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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

Buffaball: The Unknown History of Basketball in Buffalo

Buffaball: The Unknown History of Basketball in Buffalo

March Madness is set to begin this week, and Buffalo’s usual college basketball rooting interest – Syracuse – is out on a self-imposed ban. To make up for the loss, though, the UB Bulls picked up the slack. Accumulating a sparkling 23-9 record, the Bulls won their conference, picked up their first-ever NCAA tournament bid, and are now 12-seeded in the Midwest bracket with most onlookers pegging them a potential Cinderella team. People are starting to awaken to and embrace UB Athletics, and having gone to that school myself, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope the March Madness brackets fall into chaos and fire!

Buffalo, however, doesn’t embrace basketball the way it does football, hockey, or even baseball. The sport has a flashy image here, perhaps because so many of the sport’s face teams – both college and professional – like to depend on players who are runners and gunners. Flash doesn’t reek of brutal, unrelenting physicality, and since Buffalo is a very ruffian city, flash and dash mojo isn’t something we’re able to relate to. But for those willing to look beyond the sport’s advertised razzle dazzle, there is a rough and tumble sport in which all the sports positives we want to pass on to the younger generation remain true: Defense wins championships. A great player can be overcome by good, old-fashioned teamwork. Work hard, practice, cooperate with others, and never give up or let up, and you can succeed. Basketball is also a sport anyone can play – the only real necessity is the ball. Really, it’s surprising more people in Buffalo don’t take to the hoops, and that’s just a shame because Buffalo has contributed so much to the sport. Here is the hidden history of basketball in Buffalo and how it made some powerful contributions to the sport we’ve come to know and love.

Yes, yes, the Braves. It wasn’t an especially long time ago that Buffalo was home to the Buffalo Braves, a fast break team similar to the Golden State Warriors teams of the last few years. The Braves are still around these days, plying their trade as the Los Angeles Clippers, and with the Clippers having been the poster children of terrible basketball until a few years ago, the Braves shadow still hangs over them; until Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, the Braves years were the only consistently good years in the team’s history, and even they weren’t out of control, video game records. Focusing only on the fact that the Braves are now the Clippers, though, ignores a bunch of more individual contributions from the team that are written on the NBA’s hardwood.

There’s no conversation about the Braves that can be a proper conversation without Bob McAdoo. The second overall pick of the 1972 NBA Draft, McAdoo is still the name most people who are knowledgeable on all things NBA associate with the Buffalo Braves. For the first five years of his career, McAdoo was a Brave and a possible all-time great. In the 1974 season, McAdoo became the most recent NBA player to average 30 points and 15 rebounds per game, and led the league in field goal shooting percentage. The following season, he was given the league MVP Award. Now, I don’t know if the people reading this are NBA fans, but if not, here’s something you have to know about the NBA’s MVP Award: They don’t give it to schlubs. The NBA gives us arguably the greatest displays of athleticism on the planet, and its MVP Award means more than it does in any other league. Consider that in baseball, the MVP is most often a guy who hits a ball three times out of ten, is on and off the field the other seven times, and therefore isn’t getting a ton of time on the field, and that’s not even covering the fact that there’s a controversy about how often pitchers are given the award. In football, there are no two-way players – you’re either on offense or on defense, and there seems to be a serious bias against defensive players in the MVP voting there as well. Hockey players frequently do play two ways, but 20 minutes a game is a lot. NBA stars are expected to play around 35 minutes of a 48-minute game in both directions. In any case, McAdoo was also a three-time scoring champion, five-time All-Star, and Rookie of the Year. While his NBA career ran for another ten years after the Braves cut him loose – and he reeled in a pair of rings on the bench for the Showtime Lakers – all of his great individual achievements happened during his first five years in Buffalo.

The Braves also helped usher in the era of coaching legend Jack Ramsay. Ramsay was by far the best best the Braves had in their eight-year existence. After leaving the Braves, Ramsay established his reputation as a coaching genius in 1977, his first year as the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, by leading them to their first – and so far, only – NBA Championship. Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers until 1986, then took over head coaching duties for the Indiana Pacers until 1988, when he retired for good. Although no one would throw Ramsay’s coach cred against Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Gregg Popovich, or Pat Riley, he is still mentioned alongside others like Chuck Daly, Red Holzman, and Lenny Wilkens as one of the all-time great NBA coaches.

