not luck like defensive backs being out of position, but LUCK. Luck like the Green Bay Packers setting a record number of penalties, Calvin Johnson being robbed of an ironclad touchdown because of a little-known rule, and a number of good teams on their schedule falling to pieces. I caught the NFC Championship against the Packers from my laudromat at Chicago Avenue and Western Avenue. While I could barely hear anything, I could see the screen well enough, and the first thing I saw in the game was Green Bay’s opening drive. Aaron Rodgers took The Pack four plays for a touchdown. The Bears responded by taking four plays for a punt. Those two drives set the tempo for the game; the Bears were in for a long afternoon. The game revealed a number of things that I had been screaming all year, but other Bears fans ignored: The Packers were a better team. Aaron Rodgers was light years ahead of Jay Cutler. Lovie Smith wouldn’t be able to get away with putting his offense on the back of his return man, even if that return man WAS Devin Hester. Worst of all, Bears fans had found a backup quarterback who they hated more than the starter when a nasty injury to Cutler forced Caleb Hanie to finish the game. The 21-14 score was worse than it looked; that second touchdown was The Pack throwing the Bears a bone. While Lovie stuck around for a couple more years, this game pretty much signaled the end for him.

Level 14: The Alpha Dog
Definition: It might have been a devastating loss, but at least you could take solace that a superior player made the difference in the end. … Unfortunately, he wasn’t playing for your team. … You feel more helpless here than anything. … For further reference, see any of MJ’s games in the NBA Finals against Utah (’97 and ’98).
Reggie Miller
The name Reggie Miller still causes longtime New York Knicks fans to fall into epileptic seizures. While my being a basketball fan didn’t happen until just after this era, it’s easy to understand the lingering frustration my chosen fanbase still has over the 90’s. The Knickerbockers drafted Patrick Ewing in the 80’s, easily their best big man since Willis Reed, surrounded him with a supporting cast that could smother any team in the league, and brought in Showtime Lakers coach Pat Riley. Fans from then will forgive the Knicks for forever getting pounded by the Jordan Bulls – who was expected to beat those guys? When it wasn’t the Bulls, though, it was the Indiana Pacers and Miller, who I swear spent his time before games sharpening a stake. Then he would take the hardwood and bomb the Knicks with about 765 points per game. From 1993 to 2000, the Pacers and Knicks met six times in the playoffs, and although they have an even record against each other, the repercussions are more severe than that implies because a team from midwest cowville had figured out how to skin the Big Apple and cut it into bite-size pieces. Three of their matches were conference finals; the Knicks won two of them, but were pushed so hard that one could argue it cost them the Finals. In any case, it was Reggie Miller who was the face of New York’s troubles. He was specifically the one nicknamed the Knick-Killer, the one who got into the fight with Knicks fan Spike Lee, and the one who, given any opening, could heave the necessary clutch shot from all the way across the court and have it go in. In 2010, a documentary was made about the rivalry called Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks. Got that? Not the Indiana Pacers, but Reggie Miller. MSG still likes to air these old playoff games sometimes.
Tom Brady
The Buffalo Bills’ rivalry with the New England Patriots has always been pretty wild, but it was rarely ever one-sided until Tom Brady was installed as New England’s starting quarterback in 2001. Since then, the Bills, still having never found their heir to Jim Kelly, have beaten the Patriots all of two times. The Patriots have beaten the Bills around 500 times by my count. Brady always finds the most humiliating ways to beat them, too: Games between Buffalo and New England always seem to polarize themselves at either massive blowouts or close nail-biters, and they’ll always end in favor of the Patriots. Even when the Bills are able to put up a significant lead on New England and trick the city into thinking they might have a chance, they always show they just don’t DO 60-minute football, especially not against New England. Tom Brady will inevitably lead the Patriots on a series of improbable drives with about three seconds left in the game, connecting on every improbable throw, leading the Pats to four late touchdowns and a victory. And sometimes, he doesn’t stop when the Patriots are squeaking by – he’ll launch a comeback from a 21-point hole to put 35 on the board, as if he was just fucking around with the Bills for most of the game. Watching him in those clutch moments, one gets the feeling he would connect even if he threw the ball backwards. What to do when one man – and particularly an All-American pretty boy like Tom Brady – keeps destroying your team? Well, obviously you can’t try feeding him to your team, because he’s been playing the part of the lion tamer. So when Tom Brady made an offhand comment about the quality of Buffalo’s hotels last year, Buffalo jumped down his throat like petulant children, burning his jersey and actively encouraging the city’s hotels to refuse to let him stay. This from The City of Good Neighbors.

