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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.

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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

Patrick Kane and Rape Culture in Buffalo

Patrick Kane and Rape Culture in Buffalo

Everyone knows that as a sports fan, I leave my heart to two teams in hockey, the sport of the gods: The Buffalo Sabres and the Chicago Blackhawks. I love them both to death equally, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses: The Blackhawks have been infinitely better as of late, winning the Stanley Cup three times in the last six years. Although the Sabres have been watchable only through sheer, morbid curiosity lately, and have finished last the last two years, they’ve been able to one-up the Blackhawks lately in one very important department: The lack of accused rapists on their roster.

Those who read my regular rantings know I’m very honest about the fact that I usually don’t care about how my favorite professional athletes conduct themselves off the field. It’s ridiculous to expect them to expect them to conduct themselves as the cool, wonderful life of the party all the damn time, slaughtering everyone during the game but reverting back to form as an aw-shucks milk-drinker once the game is over. It’s head-in-sand bullshit from the 50’s, when everyone was expected to have one color and one religion as well. Okay, if you were open-minded, you were able to accepts athletes if they were Jewish too, but the “Buddhist” thingie was WAY too out there! Anyway, I’m honest enough to admit I’ve come to terms with the fact that a lot of my favorite athletes are stupid idiots on the outside. I can also admit my line for behavior I’m willing to endure from athletes isn’t set in stone and tends to move regularly, but a few things about it are very consistent. One of them is that rape is located in the deep end of the wrong side of it.

No, Patrick Kane hasn’t been charged with the crime just yet. But frankly, I’m mortified that there is an accusation of it which is being taken seriously. That doesn’t bode well for Kane or for the Blackhawks, and let’s not even start with the poor victim. Yeah, Kane has the right to be presumed innocent until someone proves he’s guilty, but there’s also the corollary: The victim has the right to be considered honest until someone proves she made it up. And Kane isn’t going to look good in this situation no matter what because he’s a transcendent superstar whose personal history is known to everyone: Indicted for assaulting a taxi driver; photographed partying in Madison, where there’s a strong rumor that he choked a woman; dressing up in blackface at a Halloween party; constant drinking. Since Kane has constantly shown in the past that he has the behavioral capacity to do things like this, his behavior doesn’t warrant the benefit of the doubt. His accuser is reported as being a straightforward and honest person.

Yeah, as a Buffalo native and Blackhawks fan, I hope this is a moribund misunderstanding, and that Kane didn’t do anything wrong. But is anyone here thinking of the person who is accusing him of rape? As a regular, ordinary person who experienced something with Patrick Kane that was traumatizing and that she obviously thinks is important, I mean? Oh, people are certainly thinking of her, alright – they’re busy jumping on her to slut-shame her and call her a gold-digger. That’s the local rape culture kicking in. A radio station jumped onto the case, accusing the victim of just about everything except drugging the poor, innocent, privileged, rich star hockey player. The Buffalo News found a more implicit way of getting into the act as well – they had Skybar owner Mark Croce talk about what he saw at his bar, where the whole incident began. Croce famously said he was only reporting what he personally saw and that he had nothing at stake, and anyone smarter than a box of rocks knows he’s lying his ass off. Kane’s day with the Stanley Cup was to involve a big party at Skybar which, by the way, is a favorite haunt of Kane’s. Also, according to New York state law, if anything unseemly did happen between Kane and the victim, Croce stands to be sued through a civil liability law. Therefore, Croce did everything he could to portray the victim as a drunk hanger-on who was pestering Kane – whom Croce said was a sober, responsible, and chivalrous man bathed in holy light through it all – and even followed him out the door.

Soon after Croce’s uninformed yapping, another little detail emerged which threw a kink into Croce’s “viewpoint:” The victim was actually accompanying her friend to Kane’s house in Hamburg. So here’s what it comes down to so far: We have a professional athlete who is a three-time champion, a face of his league, and a transcendent superstar in his sport that even casual fans know of who’s from the Buffalo area and proud of it. There are presumably hundreds of women who would line up in order to have sex with him, and here he may have forced himself onto one of the women who managed to resist his charms.

Have we noticed a running theme so far? A lot of people – including major public sources in Buffalo – are doing everything in their power to either defend Kane at all costs or write it off and hope it blows over. Mark Croce, with his very limited knowledge of everything that happened, is walking the road that passes all the blame off onto her. The Buffalo News hasn’t gotten much information from firsthand sources from its reporters. Its sportswriters have all been silent as the grave, except for the token “we don’t know” piece from Bucky Gleason. Maybe you’re willing to count Tim Graham’s Twitter account as well, but I don’t. Somehow, Jerry Sullivan hasn’t said anything about Kane or begged the NHL to discipline him, and he’s a twit who threw a printed hissy fit about Marshawn Lynch’s behavior toward the press and suggested the NFL suspend him no matter what. Chicago is the other major city affected by this fiasco, and the reporters and columnists there have taken the opposite approach; they haven’t been able to shut up about it. Rick Telander and Rick Morrissey have both written about it for the Sun-Times; Telander, in fact, wrote about it twice. On the Trib’s end, two columns from David Haugh; one from Steve Rosenbloom. EA Sports took him off the cover of their upcoming NHL game.

I shouldn’t need to go into any detail about rape culture here, but in case you don’t know, here’s the quick summary: It’s a setting in which rape is turned into a normal thing. And we live in a society in which rape has become more normal than the people who get raped, apparently. The numbers are staggering: Some 90 percent of rapists never get caught. Some 20 percent of women get raped once in their lives. In rape cases that get reported, the investigation is invasive and the victim is shamed and told she shouldn’t have been drunk; or worn the miniskirt; or she should have just cut her assailant’s balls off. We’re about two steps up from either stoning the victims, forcing them to marry their rapists, or making rape a punishment for a crime. People don’t seem to understand what a rape really is: If the victim says no, it’s a rape. If the victim is forced into a position where they’re not able to say no, it’s a rape. If the victim is coerced into saying yes through certain forms of deception, that’s a rape too. Society turned into Cersei from Game of Thrones oh-so-casually telling Sansa that they could expect a little rape if Stannis Baratheon successfully invaded the city.

Rape culture, though, isn’t the entire problem when it comes to Buffalo’s reaction to Patrick Kane. Another significant portion of the problem is the city’s provincial culture. Everyone loves to play up the way people in Buffalo know their neighbors; one of our nicknames is The City of Good Neighbors! While it’s nice to have a neighbor dig you out for no reason when there’s two feet of snow on the ground, the good neighborliness in Buffalo also means being protective of our own to a fault. Patrick Kane is one of our own. The victim is more than likely also one of our own, but it’s Kane who turned into a national symbol of Buffalo athletic prowess. If you’re good at sports – especially football or hockey – you’re a god in Buffalo. Anything you do that’s bad is going to be glossed over and excused, no matter how flimsy the excuse pretext. The problem is that we think we know Kane because he was raised here. We’re desperate to superimpose our own values onto him and make him our brah, or our dawg, or whatever the current word for Big 10 frat megadouchebro is. Hell, we’re treating the area’s other athletic superstar – Rob Gronkowski of the NFL’s New England Patriots – much the same way we’re treating Kane. Like Kane, Gronkowski has been acting the part of a drunken, grade-A asshole since becoming one of his league’s transcendents. His behavior is not only glossed over, but actually celebrated. The big difference between Gronkowski and Kane is that so far, Gronkowski hasn’t gone out and hurt anyone other than himself. Hopefully he’ll mature before he ends up adopting Kane’s behavior.