Level 13: The Rabbit’s Foot
Definition: Now we’re starting to get into “Outright Painful” territory. … This applies to those frustrating games and/or series in which every single break seemingly goes against your team. … Unbelievably frustrating. … You know that sinking, “Oh, God, I’ve been here before” feeling when something unfortunate happens, when your guard immediately goes shooting up? … Yeah, I’m wincing just writing about it.
The Comeback
Let’s reverse things for a moment and recall a time where one of my teams actually CAUSED an excrutiating loss. More specifically, an NFL playoff game from 1993 between the Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills. The Oilers had managed to run up a 28-3 lead by halftime, which they pulled out to a 35-3 lead early in the third. On the ensuing kickoff after that touchdown, the wind caused the kick to squib, the first in a series of bad breaks which would destroy Houston. Buffalo took advantage of every Houston error, missed whistle, and weather gust to go on a splurge and score four touchdowns in about six minutes. In the fourth quarter they took the lead while the demoralized Houston offense couldn’t manage anything more than a field goal to tie the game by the end of regulation. In overtime, the Bills took advantage of an interception and Steve Christie booted the Oilers from the Playoffs. The 32-point comeback is still the largest in the history of the NFL. This game, the finest hour in Buffalo football history, was blacked out. I spent the day at McKinley Mall with my father and sister while the mall PA gave us periodic updates. Upon learning the score was 35-3, my immediate reaction was “good,” because I couldn’t take the Bills going to the Super Bowl (again) and losing it (again). Nor could I believe the increasingly narrow score as the PA kept giving it to us. There was absolute shellshock over this game, and everyone once again went right back to believing the Bills had a chance. The Bills made the Super Bowl that year, their third in a row. They also lost for the third year in a row. And they got their asses kicked for the second year in a row.

Level 12: The Sudden Death
Definition: Is there another fan experience quite like overtime hockey, when every slap shot, breakaway and centering pass might spell doom, and losing feels 10 times worse than winning feels good (if that makes sense)? … There’s only one mitigating factor: When OT periods start piling up and you lose the capacity to care anymore, invariably you start rooting for the game to just end, just so you don’t suffer a heart attack.
No Goal
Through most of their existence, the Buffalo Sabres have actually been very good… Just rarely when it counted. 1999 was the one year in my lifetime the Sabres didn’t perform a choke job at some point, but reaching the Stanley Cup Finals didn’t change the fact that they were outcasts and journeymen fighting the Dallas Stars, one of the most powerful and star-laden teams in the NHL. The Sabres did us proud by dragging the series out to six games. Game six went into a sudden death overtime, where Dallas’s league-leading defense kept canceling out Buffalo’s best goalie in the world. Every Dallas shot, breakaway, and visit to the attack zone felt like a heart attack. If I had a choice between a torture session at Guantanamo Bay and this, well, at least the Guantanamo session would end if I gave them information. This dragged on through what was basically a double-header of hockey before Dallas’s Brett Hull brought the axe down in the third overtime. It was both painful and frustrating because my team had just lost the Stanley Cup on a goal which was so badly disputed. The most important hockey game of the year was decided by an individual interpretation of the Crease Rule, which not only lent plenty of clout for missteps but made no fucking sense. Brett Hull defends the goal, and has very solid ground on which to do it, but even he admits it was grossly unfair to the Sabres. The NHL was finally embarrassed into repealing the Crease Rule the next year, and the vast majority of hockey fans reject the legitimacy of the goal. The hindsight, though, does very little to console the city of Buffalo, which to this day believes the Sabres were robbed of a chance to win – or lose – the Stanley Cup fairly. I learned that year that sudden death playoff hockey is only fun and exciting if you’re not emotionally attached to any of the teams playing the game. If you are, god help you.
2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game Six
As it happened, I was thrust into this situation again eleven years later when my team – the Blackhawks this time – made the Finals. Unlike the Sabres, who were a group of nobodies that prolonged a series they were supposed to lose, the Hawks of 2010 were a machine who stood a great chance of winning the Cup. Their offense was a galaxy of stars and their defense were hard fighters, but I had my suspicions about their goalie. While the Chicago media had been playing up substitute goaltender Antti Niemi as a great hero, I had seen more than enough hockey to see Niemi as what he was: A rickety man behind a well-oiled machine who was winning because he happened to be just a hair better than the other goalies when he needed to be. In game six, the Hawks carried a 3-2 lead into the third period which they surrendered with 3:59 left when Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell shoveled the puck behind Niemi. Being a Buffalo sports doomsayer and wanting to save myself the heart failure, I KNEW the Flyers would take the game into overtime, win it, and then win game seven, so I flipped the TV to that night’s rerun of The Office. I was still steaming when, about four minutes into the episode, the TV blacked out. Now I was REALLY pissed. I swore to myself for the next minute, wondering why both my hockey team and TV hated me when a giant Blackhawks crest suddenly flew across the dead air to the tune of “Chelsea Dagger,” an annoying song which, right then, was the most welcome song I had ever heard. The game HAD gone to overtime, but the Hawks emerged victorious. After watching the presentation of the Stanley Cup, I threw my street clothes back on – jeans and my Blackhawks sweater, I didn’t care that it was 80 degrees and humid – and rushed outside to find my fellow fans and celebrate.

Level 11: Dead Man Walking
Definition: Applies to any playoff series in which your team remains “alive,” but they just suffered a loss so catastrophic and so harrowing that there’s no possible way they can bounce back. … Especially disheartening because you wave the white flag mentally, but there’s a tiny part of you still holding out hope for a miraculous momentum change. … So you’ve given up, but you’re still getting hurt, if that makes sense. … Just for the record, the 2002 Nets and 2005 Astros proved that you can fight off The Dead Man Walking Game, but it doesn’t happen often.
2004 ALCS
The whole reason they play the games in the first place is because the anonymous paper standings the “experts” roll out at the beginning of every season can be so misleading. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox were looking like the superior team to the New York Yankees, only to blow their division and get into the playoffs on the wild card. In the ALCS, the Yankees ran up the big 3-0 hole, winning that third game in dominant fashion. Then the Red Sox decided to catch fire. After Curt Schilling’s heroic outing in game six, the Yankees’ talk about winning game seven was clearly feeding George Steinbrenner what he wanted to hear. When even Saint Jeter couldn’t hide the shock and uncertainty in his face, everyone across the Evil Empire got the message: Our Pinstriped Stormtroopers were now the dead man walking. The seventh game was just a formality, the ALCS was over, and Boston had won the American League Pennant. The only thing left to do was watch game seven, hoping the Yankees could shake their dead man stigma and put the Red Sox away. I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t.

Level 10: The Monkey Wrench
Definition: Any situation in which either (A) the manager/coach of your team made an idiotic game decision or (B) a referee/umpire robbed your team of impending victory. … The Monkey Wrench Game gains steam as the days and months roll along. … The Patriots and Raiders deserve special mention here because they played two Monkey Wrench games 26 years apart — the ’76 playoff game (when Ben Dreith’s dubious “roughing the passer” call on “Sugar Bear” Hamilton gave the Raiders second life), and the infamous Snow Game (the Brady fumble/nonfumble). … Funny how life works out.
The Bartman Game
I’ve never liked the Cubs, but I never specified these had to revolve around teams I like. And this sucker was so nasty that leaving it off a list like this would have been as big a crime as Dusty Baker’s management during the game. Mainly I remember being impressed by onetime future legend Mark Prior as he efficiently mowed down the Florida Marlins for eight dazzling innings. Of course, Baker was never a manager known for paying mind to pitch counts, and with eight magnificent shutout innings and a 3-0 lead, it was a BAD time to be pitching for Dusty Baker. He was about to make history and apparently removing Prior before his arm fell off would jinx it. Prior was never baseball’s most durable pitcher, but after unleashing hell for the Marlins, he had that “stick a fork in him, he’s done” look all over his body. With exhaust fumes engulfing Prior, Baker left him in anyway, the Marlins started getting on base, and Alex Gonzalez bumbled a ground ball that would have ended the inning. The Cubs basically spent the inning playing Monty Python Does Baseball, and Baker didn’t take the hint and remove Prior until the Marlins had the lead. The Marlins scored all eight of their runs in the game during this fiasco. Again, I’m no fan of the Cubs, but holy shit. This game occurred before I had ever been to Chicago, and even I was completely shellshocked and screaming at my TV at the top of my lungs.