That’s what this is all about: Hero worship gone too far. No, Kane hasn’t been charged with anything yet, but a scene like this is about as big a surprise as a two-foot winter storm given his past. He can’t be defended anymore. The Blackhawks have to take action even if he’s innocent, just to see the message gets drilled in. And if Patrick Kane is guilty, he deserves to rot properly in a jail cell and not play another game in the NHL.

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

The Ultimate Playoff: The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs

When I first moved to Chicago, I knew instantly that I was going to become a Blackhawks and Bulls fan. They played my favorite sports, and I wanted to fit in with the community, so my adoption of my new teams complimented my longtime fandom of the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia 76ers perfectly. In hockey, everything came easy for me. For basketball… Well, when I took off for Chicago, I had been a Sixers fan only since 2002, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay one. The player I wanted to support wasn’t with them anymore, and he may have been out of the NBA completely by then. So, sick of explaining my loyalty to the Sixers, I started trying on new teams, seeing how they fit. Although I did eventually find my way back to the Sixers, in 2007 an unexpected run to the playoffs by a virtually unseen team called the Golden State Warriors caught my attention. They traded several of their lynchpins, won only a couple more games than they lost, squeezed into the eighth playoff spot on a technicality… And totally upended the Dallas Mavericks – the best team in the league – in the first round. While that upset wasn’t the shocker everyone acts like it was – the Warriors were actually undefeated against the Mavericks in the regular season – I still thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The Warriors were immediately placed onto my watch list, and I’ve been cheering for them ever since. Something about the Golden State Warriors just felt right.

This last season in both leagues, there was an odd synchronicity between four of the five teams I like. The Sabres found a place in history by literally being a worse hockey team than any since the 1930’s, while the Sixers – who hold the distinction of fielding the worst team in NBA history for a season in the 1970’s – were just as awful, and probably would have been the worst team in the NBA this year had the New York Knicks not started making an effort to tank during the middle of the season. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks and Warriors were both favorites to win their leagues. The Warriors, in fact, were historically good; they played on the level of the 1983 Sixers, 1996 Bulls, or 1986 Boston Celtics. The Blackhawks had an unusual season. For a month, they couldn’t find the net; their star player was badly injured around the halfway point; and they limped into the playoffs on a losing streak. Both teams, though, pulled through and won their titles, and I followed my teams the whole way through, screaming like a lunatic. I also started asking myself, with the season similarities between the NHL and NBA, which league did its playoffs better. So let’s do this! The NHL Playoffs vs. the NBA Playoffs. One day, I’ll learn.

Big Prize
The NBA has the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. It has a 24-karat gold overlay, but is made of 14.5 pounds of sterling silver and vermeil. It’s two feet tall and designed to be a very basic cup with a quixotic little detail: There’s a sphere attached to the rim of the cup, so the Larry O’Brien Trophy looks like a basketball falling into a net. The team that wins it gets its name engraved onto the side along with the year, and the team gets to keep the trophy until it rots. The trophy has also undergone something of an identity crisis: The original NBA Championship Trophy was a more traditional cup design which was named after Walter A. Brown – the original owner of the Boston Celtics and a man who was instrumental in merging the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) – starting in 1964. The original design was junked in 1977, but Brown’s name was attached to it until 1984, when it was renamed. The NHL offers its Champions the Stanley Cup, which was originally bought by Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892 and named the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup. Like the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it evolved slowly into the form everyone knows and loves today. Starting as a glorified punch bowl that was seven inches tall and 11 inches wide, that first punch bowl design is now what caps off an iconic trophy which is 35 inches tall and 34 pounds. There’s no copy of it made for the winners every year, either – the names of the players for the winning team are engraved on the side, and the team keeps it for a year, or however long it takes for them to lose it. The Stanley Cup even acknowledges the lockout of the 2004-2005 season, by simply stating “season not played.”
Winner

The NHL and the Stanley Cup! The Larry O’Brien Trophy is a nice thing to win, and the quirky design certainly stands out. Design, however, will only win so many points against a trophy with an entire mythology surrounding it that Zeus would be proud of. The Larry O’Brien Trophy is handed to a handful of players on the team, then given to the owner, at least during the public presentation. The Stanley Cup is handed to every member of the team to skate around with for a minute, then everyone pauses and surrounds it for a team picture. During the locker room celebration, players drink beer out of it! Every player then gets to spend a day with the Cup. As you can imagine, this has resulted in some anecdotes which add to the Cup’s mythos. The Stanley Cup has made its way into a swimming pool; one player from the Chicago Blackhawks was pushed around The Loop in a wheelbarrow with it; and people have found uses for the Cup including a baptismal font, flower pot, dog food dish, and paper incinerator. It has marched in the Gay Pride Parade. Even the misspelled engraving on the Cup are legends. The most telling aspect of the trophy contest, however, is the fact that the NBA is adopting publicity techniques used by the NHL and the Stanley Cup in order to gain more popular recognition for the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

Star Power
Every sports league has a shortlist of galactic superstars, and every team has a face. The NBA has nationally known names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, and Carmelo Anthony headlining it. The NHL has familiar players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, and John Tavares in its ranks. The NHL, though, sees games as team efforts, and so, of a 60-minute game, your favorite players will average somewhere between 20-24 minutes on the ice in a single game, all sparsed out in shifts of a couple of minutes. This means unknown players will get chances to play hero, and some unknown but prominent players will have a chance to shine. How could anyone forget the manic, possessed performance of Anaheim Ducks (still known then as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere during the 2003 playoffs? Or Cam Ward outdueling Ryan Miller during the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals? Okay, they’re cheating a little, because they’re goalies, but there are plenty of other instances: The May Day goal, a series-winner scored by Sabres enforcer Brad May in 1993; Chicago’s Bryan Bickell emerging as a playoff monster in 2013, putting 17 points on the board during the playoffs, including the equalizer in game six with 76 seconds to go in regulation; and Daniel Briere – an All-Star during his time in Buffalo, but otherwise a write-off expense everywhere else – leading all playoff scoring with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. NBA games are shorter – they run for 48 minutes, divided into four 12-minute quarters. The average starter on an NBA team can easily be on the court for around a half hour, while the team’s superstars can be out for 40 minutes. While a lot of sportswriters like to huff on breathlessly about how stars in the NBA keep stepping up in the playoffs, you don’t see very many of them mentioning the fact that NBA coaches run their teams in a way that allows their stars to accumulate thousands of points per game. That makes the NBA more of an individualistic showcase for its best players, who are expected to stay on the hardwood doing everything in two directions. Game plans and gambling lines are drawn up with an NBA team’s stars in mind, and more often than not, the stars deliver, and most of them turn in laudable efforts even when their teams lose. When we attack NBA stars for choking, that comes with context – most of them actually do just fine, and we’re tearing them down for a singular aspect of their games that just happened to be off at a bad time.
Winner
The NBA. Basketball is a high-scoring sport in which players can put points on the board in bunches. While I do give hockey’s team mentality all the credit in the world, the short shifts, short overall playtime, and low scoring mean stars can disappear in the playoffs more easily than we care to acknowledge. You can see the difference in the way the playoffs are advertised: The NHL tends to emphasize the cities, while the NBA can get away with placing more emphasis on individual players. You don’t see “Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks take on Steve Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning;” it’s just the Blackhawks against the Lightning. You do see a lot of that in the NBA. Everyone knows LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and that HIS Finals opponent, Stephen Curry, was voted the league MVP. Their respective teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, were only mentioned by sportswriters when they wrote first about how the Warriors had better players and would inevitably crush the Cavaliers in four games, then later about how the Cavaliers were overcoming their lack of talent to turn it into a series. In the light of NBA history, this is even more prominent: Everyone knows about the rivalry between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, but who besides NBA fans can name their teams? Later, it became Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rescuing the league from oblivion and turning it into a juggernaut. To a casual fan, this is an important distinction. After all, a casual fan looking to see what the hype is about can easily miss great plays by star hockey players; if they’re looking to see what the NBA is about, a star can put on a hell of a show every night.