Level 9: The Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking
Definition: Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn’t your team’s day. … And that’s the worst part, not just the epiphany but everything that follows — every botched play; every turnover; every instance where someone on your team quits; every “deer in the headlights” look; every time an announcer says, “They can’t get anything going”; every shot of the opponents celebrating; every time you look at the score and think to yourself, “Well, if we score here and force a turnover, maybe we’ll get some momentum,” but you know it’s not going to happen, because you’re already 30 points down. … You just want it to end, and it won’t end. … But you can’t look away. … It’s the sports fan’s equivalent to a three-hour torture session.
1991 AFC Championship
I had trouble thinking this one up, just because there are so many I can think of off the top of my head. So I decided to go positive again! The Bills had spent 1990 playing the Team of Destiny. They had just beaten the archrival Miami Dolphins and their star quarterback, Dan Marino, in the playoffs. Going into the 1991 AFC Championship against the Los Angeles Raiders, the team was favored by seven. Well, they had that covered by the second drive. This game gave Bills fans absolute, complete belief in the whole Team of Destiny thing. Maybe it was the fact that Buffalo’s backup running back scored three touchdowns. Maybe it was the six total interceptions they pulled down from the hapless Raiders’ quarterbacks. Maybe it was the fact that the Raiders threw every defensive formation in their playbook at the Bills. Maybe it was the fact the Bills held Marcus Allen to all of 26 yards, or the fact that the Bills were up 41-3 at halftime. The stats are only part of the bottom line: By the end of the game, the Bills had destroyed the Raiders by a score of 51-3. It’s still the worst loss the Raiders ever suffered in their long history. I’m halfway convinced that Al Davis died because someone brought it up while he was in the room. It was also the first time I started to realize the kind of connection between the city and the team. I didn’t know anything about football except that my hometown had a team called the Bills, and they were now going to a game called the Super Bowl to crush the New York Giants! Victory was inevitable!

Level 8: The This Can’t be Happening
Definition: The sibling of the Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking. … You’re supposed to win, you expect to win, the game is a mere formality. … Suddenly your team falls behind, your opponents are fired up, the clock is ticking and it dawns on you for the first time, “Oh, my God, this can’t be happening.”
2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Buffalo Sabres vs. Ottawa Senators
Yes, the Ottawa Senators had just about had their way with the Buffalo Sabres over the course of the season. But it was Buffalo that brought home the Presidents’ Trophy, which is given to the regular season champions. More importantly, the Senators had a terrible history against Buffalo in the playoffs – 0-3 against the Sabres for a lifetime record, with the last loss coming the previous year, when the two teams also had similar records. Buffalo had won that series 4-1. But that was last year, and this was this year, and hell, the Sabres were known for being the team no one wanted to meet in the playoffs. That Prince of Wales Trophy was looking like a given, and while the potential Finals against the Anaheim Ducks gave Sabre Nation jitters, we still walked with swagger over Buffalo’s chances of finally winning the Stanley Cup. When the Sabres lost the first game, it was a setback. After the second, I got concerned. After the third, I was, just like a fan, still holding out for that miraculous comeback, because that’s what fans do. Even so, I knew that in this, the Sabres’ now-or-never year, the Sabres had stood up and, in a powerful collective voice, screamed “IT’S NEVER!” The Sabres did manage a save-face in game four, but I remember watching game five and feeling the doom harbinger hanging in my apartment. Even after NBC Chicago rudely cut off the overtime period to show a fucking horse race, I had Rob text me the gameplay over my cell phone. If NBC thought it was a mercy cutoff, it didn’t work. That overtime goal was less a stake to the heart than a bullet to the head – sudden, then… Just nothing, except the feeling the world had shut itself off.

Level 7: The Drive-By Shooting
Definition: A first cousin of The “This Can’t Be Happening” Game, we created this one four weeks ago to describe any college football upset in which a 30-point underdog shocks a top-5 team in front of 108,000 of its fans and kills its title hopes before Labor Day.
No Example
Simmons can stick this one where the sun don’t shine. He thinks up a very particular rule for a very particular situation and says it only applies to a specific sport at a specific level. While it wouldn’t bother me to apply it to anything else, I can’t think of anything it could be properly attached to!

Level 6: The Broken Axel
Definition: When the wheels come flying off in a big game, leading to a complete collapse down the stretch. … This one works best for basketball, like Game 3 of the Celtics-Nets series in 2002, or Game 7 of the Blazers-Lakers series in 2000. … You know when it’s happening because (A) the home crowd pushes their team to another level, and (B) the team that’s collapsing becomes afflicted with Deer-In-The-Headlitis. … It’s always fascinating to see how teams bounce back from The Broken Axle Game. … By the way, nobody has been involved in more Broken Axle Games than Rick Adelman.
2009 Winter Classic
The Chicago Blackhawks had languished in the NHL basement for years, but in the 2008 season, they suddenly came out screaming they weren’t the league doormat anymore. In the 2009 season, they had the chance to announce their grand return to the rest of the hockey world, and what better way to do that than playing in the 2009 Winter Classic? At storied Wrigley Field, no less? There was one thing that stood in their way: The Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks’ longtime tormentors and this year’s defending Stanley Cup Champions. The first period went swimmingly for the Hawks, as they rushed out to a 3-1 lead by the end. Then for whatever reason, they seemed to be the stationary cow on the train tracks. And when the Red Wings are equipped with power that approximates that of a train, that’s not going to end well for ANY team. The Red Wings scored the next five goals and dominated the Blackhawks for the rest of the game. A soft third period goal cut the score to 6-4 and allowed Chicago SOME dignity, but between Detroit’s dominance and the rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Denis Savard had sang in a hockey context, dignity became a concept as foreign as Norway. Fortunately, the Hawks recovered and had a spectacular season anyway, making a run to the Western Conference Finals. Detroit stood in their way there again, though, and left no doubt as to who was better. It was great that the Hawks were good again, but they clearly weren’t ready for the Detroit Red Wings just yet.