Game Flow
The flow of a game is important. It can make or break the memorability and entertainment value of a playoff game. Both basketball and hockey are known as very fast sports, but both the NHL and NBA have had major issues with teams exploiting dumb rules to create championship defenses: The NBA has the San Antonio Spurs, and the NHL has the New Jersey Devils. Both of them exploited loopholes and created slow, boring versions of their sports which required the leagues to take action. Other than them, both sports have rules that stop play for ridiculous reasons. The NBA seems more prone to them, because it has so many more, but the NHL’s play stoppages take more time to sort out. In the NBA, the ball is merely handed to a player on the other team for a quick inbounds pass, while NHL stoppages require an entire face-off. The NBA also has shorter between-period intermissions and a single real halftime, compared to two halftimes in hockey games. Both sports also have very different ways of settling close games in the final minutes – the NHL has the empty net, in which the goalie is removed in favor of an extra attacker, while the NBA starts using intentional fouls.
Winner
The NHL. Even hardcore NBA fans will admit basketball is a sport in which close games are only entertaining if one team starts to pull away during the final few minutes. Otherwise, everything becomes a pattern of free throws, intentional fouling, strategic inbounding, and timeouts; it’s not unusual for a close NBA playoff game to take 15 minutes to play the final minute. In the meantime, there’s hockey, taking the goalie out of the net, and then speeding up as the team that’s down and which removed their goalie fights frantically to score the goal that forces overtime. If you’re a fan of one of the teams in a hockey playoff game, I’ll grant that last minute can feel like an eternity. But the NHL wins here because in the NBA, that final minute can be a true eternity, not to mention a joyless bore to watch.

Storylines
A casual fan can get caught up in a good storyline revolving around the playoffs, and so the narratives tend to get pushed by the leagues. Good storylines are why the baseball playoffs still have pull, even though the sport has now sucked beyond belief for three years and the measures being taken to speed it up are fairly half-assed (although, to MLB’s credit, they do seem to be working). Sometimes the stories are rich in history and tradition: In 2008 and 2010, the NBA saw the renewal of its oldest and fiercest rivalry: The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers played against each other in the Finals, with Boston winning the former and Los Angeles taking the latter. In 2010, the NHL got a juicy Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, two of its oldest teams, neither of which had much to brag about lately; Chicago was fighting against a curse which was about to hit the wrong side of 50, and the generally excellent Flyers had been choking in the Final since their most recent Cup in 1975. Then again, they can go the other way as well: The 2003 Stanley Cup Final was between the Devils and Ducks; or, to put it in terms the fans looked at it in, the team everyone hated for ruining hockey against the team everyone hated because its name evoked a popular Disney movie. The NBA frequently ends up turning to its marquee stars to sell the matchup, but they can get away with it: Magic vs. Bird always meant compelling basketball. When that rivalry petered out, the league turned to asking if Michael Jordan could ever be a winner, and was lucky to be able to add the double whopper when Jordan’s first Finals opponent was Magic. When Jordan left, there was the New York Knicks finally getting past Chicago, but could they win the title everyone wanted and expected them to win? The Finals this year has the best story in eons: LeBron James returns to his original team to make up for his past sins, but can he lead the Cavaliers to their first-ever title in their 45 years of existence? Can the Warriors win the Finals for the first time since 1975? You would think the NHL had a bigger problem in selling stories, since nearly half its teams were created in the 90’s, but not really: 1994 gave us the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, one team 54 years without a Cup and the other Cup-less since its 1970 creation. 2001 asked if Ray Bourque could finally win that Cup everyone thought he so richly deserved. The expansions have worked surprisingly well for the NHL in terms of playoff storylines because since the Original Six finally began its resurgence in 1993, fans have been able to enjoy a respectable combination of the old powerhouses and their new usurpers, and the unpredictability of the playoffs meant new faces and new possible upsets, forever vaulting newer teams into the Final. In that respect, even the teams we all hate have given fans good stories, whether the teams we hate are old powers looking to return to their thrones (the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs) or new teams trying to carve a niche for themselves and saying they deserve the respect traditionalists all have saved for the old teams (the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and even the Phoenix Coyotes a couple of years back). The greater possibility of upsets in the NHL also lends a hand, because it ensures a unique Cinderella story every year – the 2003 Western Conference Finals might have been one-sided, but you can’t say the series between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Minnesota Wild didn’t begin with an interesting premise.
Winner
The NHL. The random aspect of the NHL playoffs allow for the creation of more unexpected stories on the fly. Meanwhile, the old teams and new teams in the NHL ensure that a lot of fans will be watching – they’ll be snagged by the possibility of the new teams going down in flames. The biggest decider, though, is the fact that the NBA still runs on a hierarchy. While the NBA can get away with promoting individual stories over team stories, this hierarchy doesn’t leave it with much of a choice. There are some upsets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but but generally, the teams in the Finals are going to be the best teams in the league. This season has been an exception, and if the San Antonio Spurs had beaten the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, it wouldn’t have been much of an exception. The NBA seems to like the hierarchy because it makes marketing easier, and it can concentrate on the popular teams instead of odd teams like the Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, or Oklahoma City Thunder. More on this later.