Level 5: The Role Reversal
Definition: Any rivalry in which one team dominated another team for an extended period of time, then the perennial loser improbably turned the tables. … Like when Beecher fought back against Schillinger in “Oz,” knocked him out and even pulled a Najeh Davenport on his face. For the fans of the vanquished team, the most crushing part of the “Role Reversal” isn’t the actual defeat as much as the loss of an ongoing edge over the fans from the other team. You lose the jokes, the arrogance and the unwavering confidence that the other team can’t beat you. There’s almost a karmic shift. You can feel it.
Chicago Bulls/Detroit Pistons
For most of their existences, the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls were a pair of middling-to-bad teams whose rivalry meant exactly nothing to anyone outside those cities. By the late 80’s, things had changed: The Pistons were arguably the best team in the NBA. The Bulls had Michael Jordan, arguably the league’s best player. Unfortunately for the Bulls – and as Isiah Thomas of the Pistons gleefully loved pointing out – one man does not a team make. So it was easy for the talented, dirty Pistons to create a series of simple defenses and turn them into psychological warfare just by giving them the name “The Jordan Rules,” which tricked everyone – including the Bulls – into thinking they were the vault combination at Fort Knox. From 1989 to 1991, the Bulls and Pistons played in the Eastern Conference Finals every year. The first two, the Pistons won, and went on to take the Championship. By 1991, Jordan finally had a good supporting cast and after years of being called a selfish player, was playing more like a team guy. Sweeping the Pistons this time, the Bulls won their first title and transformed the rivalry on the way to five more titles and dominance in the 90’s. Detroit slipped, bottomed out, and didn’t return to prominence until they won an unexpected third title in 2004.

Level 4: The Guillotine
Definition: This one combines the devastation of The Broken Axle Game with sweeping bitterness and hostility. … Your team’s hanging tough (hell, they might even be winning), but you can feel the inevitable breakdown coming, and you keep waiting for the guillotine to drop, and you just know it’s coming — you know it — and when it finally comes, you’re angry that it happened and you’re angry at yourself for contributing to the debilitating karma. … These are the games when people end up whipping their remote controls against a wall or breaking their hands while pounding a coffee table. … Too many of these and you’ll end up in prison.
The 2011 Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills can sell hope, if anything, and there are times they trick the city into thinking they’ll be good. 2011 was the most severe case: Halfway through the season, the Bills were cruising through the AFC East with a 5-2 record and a tie for the division lead. En route, they had clobbered the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins and come back from a 21-point hole to beat the hated New England Patriots for the first time since 2003. Their two losses had come by three points each. Although Buffalo was wildly suspicious throughout the good half, even the biggest doubters had let their guard down by now. Then Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo’s new magic man, signed what was apparently a magic contract, and not good magic. Suddenly he started making all those traditional Bills starting quarterback mistakes. We wrote it off after the Bills lost their next game to the New York Jets, but it began a seven-game losing streak which didn’t end until a face-save victory against the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos in the next-to-last game. To close the season, they received their customary beating against the Patriots again, who had written off their loss to Buffalo on the way to a 13-win year and an AFC Championship. Meanwhile, the city collectively groaned yet again for letting itself get caught up and invested in another terrible football team. The team was from Buffalo. The team was the Bills. It never could have ended any other way, and yet, we dropped our guard and were shocked when it happened.