Parity
Every team has to have a decent chance of winning a title once or twice. If they don’t, a sports league becomes a secondary plot to one or two teams which dominate every season, and what fun is that? Why would anyone cheer for a team unless they believed the team had at least an outside shot at a title every now and then? The NHL is good at delivering new teams to the playoffs; it probably helps that it introduced a million different new teams to the league in the 90’s. Given the frequently-close nature of hockey games, unexpected teams have been able to make deep playoff runs. Although the NHL playoffs are known as a gauntlet, they’re usually pretty good at weeding out teams that aren’t good enough to win the Stanley Cup, although there have been a few notable exceptions: The 1938 Blackhawks somehow won the damn thing, despite having a putrid 14-25-9 record, scoring fewer goals than anyone, any allowing more than all but one team – before the Original Six era. The 2006 Edmonton Oilers were also a very pedestrian team, and the 1996 Florida Panthers – who were in just their third year of existence – made it to the Final with bits and pieces still fresh from being cobbled together from the expansion draft. In hockey, a lot is reliant on lucky bounces and good goaltending – the late 90’s-era Buffalo Sabres were notorious for making deep playoff runs because they had the greatest goalie in the world and no one else. (Okay, Miroslav Satan if we’re being nice.) In basketball, things are much different – the teams with the best athletes usually turn out to be the best teams, and so any and all teams that managed to squeak into the playoffs by a hair will be out before the Finals. Yes, we sometimes see great players carrying teams on deep runs, but teams without some sort of superstar power generally don’t stand a chance in hell. The Detroit Pistons’ 2004 Championship was a shocker at the time, but they were helmed by a superstar coach, Larry Brown. The 2007 Golden State Warriors hadn’t lost a game against the Dallas Mavericks all during the regular season, so their famous upset wasn’t as incredible as everyone thinks. (It was still pretty cool, though, so much that I started following the Warriors afterward.) The seeding and regular season records usually make things predictable in the NBA playoffs. There’s a lot of writing about NBA teams that had no business being in the Finals, but there have only been four Finals teams below a third seed: The 1978 Seattle Supersonics; the 1981 Houston Rockets (who had a losing record); the 1995 Houston Rockets (who managed to win the whole damn thing); the 1999 New York Knicks (in a lockout-shortened year during which every team fell out of shape); and the 2006 Dallas Mavericks.
Winner
The NHL. Much as I respect great athleticism, I want my team to have a reasonable shot in the playoffs, even if they do rely on their goalie getting hot at the right time. The random puck physics and streakiness of hockey teams have prevented the rise of a true hierarchy in the NHL. Meanwhile, the question in the NBA is usually more “how” and less “who.” The result is that, with the exception of the 70’s – when eight different teams won Championships – the NBA can be easily divided up into eras, with only sporadic aberrations like the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers or 2011 Mavericks. Even the Pistons and Rockets won their Championships in two-year spurts during eras where they were great but others were simply better. Since my birth in 1981, we’ve had the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics dominate the 80’s; the Chicago Bulls owned the 90’s; the Millennium was all about the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers again; and this decade is shaping up to be more random, but we still had the Miami Heat in the Finals for four straight years, as well as a Western Conference so dominant that there are constant calls for realignment. I’ll grant that the NHL was the same way for a long time, but that hasn’t been the case in awhile. The Original Six era was one of NCAA-level corruption, and we can safely assume that when the NHL finally gave in to expansion, it was done by the original owners in the hopes that the other teams would just be carpets for the Original Six. Then the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 – beating the Buffalo Sabres in 1975, who came from the 1969 expansion – and the Original Six probably shrugged those off as bones thrown to fans. They didn’t realize their years were over until the New York Islanders and Oilers won everything in sight during the 80’s, and since then the Original Six have been occasional winners against random teams from the Expansion Eras. And every member of the Original Six that won went through an extensive drought.

Show of Athleticism
The NBA and NHL both give us fluid and spectacular athleticism, although they are also both prone to bad stereotypes; basketball is frequently viewed as a long slog played by lazy players which any tall person can dominate, while hockey is seen as a glorified boxing match played on ice. Hockey, though, has the ability to turn its players into human battering rams. To play hockey at the highest level, a player has to have a certain awareness of where his body is going and what it’s capable of. Hockey players aren’t just fighting against other hockey players – they’re also competing with the surface. While performing a group of difficult-to-learn athletic skills, the hockey player has to also be playing a whole other sport, and the skills to stop, change direction without slowing down too much, and control a small rubber disc which is ruled by its own laws of physics. Basketball offers more what-you-see-is-what-you-get athleticism. Basketball players punch the laws of physics in the face. There’s no extra insider understanding of human movement, physics, kinesiology, or the sport necessary for people to understand what they’re seeing. When Chris Paul throws a perfectly-timed layup pass to Blake Griffin while Griffin is two and a half feet off the ground, which Griffin slams into the net, everyone who sees it understands they’ve just seen something superhuman.
Winner
The NBA. The athleticism and skill you can see in the NHL is a lot more subtle, and it tends to be lost on casual viewers if it’s a dump and chase game; or if a team is using the Neutral Zone Trap; or when four guys are trying to dig the puck out of the corner. Meanwhile, if a sports fan from Europe visited the United States and asked what our sports offer to match the spectacular athletes we see in European Soccer, the NBA is what you would show them.

The NBA has its merits, but there’s nothing like a white-knuckle playoff hockey game which goes into multiple overtimes. Unless you’re a fan of one of the teams playing. Then it’s just torturous.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

These are the name that are good. Very good. Good as they are, though, they frequently lack a singular element or two which prevents them from ascending to the summit. Admittedly, there are times when that singular element or two isn’t resonating with me for some reason, but the point here remains: All of these names are excellent, and none of them have any major points of contention to concentrate on and single out. While one or two of them might not fit quite the right way, I would be vehemently opposed to any of them who tried to change their names in order to make them more fitting or appealing. These team names are so good that, in trying to change them to make them more appealing, they all run a very serious risk of coming out for the worse and disastrously backfiring.

39: Colorado Rockies, MLB
Yes, we all know by now how cliche it is to name a team in Denver the Rockies. The 1993 MLB expansion team here isn’t even the first team to try it; the NHL moved into the area back in the 70’s after the Kansas City Scouts had failed. The NHL Colorado Rockies also failed, and so they headed east to become the New Jersey Devils. Still though, while Colorado Rockies is weakly balanced, when it comes to the mountain states, every state has a prominent image attached to it. Wyoming has Yellowstone; New Mexico has the desert. Colorado has the most dominant images of the Rocky Mountains, including Pike’s Peak and the Grand Canyon. You can’t deny Rockies fits Colorado like it wouldn’t fit in Montana.

38: Minnesota Twins, MLB
The name Minnesota Twins was given to the state’s baseball team because the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have famously failed to apply the adage of Minnesota nice to each other. They’re serious rivals whose residents take pride in never visiting the other city from whichever one they live in, so in order to quell any fury that may trickle through state sports loyalties, all the teams in the Twin Cities area take the name of Minnesota. Major League Baseball took it a few steps further when they named their Minnesota team after both the state and the metro area. It makes a good way for the cities to call off the blood feud during the baseball season; yes, they may be at each other’s throats for all time, but god forbid another baseball team should come into town. Apparently baseball in Minnesota must be a way for the residents of those two cities to unleash their pent-up rage from being Minnesota nice all the time. Like most of the other Minnesota sports team names, the Twins have to make do with a weak region name, and Twins doesn’t do anything to strengthen it. Minnesota and Twins are almost rhyming first syllables off each other, and Twins doesn’t have the long O to make up any missing strength, so the name Minnesota Twins feels a little incomplete.

37: Tennessee Titans, NFL
It’s hard to believe this team first tried to form a connection to Tennessee’s football fans by keeping their old name, thus making them the Tennessee Oilers. But the fans requested a name change, and the team owner listened and came up with a very good one. One of the nicknames of Nashville, the home city of the Titans, is “The Athens of the South.” Ancient Athens today is seen as a birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and higher learning in general. Vanderbilt University and Tennessee State University are just two of the 24 places of tertiary education in Nashville. There’s also a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, adding a visual to the nickname. And hey, what was the highest level of god in ancient Greek mythology? Titan! The name also has a very easy roll to it, and titans is a very dynamic word which invokes strength and power. You know all those ferocious weather names from the 90’s I said I hated so much? The ancient Greek titans controlled all those elements. The downside is that the Titans nickname feels sort of secondhand. Accurate imagery with Greek myths? Greece and Tennessee are different places. It’s a nice allusion, but not exclusive to Tennessee.

36: Minnesota Vikings, NFL
Another one of those weird names which should be considered politically incorrect but somehow isn’t – viking wasn’t a title, after all, but a people who are still all over the world today. And one of the more popular locations for those of Scandinavian heritage is in the Twin Cities. Viking imagery isn’t even particularly nice to have – while Indian names try to honor the more positive aspects of Indian imagery like bravery, honor, and nobility, viking imagery honors savagery, a great disservice to people who were non-interventional explorers, great strategists, and inventive shipbuilders. However, we can give a pass to that because football is a violent sport. The name does suffer from the same fault of other Minnesota sports team names: It doesn’t balance. We might be tricked into thinking it does, with the “ing” suffix in Viking, but the long I sound and Vikings being two syllables aren’t very complimentary to Minnesota, a four-syllable word with virtually no long sounds.

35: New Jersey Devils, NHL
The name Devils comes across as generic, but it’s based in the popular legend of the Jersey Devil. That equals a nice bonus for regionalization, if not so much originality. The Jersey Devil is a popular cultural icon in New Jersey, and its legend is recorded in Indian folklore. It has appeared in different forms of media and a lot of supernatural buffs believe so much in its existence that some of them form groups which collect reports, visit historical sites, and set out on the occasional night hunts in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey to find anything they could take as solid evidence of its existence. There’s also the little matter of the name Devils probably working more than one church group into a froth – in 2005, a New Jersey state assemblyman tried to introduce a bill which would force the team to change its name to something less blasphemous. Branding like this can’t be bought.

34: San Antonio Spurs, NBA
Texas has a reputation as a big football state, but it seems to be missing out on its true calling. There are two professional football teams in Texas. While one is the immortal Dallas Cowboys, the other is a 21st Century expansion team with little following, and the NFL callously refuses to place a team in San Antonio – the eighth-largest city in the country – which has been clamoring for one for some time and even built the arena for one over 20 years ago. Fuck you, NFL. Fortunately, San Antonio can take solace in their beloved Spurs, the best of a trio of NBA teams that are all rewarding to follow. Originally slated to be the San Antonio Gunslingers, the name was changed at the last minute for no particular reason. It’s still a good name, though, because a spur is a well-known piece of cowboy equipment which people wore to control their horses during the days of the old west. And no state is more synonymous with the old west than Texas, which holds the imagery and continues to celebrate the old culture of those days. The one problem I have is that a spur is so inanimate and seems useless in this day and age, but I guess the name can be chalked up to a piece of historical equipment. San Antonio Spurs is a great name.

33: Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
You would think I’d have an unbridled hatred for this name. After all, it’s another one of those damned birds of prey, another testament to national appeal through vicious imagery rather than connection to local fans. Or is it? In this case, I can give the generic name a free pass because of what the city of Philadelphia represents in the historical context. Philadelphia is where the First Continental Congress met, where Thomas Paine published Common Sense, and where the national capitol was located until it was moved to Washington in 1800. Philadelphia played an enormous role in the American Revolution, and what is a popular symbol for American independence? The eagle, which was subsequently named the official national bird of the United States. Yes, it’s generic, but if any city has a right to regionalize the eagle, Philadelphia earned it, right along with the branding that goes with it.

32: New York Yankees, MLB
Speaking of American symbols. Here’s another team trying to take a spot as a blanket appeal to everyone by naming it after a generic term used by foreigners as a stand-in for Americans. In other words, Yankee is just another way of calling someone an American, and it gets crippled by the fact that in America itself, Yankee is regionalized depending on where you are and who you’re talking to. If you’re in the south, Yankees are northerners. In the north, they’re New Englanders, and so on. New York City is one of the most diverse cities on Earth, so while Yankees should be a generic name, what I like about it is that it presents the spirit of inclusion that appeals to people all over the world who visit or move there. It kind of says “No matter who you are or where you’re from, when you’re in New York City, you’re one of us.” And indeed, New York City has this history – it was the place where immigrants first left their ships, and around one in every seven Americans has a lineage that goes back through New York City. Yankees also has a cool ring to it, with two Y sounds and two K sounds in two back-to-back syllables. The Y is underutilized in nicknames, which also gives Yankees real distinction.

31: Los Angeles Clippers, NBA
This name would have a slightly higher rating had it stayed the San Diego Clippers, and a much lower rating if it had either stayed the Buffalo Braves or held on to the Braves nickname. Still, there’s not too much to complain about. Los Angeles is a giant port city, after all, with one of the largest port harbors in the world. The Clippers nickname is an allusion to a kind of cargo ship which was used in the days when giant canvas sails were the kings of the sea’s horizon. Clippers were known for being some of the fastest vessels available. None of the words in this name, though, come off as particularly strong, so I prefer the old San Diego Clippers name, where Diego is there to carry the weight of the weaker words surrounding it.

30: Indiana Pacers, NBA
Handicapped just because Indiana is a monster of a place name, but it fits because while Indiana is one of the basketball hotbeds of the United States, it’s best known for a whole other sport: Racing. Auto racing, to be exact, with the state’s greatest contribution to the sports world being the world-famous Indianapolis 500. Pacer most obviously is there to represent the pace car, a car which takes the race cars on a couple of slow laps around the race track just before the green flag. In a less obvious allusion, pacer can mean setting a pace, or creating and controlling the tempo for how a game plays out, which is probably what the team owners were hoping for when the Pacers were created. I’m awarding bonus points because Indiana Pacers has better balance than Indianapolis Pacers would have – next to a city name like Indianapolis, everything would look weak.

29: Dallas Cowboys, NFL
This name just makes good sense. Dallas has a history as a wild west frontier city, and what image represents the wild west frontier more than a cowboy? Dallas also fancies itself a city long on fast, high-rolling excitement and action, and that’s the common movie image of the cowboy: Fast, exciting, shootouts with the black bandana-wearing villains who tied the girl up to the train tracks. That’s far from the truth of what being a cowboy was really like, but the team itself certainly tries to live up to that image.