Level 3: The Stomach Punch
Definition: Now we’ve moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with (A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play or (B) one of your guys failing in the clutch. … Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. … Always haunting, sometimes scarring. … There are degrees to The Stomach Punch Game, depending on the situation. … For instance, it’s hard to top Cleveland’s Earnest Byner fumbling against Denver when he was about two yards and 0.2 seconds away from sending the Browns to the Super Bowl.
2007 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Rangers, Game Five
My mother summed up this insane 2007 playoff victory in two words: Heart failure. With the series tied at two, the Sabres’ Ryan Miller and New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist went toe to toe, matching each other all the way in a goaltenders’ duel for the ages. When New York’s Martin Straka fired a rather innocent-looking shot which found its way over Miller’s shoulder and into the net with a little over three minutes left in regulation, it looked like the Rangers had Buffalo on the ropes. Figuring there was nothing left to lose, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff yanked Miller for the single-man advantage on offense. On a faceoff in the Rangers’ end with 15 seconds to go in the game, Chris Drury caught a rebound from Tim Connolly, and with Thomas Vanek creating a screen, Drury fired a shot past Lundqvist with eight seconds left in regulation. My big knock on Drury during his tenure in Buffalo was that he could never seem to close, but after this night, I had no complaints. The game went to sudden death overtime, where Buffalo’s Maxim Afinogenov, of all people, scored the game-winner just under five minutes in. Yes, the same Maxim Afinogenov who spent his Buffalo career failing to live up to his potential, and the very same Maxim Afinogenov who was scratched for the previous game due to his underwhelming playoff showing.

Level 2: The Goose/Maverick Tailspin
Definition: Cruising happily through the baseball regular season, a potential playoff team suddenly and inexplicably goes into a tailspin, can’t bounce out of it and ends up crashing for the season. In “Top Gun,” the entire scene lasted for 30 seconds and we immediately moved to a couple of scenes in which Tom Cruise tried to make himself cry on camera but couldn’t quite pull it off. In sports, the Goose/Maverick Tailspin could last for two weeks, four weeks, maybe even two months, but as long as it’s happening, you feel like your entire world is collapsing. It’s like an ongoing Stomach Punch Game. And when it finally ends, you spend the rest of your life reliving it every time a TV network shows a montage of the worst collapses in sports history. Other than that, it’s no big deal.
2006 Chicago White Sox
So the Chicago White Sox had fielded an awesome baseball team in 2005. That’s awesome as in “World Series Championship” awesome. And in 2006, they were bringing back most of the keystone guys from their first champion team since 1917. You would think these guys would be threats to repeat, and the White Sox were looking deadly through the All-Star break. Before the break, the White Sox were safely in front of everyone and soaring along with a record of 57-31. They needed an extra bus to fit in all their players who received invitations to play in the All-Star game. And immediately after the break, the White Sox inexplicably collapsed. They went 2-10 in their next four series, losing them all, and in fact even getting swept by the Yankees and, even worse, the Minnesota Twins. They posted a losing record for the month. While they did recover in August, their recovery wasn’t enough to make up the space they had lost to the Twins and Detroit Tigers, so another losing record in September just sealed it. The White Sox had a pretty good year, winning 90 games, but they had no excuse for blowing it the way they did. Instead, they were leapfrogged by both the Twins and Tigers, both of whom made the playoffs. Just to rub it in, the Tigers won the Pennant.
2007 New York Mets
I’m quite squarely a Yankees fan, but the New York Mets’ unbelievable collapse in 2007 was just too awful to not mention. After coming within a whiff of the Pennant in 2006 before Yadier Molina did them in, the Mets were an easy favorite, and they had their division well in hand going into August. Then in the last five weeks, they were swept twice by the Philadelphia Phillies, the team gaining on them from directly behind. During a stand at Shea, the Mets started losing to bad teams. They went 5-12 in the final couple of weeks in the season, and the Phillies caught fire in the meantime to jump them on the last day. If they had beaten the Phillies just once or twice in those series sweeps, it wouldn’t have mattered. I kept up with the baseball news in New York, but living in Chicago, where the city has a firm dividing line between White Sox and Cubs territory, made me a little oblivious. Of course, I made sure to watch the Yankees whenever they dropped by, but they were on the wane and it was tough to not see the Mets grabbing the headlines that year. By the time of the collapse, the Mets had turned from a sideshow into the most morbidly interesting team in baseball. The local station even cut away from the end of a Cubs game to give us the news about the Phillies and Mets.