28: Miami Dolphins, NFL
Hey, another marine team! Dolphins is probably the best marine-related name because, being sea mammals, there’s presumably plenty of them in and around the Miami area. While dolphins get a perception as fun, friendly creatures, when observed in their natural habitat, they’ve been seen to be real assholes. We know they’re known to get into fights with sharks and win; some of them do it for no reason. Dolphins can be friendly when bred in captivity, and part of the reason they can learn and perform tricks is because of their incredible intelligence. Dolphins score very high on the chart of animal intelligence, right up there with monkeys, and are the most intelligent animals after humans. It’s also theorized that the dolphin brain was fully developed long before the human brain, meaning dolphins were once the smartest animals in the world. That’s a hell of an image to carry, all wrapped up in a very unique brand because everyone else apparently thinks dolphins are too cutesy to be used as a team nickname.

27: San Diego Padres, MLB
San Diego was originally a mission founded by Franciscan priests, so this name has a historical regionalism which makes it stick out. It can also serve a double meaning: Military chaplains are also frequently known as padres, and San Diego is very well known for being a military base outpost among everything else. Padre is a Spanish word, and that means it goes very nicely with the name of the city itself, which is also Spanish, and it’s also a clever way to appeal to the Mexicans who regularly move in and out of San Diego, since San Diego has a very convenient spot right along the Mexican border, with Tijuana along the Mexican part of the border. Hell, the entire metro area is referred to as the San Diego-Tijuana Metropolitan Area. It’s a very fitting name for a city with such a strong Spanish and Mexican influence, and there’s no need to complain about it not being vicious.

26: Chicago Bulls, NBA
A lot of the appeal of the Bulls name is the same of the appeal of the Bears name: Short but powerful word for an animal with power and crunch. But whereas the Bears had a parallel to the Cubs as an advantage, the Bulls do something better: Chicago was a major producer in the meat industry for a long time, and that makes the bull a very strong allusion to the beef industry that made Chicago an industrial giant. If you’re a literary geek, the allusion is made even stronger through the fictional neighborhood of Packingtown, which was created by author Upton Sinclair for his famous novel The Jungle, about the life of factory workers in the fictional community. That makes the bull a nice secondhand reference to the book that got the government started in making sure our food was clean and, eventually, seeing to it that people who worked in factories got treated like human beings. Maybe it’s not obvious outright, but that’s good enough to be a literary reference, and that’s always worth a few points with me.

25: Charlotte Hornets, NBA
The Charlotte Hornets are back! The second-youngest name on this list, Charlotte’s NBA team finally got its original name back a couple of months ago when the New Orleans Hornets decided they were finally finished with it. That’s good for it in the standings, because if you haven’t figured it out by now, I would have viciously skewered this name had these guys still been the Charlotte Bobcats. The historical precedent comes from a quote by general Cornwallis in the American Revolution, who referred to Charlotte as “A veritable nest of hornets” after the city put up a hell of a resistance to them. Hornets is also very unique and original, because insects don’t tend to be used as nicknames very often. Hornets have very venomous and painful stings, swarm, and are crazily territorial, adding a nice dose of ferocity. But you know why everyone loves the name Charlotte Hornets so much? Say it, and check out that balance! Four syllables, the first in each word ending in a hard R, and the second ending in a short T. There are only a handful of other teams on this list which have such a balance, and of them, the Hornets definitely have the coolest sound. R can be a nasty letter when it’s used properly. Buzz City, on behalf of NBA fans everywhere, we’re glad you’re back!

24: Edmonton Oilers, NHL
The Oilers are the other team from the Canadian province of Alberta. While the Calgary Flames use a generic name which is also a useful adage for how oil is frequently used, the Edmonton Oilers are a lot more direct: Here’s Edmonton, in the province of Alberta, sticking up like a sore thumb in the middle of the Canadian desert, where they dig up oil. And here’s a team called the Oilers, which happens to play in Edmonton. The Oilers have a unique name these days, since the NFL’s Houston Oilers don’t exist anymore, so it’s almost impossible to forget who the Oilers are or where they’re from.

23: Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
Part of the reason I like this name so much – besides the fact that they’re, you know, my team – is the fact that it adds so much nuance to political correctness. Perhaps the Blackhawks could use it as an advertisement: The team! That was named after a restaurant! A restaurant that was named after an army battalion! An army battalion that was named after a person! Yeah, even tracing it back all the way, the Hawks were named after a person. It’s rather unfortunate that their nickname is another generic bird of prey, because I take points off for that. But there’s no denying that Blackhawks is a name with character, and it finds a nice balance in a three-syllable-two-syllable dynamic simply by making the middle sounds the same in both words. It’s just that in Chicago, the short C is a syllable all to itself while in Blackhawks, the CK comes at the end of the first syllable. The name has an history in Illinois, too; Black Hawk was a Sauk tribe chief who led raiding and war parties as a young man, fought in the War of 1812, and led the British Band in the 1832 war presumably named after him. The team itself spent most of its existence known as the Black Hawks, until the owner randomly decided to use the name written on the original legal documents – Blackhawks – sometime in 1986.

22: Boston Bruins, NHL
If this was a list I was writing up solely on balance, the Boston Bruins would win it with almost no competition. Both are two-syllable words, both start with B and end in N, both of them are breezy with hard sounds. In that regard, the Boston Bruins are absolutely unmatched anywhere on this list. That gives the name memorability and strong branding as well, because who could possibly forget a beast like this? The only qualm is that this name is more generic than it comes off at first; a bruin is a foreign word for brown bear. (I forget which language.) But even then, you have to give this name credit for not going with the name Boston Bears and using the Bruins name, which makes it stick out more.

21: Arizona Diamondbacks, MLB
Not all names rooted in our 90’s love affair with all things fierce and XTREME!!! turned out badly. The desert can be an inspiration for some awesome team names, because it’s such a unique environment which takes resourcefulness and hardness to live in. It’s an environment exclusive to some very unique species, and some very particular species of more common animals. Arizona’s sports teams play it safe by going with the latter three out of four times (the exception being the generic Cardinals NFL team), and while the originality mark suffers for that, this is by far the best of what Arizona offers in team naming. The diamondback is a type of rattlesnake which is found in a few environments, but is most noted for being a desert animal. It’s extremely venomous and deadly. They’re also survivalists that can go without two years without food. It’s important to note the team didn’t go a more common route by just latching on to the name Rattlers. While the longer name may be a bit much, it works in this case because with 90’s ferocity a dime a dozen in sports team naming, Diamondbacks is one of those pattern breakers that sticks out among all those cat and weather names.

Recapping the Regier Era

Recapping the Regier Era

It’s says a lot of bad things about how far the Buffalo Sabres have fallen that the firing of Darcy Regier, the (now-former) general manager of the last 16 years, came as a surprise. It’s true no one expected the Sabres to do well this year, but they’ve been playing at a level that is historically bad by any and all NHL standards. Management finally found its brain and let him go after a 16-year tenure. He was so ingrained in Sabre lore in a bad way that yesterday, when the team said it would be making a big announcement at 10:30 AM, speculation flew about what it might be: Was the team raising ticket prices? Announcing vegetarian concession options? Adding a back escalator to the Effin’ Center? No, wait, I know: They just saved a bunch of money on car insurance by switching to Geico!

No, no, and no. The Sabres, mired in a mess that saw them play their first 20 games to a 4-15-1 record, 30th place in the NHL, display a league-worst offense, hire a head coach who won all of nine game in regulation out of over 50, field a team of badly underdeveloped kids and goons, and get their asses handed to them by some of the worst teams in the league, finally fired the mercy bullet. Regier is out. Coach Ron Rolston went with him. Ted Black is still hanging around, but seeing as how he’s the guy who talked Terry into keeping Darcy and and Rollie long after they should have been canned, one senses he received a quick demotion to the smile/nod token. The team has yet to hire a new GM, but they created a new position – Head of Hockey Operations – which went to Pat LaFontaine. Ted Nolan returned to finish the job he began back in the 90’s, when Regier unceremoniously dumped him. The Buffalo Sabres, once admired across the league for being a prime example of a team that beat the NHL economic structure to be a competitive small market year after year, finally decided to reintroduce competitiveness and class to the organization.

I can’t help but reflect a little. If Regier was fired a few years ago like he should have been, he would have been given a better-wished sendoff. The Presidents’ Trophy and 1999 Prince of Wales Trophy both happened on his watch, after all, and he did manage to nab Ryan Miller, Brian Campbell, and Daniel Briere, the most electrifying Sabres of the past decade for my money. Yet, there’s no accounting for all his mistakes: How the hell did Maxim Afinogenov get to stay with the team for so long? Why was Regier’s only big pickup in the aftermath of the 2005 lockout Teppo Numinnen in a newly-capped NHL with Peter Forsberg available? How the hell do you just let both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere walk out the door like that? There was his ill-thought attempt to toughen up the team after Milan Lucic snowplowed Ryan Miller…. The refusal to make a trade during the 2006 run because of chemistry concerns….

Darcy Regier is widely considered one of the NHL’s true good guys, but being a good guy doesn’t make a team good. For much of his tenure, being a Sabres fan meant never getting too attached to any players you liked, and embracing the most useless guys on the team. Despite some incredible highs, Darcy’s techniques for improvement gradually backfired on the team, and over the last year, the fans began jumping ship. It looked like a 3-7 Bills team would be back in the playoffs before the Sabres. Through all these ridiculous fiascos, Regier still managed to charm his way into keeping the job like some kind of ultra-hypnotoad, asking for more time and patience. How he managed to stay employed after his now-famous “suffering” remark makes the head explode. If you’ve spent 16 years on duty and are asking for more time and patience to get it done right, you blew it.

Save for a handful of token glory years, the Sabres have spent most of the millennium playing the worst hockey of their existence. Regier’s GM record tends to be deceptively bloated, at least a little bit, because he flew in riding the coattails of Ted Nolan, first edition and General Manager John Muckler. In part, we can write off his early successes with the 1998 and 1999 teams as picking up the work those two started. And while he takes a lot of shit for the Pat LaFontaine trade – his first – selective memory kinda blocks out the fact that Patty Lala had taken shots to the head like a reliable prizefighter and was concussed enough to believe he needed to keep playing after the doctor said the next blast could kill him. The fallout after The Hardest Working Team in Hockey days was terrible, but post-lockout, Regier rebounded by assembling the 2006 and 2007 teams, probably the best two teams in Sabres history. After 2007 left team Captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere hanging out to dry, the Sabres were never a threatening team again. Yes, the original Winter Classic was a good game, and the 2010 division title was nice, but that thing just sort of happened. The division wasn’t wonderful and the Sabres were the kind of team that was very good at playing off mistakes, and teams like that don’t have long playoff lives, no matter how many division banners are in the rafters.

Early in the 2012 season, Milan Lucic took Ryan Miller’s head off, and that exposed the Sabres to the league as a bunch of pretenders. Regier spent the next offseason in tough guy mode, adding muscle to a talent-depleted roster. Nutshell story, the plan backfired, the Sabres became known as a classless and dirty unit, and Regier – not satisfied with letting just the actual hockey talent go – started letting go of the basic elements of talent scattered on the team, claiming it was all in the name of a grand design rebuilding project. In 2013, he made an enormous tactical error by suggesting he was starting a new rebuilding project which had begun, unbeknownst to fans, with the prior trade of Paul Gaustad and telling us that the wait for winning hockey was going to require some more suffering. That was no coy implicative remark either. That was the exact term he used. Unfortunately for Regier, he had already been on the job for 13 years by then and the fans were pretty much out of rope. When a team of underdeveloped kids and dirty-shooting goons hit the ice this season and played at historically bad levels, the pissed-off fanbase jumped ship and Terry Pegula was finally forced to make a business decision: Keep trusting Darcy and let the fans keep jettisoning themselves to the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, or whoever else would have them, or rid himself of the man who had taken the Sabres down about 43 notches in class and respect. Pegula made his first truly smart decision of his ownership tenure and did the latter.

Darcy Regier the man is still one of the best-liked people in the NHL, and on that level, I sincerely hope he lands on his feet. I would prefer it, though, if he lands on his feet somewhere that doesn’t involve my team’s player management.

The Mighty Chicago Blackhawks and Me

The Mighty Chicago Blackhawks and Me

Entertainment?! Fun?! Who the hell ever said that’s what professional sports were supposed to be? Well, actually, I’ve said that very often, and I’ve frequently found a place for professional sports in my criticism. Yet, sitting there Monday night watching the Boston Bruins play against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals felt all sorts of things except fun. I had spent the majority of the day overwhelmed with anxiety – funny how I always manage to keep my priorities straight when my favorite teams royally suck – not just believing, but knowing within my heart and soul the Bruins were going to take the sixth game that night, forcing a seventh game which they would also inevitably win. My prediction seemed to spend most of the night coming to fruition; Boston’s Chris Kelly drew first blood about seven minutes into the first period. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (who else?) finally got the Hawks onto the board about five minutes into the second period, setting off a stalemate.

Sometime close to the middle of the third period, it occurred to me that whichever team scored next was going to win the game. Much to my personal disgust, the next scorer was Milan Lucic of Boston, still one of the most hated men in Buffalo for what he did to Ryan Miller. (And, subsequently, the fact that the Sabres were exposed for what they really were afterward.) Although my blood started to curdle after that, it did a lot to take away the edge I had been feeling, and I could just sit down, resign myself to the inevitable game seven and the 49 heart attacks which would accompany it, and enjoy the remaining few minutes of exciting hockey. With under two minutes left, the Hawks pulled Corey Crawford, as I had been expecting. What I hadn’t been expecting was the unbelievable sequence of events that happened next: Bryan Bickell caught a pass from Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews right in front of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, and smacked the puck into the net with a minute and 16 seconds to go in the game. 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland shoveled another shot behind Rask, and the Bruins’ 2-1 lead was suddenly a 3-2 hole. While my rational mind was desperately trying to remind me that there was still a minute left in the game – more than enough time for things to shift again, as Boston had just learned the hard way – I was still literally jumping up and down with joy for the next minute. The deflated looks on the Bruins’ faces told the whole story: The Chelsea Dagger had arrived at the last minute and totally gutted Boston. The final minute was merely a formality; the Stanley Cup was returning to Chicago.