Level 1: That Game
Definition: The only game that actually combined The Guillotine and The Stomach Punch. No small feat. Let’s just hope we never travel down that road again.
Wide Right
The setup was almost too perfect. After over 30 years of life among the NFL’s dregs, the Buffalo Bills had finally reached the Super Bowl. They had the best offense in the league, a revolutionary version of the no-huddle called the K-Gun which ran roughshod over every other team. Their defense had a cast of All-Stars which had elevated their unit into the top ten. They had blown out the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship, and now they stood face-to-face with the New York Giants, who represented the arrogant bullies from downstate. They were favored by a significant line. Now, finally, was a chance for little Buffalo to finally rise up and sock New York City in the mouth! This was a full-on failure on the part of the Buffalo Bills, who planned and played as if the Super Bowl was a formality. By all accounts, the Bills should have dropped at least 17 points on the Giants in the first quarter alone, forced them into passing on every down, and hit cruise control. Instead, they got caught up in a big game of tag in which they were always it. That they got trapped in a situation in which their victory relied on a last-second field goal was inexcusable. “Wide right.” No matter how often Bills fans replay it, this game always ends the same way: With Scott Norwood’s kick sailing just right of the post, and the fans being brought back to the harsh reality that their team is from Buffalo. As if to rub it in, then-Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick admitted years later that the Bills’ passing attack terrified him, so he designed a game plan in which his top-ranked defense would loosen up and let the Bills think they had a chance with the run. The plans he drew were so brilliant that the NFL placed them into the Hall of Fame. Bills fans, by the way, have no hate for the New York Giants; they’re accepted as a fact of NFL life and even cheered for at times. Wide Right, though, is still a raw nerve in the collective psyche of longtime fans. Visitors to Buffalo would be wise to never, ever bring it up.

What Your Favorite Sports Teams Say About You

As Rob pulled up to my little haven in West Seneca to pick me up on St. Patrick’s Day, I threw on my Buffalo Bisons jersey. My Bisons jersey is one of my better togs because it can give a sleek sheen to an otherwise somewhat frumpled outfit. It was also St. Patrick’s Day, and the jersey’s green sleeves and piping and orange lettering met my immediate need for Irish colors. Rob, being a close follower of professional sports, didn’t take long to spot it and ask “Oh, are you re-establishing your loyalties now?”

“Hey, you did catch the Bears shirt I’m wearing under this, right?” I asked him. It certainly sounded natural as a response, and as a follower of professional sports myself, I did feel a bit defensive.

“Oh, so you’re saying you’re a Buffalo guy on the outside, but true Chicago on the inside,” he concluded. I flashed him my piratical half-grin half-sneer which I reserve to tell people to go to hell in the most affectionate way possible.

This is something sports fans who move from one metro area to another struggle with, and they all find different solutions. It’s said that a real fan never leaves his team, but in reality, many do. Some of the ones who don’t simply adopt the more geographically convenient team while continuing to cheer for the team they watched and loved since childhood. My mother took this route; she grew up on Long Island, embracing the hot new teams in town when they arrived: The New York Jets in football and the New York Mets in baseball. Since Buffalo’s baseball team is the minor league Bisons, she didn’t have to worry about turning her back on the Mets. But she also adopted the local NFL team, the Buffalo Bills, and she supports both the Bills and the Jets. This drives a lot of locals crazy because the teams play in the same division. My situation was different in some ways and similar in others, but here is my ultimate analysis and the rationale behind it. I love all of these teams, but if you wonder who I would cheer for when they play against each other (and people do) these are my choices.

Hockey: Buffalo Sabres/Chicago Blackhawks
I adopted the Blackhawks upon my move to Chicago in large part because I had no major reason to hate them, and the Sabres and Blackhawks play in different conferences. It was a little unusual because the Sabres were in the first of their two best seasons, both of which culminated with conference finals appearances with one President’s Trophy, while the Blackhawks were deeply mired in the basement and weren’t looking like they could so much as reach the bottom step to begin the ascent out. They clearly weren’t going anywhere quickly, and indifference and contempt for the team’s mismanagement had reached such a level that Chicago’s minor league hockey team, the Chicago Wolves, were outdrawing their NHL brothers. (The Wolves, by the way, won the Calder Cup, their league title, in 2008) Despite their ineptitude, I was attracted to their storied history, colorful look, and hard-hitting image. Being a naturally jaded Buffalo kid, I could take more hockey ineptitude and looked forward to watching my newly adopted team lose.

Then in late 2007, something unexpected happened. Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz died. Bill’s business methods were aged, and he went as far as to black out the team’s home games. His position as the team’s owner was taken up by his son Rocky, who gave the Blackhawks a major overhaul which resulted in a sudden turnaround. In 2008, the team was a potential challenger. In 2009, the Hawks were serious contenders. And in 2010, I saw them do in just a few years what I am spending my life still waiting for the Sabres to do: Drink beer from the Stanley Cup. It helped that their star player, Patrick Kane, was raised in Buffalo. But I never played little league hockey on the ice of United Center, which I’ve done on the Sabres’ home ice. I’ve never yelled and screamed and felt frustration with a bad season in Chicago, which becomes indifferent instead of frustrated with bad hockey.

Decision: Sabres. I love the Blackhawks to death. I wholeheartedly support them and wear their crest with pride. But my family and friends all share my favorite hockey memories with the Sabres, not the Blackhawks.

Baseball: New York Yankees/Chicago White Sox
That I – or anyone in Buffalo, really – cheer the Yankees makes no sense whatsoever. They’re an uber-rich global team from the part of the state that no self-respecting Buffalonian can stand. They prefer offensive flair to gritty, dirty hands scrapping and defense, hire reputed cheaters without a second thought, and require their players to be faceless monoliths. But the Yankees played a big role in my social development when I started trying to crawl out of my social hole in college. Yes, folks in my college fought over traditional issues – the abortion debate was starting to crack under extreme pressure, and George W. Bush was fighting to rally support for an invasion of Iraq. One of the other hot issues, however, was the fight over whether MLB should instate a salary cap. The Yankees were the team most of us worshipped, and knowing the summer escapades of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and the rest allowed me access to a lot of pre-class conversations that otherwise would have flown over my head. When I worked for PBS, my team bonded over the Yankees. They were the one thing we all had in common.

When I moved to Chicago, I knew I wasn’t going to cheer for the cutesy frat boy Cubs on the North Side. Their image wasn’t befitting of a rust belt factory kid. In the White Sox, I discovered the grit, passion, character, and underdog flair the Yankees lacked. I loved that the players could be themselves and yet play a win or die style of baseball. I loved that the peoples’ promoter, Bill Veeck, had once owned the team. I loved the exploding scoreboard and the doomed promotions and the overall hard rock band edge of the team. I cheered them hard, and occasionally against the Yankees, as they marched to their 2008 division title in the most thrilling fashion possible.

Decision: Way too close to call. I clung to the Yankees as a link to Buffalo when I was in Chicago, and I’m doing the same with the White Sox now. It’s as equal as it gets, and placing one above the other will depend on my mood when they meet on the baseball diamond.

Football: Buffalo Bills/Chicago Bears
Buffalo Bills is a stupid name, and the team itself still loses for winning. The arguable greatest running back of all time, the first man to ever rush for 2000 yards in a single season (and still the only one to do it in 14 games) is a murderer. No other team ever made it to four straight Super Bowls, and I guarantee that if that ever happens again, that other team isn’t going to lose all four. These I can handle. I draw the line at the Toronto series, which robs the team of a home game and puts them into what is considered enemy territory in a sports context. I cheer for the Bills, but if you come to Buffalo and suggest the team is purposely tanking to squander any goodwill toward it to make moving easier, we’ll actually agree.

The Bears were one of the founding members of the NFL. They won their division when I first came to Chicago, and during their Super Bowl season, they were just a joy to watch. They made everything they did look easy. Then they lost the Super Bowl, but gee, it isn’t like I hadn’t watched my home team do THAT before! Even so, it’s a reputation thing: The Bills garner laughs and contempt everywhere, even when they’re doing well. The Bears garner admiration and respect from everyone, except maybe Packers fans.

Decision: You’re best off asking me this again once the Bills move out of Buffalo.

Basketball: New York Knicks/Chicago Bulls
Basketball is the sport in Buffalo that’s more chosen than inherited. I chose the Knicks simply for my state loyalty – in other words, it’s just easier. Most basketball watchers here align themselves with the Boston Celtics. But as my understanding of the sport grew, I began to appreciate the mental toughness of the team. They could never beat the Bulls during my lifetime, but they were a hard playing team that, after those tough, heartbreaking losses, would get up and fight again. Also, even during the doomed Isiah Thomas days, they were entertaining. But they have two major strikes against them: First of all, most people in upstate New York believe they have more in common culturally with the midwest, so being in the most overhyped section of New York City isn’t considered a good thing. Second, the Knicks share an arena with a hockey team I hate – the New York Rangers.

With the success of the Bulls in the 90’s, it’s easy to forget they weren’t always a glamor team. They were the scrappy little team that could. Like the Knicks, they always got back up after falling repeatedly to Detroit in the 80’s, and 1991, they got back up and went all the way. Then they did it again five more times, and in doing so, they became one of the great success stories in sports. The Bulls were never supposed to contend, but not only did they completely reverse their fortunes, they did it in a way which made them popular throughout the world. They were Chicago’s third attempt at a basketball team, and they were destined to be doormats forever. But they became a team synonymous with the sport they play, and the greatest player of all time.

Decision: Bulls. I don’t want Michael Jordan to kick my ass.

Ultimately, though, I’m like my mother, a fan of them all, even through rivalries. But my bandwagon is now full, so this is it, no matter where I go from here.