Meanwhile, NHL fans everywhere apparently forgot they were supposed to be angry with Gary Bettman. We only got half a season, but what an epic of a half season it was. Especially for fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks had the kind of season which would, for casual fans, cement loyalties and create unbreakable bonds. They rushed out of the gate, played their first 24 games of the season – those 24 games being half of the season this year, which was 48 games – without losing a single game in regulation, playing damn near perfect hockey along the way. Their 77 regular season points netted the Presidents’ Trophy, the nice little door prize given to teams for bragging rights if they end up falling in the playoffs to some seventh seed team with no defense and a swiss cheese goalie. After beating the Minnesota Wild in the first round, they fell into a 3-1 hole against their archrivals, the Detroit Red Wings. After a roaring comeback which saw a seventh-game overtime, the Hawks then dumped last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in the Conference Finals. Finally, the Hawks became the first two-time Stanley Cup winner of the salary cap era after a series of games which gave me nails-in-the-armrest levels of anxiety.

After game five, I asked my mother if she ever had this kind of anxiety during the Bills’ Super Bowl years. Yeah, she had.

I knew I would be adopting the Blackhawks when I first decided to move to Chicago, because it might help me fit in with the local community. So what if they were unwatchable at the time? Well, when I first moved, I learned pretty quickly that the word unwatchable, as applied to the Hawks, was both literal and figurative. I try not to gripe too much about new Sabres owner Terry Pegula because I know just how bad it can get. Then-Hawks owner Bill Wirtz had a lot in common with Pegula: Both were generally highly regarded as good people and strong communal pillars, with sports acumens which could be described in the most polite possible manner as fucking godawful. Wirtz had blacked out home games while charging some of the highest ticket prices in the league and refusing to pay his stars what they were worth. When I first stepped off the train, the Hawks’ best player was a left wing named Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu was a good, strong, reliable two-way guy who might be good enough to make the second line on a contender. He was never going to rise up and be either Fearless Leader or Mr. Clutch, though, so making him The Guy on the Blackhawks was effectively dooming them to Detroit’s doorstep. The team had basically destroyed its relationship with the community in every possible way. I had landed in Chicago hoping to use the Blackhawks as a point which would help me settle into the city among the townies better. Instead, what I wound up doing was reminding them Chicago had an NHL team to begin with.

In some cases, I mean that literally. Bill Wirtz blacking out the team’s home games did nothing to improve attendance at United Center. Instead, fans had responded in kind: They simply blacked the team out of their memory banks. Two of my earlier sports memories in Chicago are talking about my sports fandom with one curious stranger at an L stop who had spotted my Hawks shirt and took me through a list of crimes Wirtz had committed against the fans. The other happened at an underground gallery, when the subject of hockey came up with a girl I was talking to. She asked me if I was a fan of the Wolves, Chicago’s minor league hockey team. I said I guess, but I was more into the Blackhawks. She responded by asking me, without the slightest hint of irony, cynicism, or sarcasm, who the Blackhawks were. These days, when people jump on me for not suffering in the long run as a proper Hawks fan, my go-to response is that they didn’t either. Suffering with your team and blacking it out like a citizen of post-Hitler Germany are two different things. Plus, I had 24 years of Sabre-watching in my background. Yeah, just you try telling me I didn’t fucking suffer!

When Patrick Kane first laced up in 2007, there was a sense that the team was going to be competitive very soon. The Hawks managed to surprise most of the NHL by staying in competition for a playoff spot for most of the season. But the big news of the season happened very early on. Bill Wirtz succumbed to the cancer which had afflicted him. With all due respect to Bill Wirtz the human being and his family and friends, the Hawks might not be undergoing a resurgence if he was still running the team. The most striking thing about the way he treated the Blackhawks was what happened once his son, Rocky took the reins. Rocky had apparently learned about the ways to avoid running a hockey team, because upon his takeover, he started doing pretty much the opposite of everything his dad did. There were a few important things which brought about the team’s resurgence, but I think the most important was when they hired John McDonough, the PR master who helped turn the Cubs into a brand name. Flash quick, the Hawks were suddenly showing home games on TV again, throwing fan conventions, partnering with the White Sox, and welcoming their long-alienated legends – including Bobby Hull – back into the fold as team ambassadors. After years of coming off as the local oddball because my favorite sport is hockey, I was suddenly a pioneer and one of the lone straggling fans who never lost faith. After two Stanley Cups, I’m a genius.

I still hold onto the Blackhawks and wholeheartedly cheer for them. Upon their two Stanley Cup victories since I first started following them, I lost my mind. Chicago fans make fun of Buffalo fans – of course, people from Chicago have no sense of civic pride so they get off by bitching about other cities or making fun of them – but I seem to be the only one aware of the fact that, had it not been for South Buffalo native Patrick Kane, there’s a great chance the Stanley Cup drought from 1961 to 2010 still goes on. I love to shove that in peoples’ faces in Chicago. Kane scored the Cup winner in 2010 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2013, so it’s perfectly valid to question whether or not the Hawks would have succeeded without him. I’ve come to love the Blackhawks every bit as much as the Sabres.

You would think the recent success of the Blackhawks would quench my desire to see the Stanley Cup visit Buffalo without being brought in by a native on his Day with the Cup. It hasn’t. I’ve experienced a lot of joy with the Sabres’ successes, but nothing to ever match the feeling of two Stanley Cup victories as a Hawks fan. I was still in Chicago for the first one, and I was hit with a sense of such incredible jubilation that, despite it being 11 PM, 80 degrees and humid, and me being showered and ready for bed, I still threw on my clothes – my Hawks sweater and jeans – and ran around for a couple of blocks, stopping to talk – or shout at the top of my lungs, rather – with every fan I met on the way. That Championship means a lot to a franchise and a fanbase, no matter the team or sport. It can change the entire mindset of fans.

It’s safe to say the Sabres can now use the Blackhawks for a building model. In my years in Chicago, I watched a team which would be a forgotten backwoods team had it not been in the third-largest city in the United States rise from the ashes and soar; soar into not just success, but real relevance that it hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Meanwhile, I’ve seen my equally beloved Sabres go the opposite way: From being the pride and joy of Buffalo sports and on the verge of the Stanley Cup, they crashed and burned because their dumbass owner won’t get rid of his dumbass GM. They’ve squandered almost all the public goodwill they picked up during the Conference Finals runs of 2006 and 2007. In the meantime, I can still catch the Blackhawks regularly, since they’re a marquee team again and have taken a place among the true elite of the NHL.