The accolades don’t stop there. The Braves actually produced a small handful of people in the Basketball Hall of Fame: Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Adrian Dantley, Dolph Schayes, and for all of two games, Moses Malone. McAdoo, Dantley, and Ernie DiGregorio were all Rookies of the Year with the Braves, and perpetual fan favorite Randy Smith was once the MVP of the All-Star Game.

Did you know, though, that the Braves were only the second professional basketball team in the city’s history? In 1946, the NBL created a team called the Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons, however, were apparently not sustainable, and the team got up and walked out after the first 13 games of its existence. Although they left Buffalo, that doesn’t mean they were dissolved, even though it was professional basketball’s wild, anything-goes era. The Bisons merely hightailed it to Moline, Illinois, a city in what was called the Tri-Cities area (it’s now called the Quad Cities area), and became the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. That lasted longer, until 1951, when the Blackhawks decided they needed to move to a bigger city and change their name a little, becoming the Milwaukee Hawks. In 1955, the team moved to St. Louis, and for the next 13 years, the St. Louis Hawks matured, came of age, won their only Championship, and were one of the marquee teams in the NBA. The good times didn’t last, though, but the Buffalo Bisons are still around, and in fact, they’re the best team in the Eastern Conference as I write this. You know them as today’s Atlanta Hawks.

Those teams don’t cover all the players who were born in Buffalo. The most notable Buffalo natives in the NBA are probably Bob Lanier, the Detroit Pistons great who owned a 20.87 PPG career average, and Cliff Robinson. Buffalo native Greg Oden was a first overall draft pick in 2007 who didn’t pan out. Christian Laettner, arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time, also came from the area, which is actually a little bit regretful because it makes it more difficult to properly hate Duke. I guess when that’s considered, it’s only appropriate that one of Laettner’s teammates, Bobby Hurley, is the current coach of the Bulls.

If you want to bring the whole of upstate New York into it, then get this: Today’s Sacramento Kings are the oldest team in the NBA, having started out as a factory team in the 1920’s called the Rochester Seagrams in Rochester, while the Philadelphia 76ers began as the Syracuse Nationals. There’s also the little matter of that basketball-oriented university team in ‘Cuse that produced Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, Derrick Coleman, and several others who averaged double-digit PPG.

Could you imagine the Buffalo All-Star team? Jack Ramsay as coach, and featuring Lanier, McAdoo, Robinson, and all the others. I can surmise that if we were to put the Buffalo All-Stars against the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, 1986 Boston Celtics, 1996 Chicago Bulls, or any of those other all-time great squads, we would see… Well, uh, we’d see the Buffalo team get kicked to the curb in an epically one-sided stomping. (If we want to bring the rest of upstate New York into it, though, including players for the relocated teams, it would be a whole other story; any legend team brought to the hardwoord would find itself also dealing with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Webber, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, and Allen Iverson as well.) In any case, though, anyone with respect for the sports history in Buffalo would do well to give basketball a chance.

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.

The Levels of Losing: New York/Illinois Edition

The Levels of Losing: New York/Illinois Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yankee Automatons are Boring and Unwatchable

“I laugh out loud when (my agent) relays the news, loving the Yankees’ interest and shaking my head in disbelief that George Steinbrenner, billionaire owner of the New York Yankees, has taken it upon himself to endure lunch at a burger joint and check me out in person. THIS is an owner who gives a shit. THIS is why the Yankees are THE YANKEES. Granted, a hundred-million-dollar payroll can make a contender out of any team, but there’s more going on here. For all his faults, you can’t deny that George Steinbrenner, the man, not just the wallet, is a tangible, positive factor in the Yankees domination of baseball.”
-David Wells, Perfect I’m Not

Most of my friends met me during my years in Chicago, and to a person, many of them swear they can’t see me being the angry, distrustful, depressed, guarded, sour kid who once chased off potential friendships out of fear. Others might today say they see the occasional trace of that old person but can’t imagine me being the full-blown critter in his reverse glory. Most of them also know that I credit my interest in baseball as part of how I was able to change my character. It created a focal point in my baseball-crazed junior college, so when stuck in conversation, it became one of our go-to topics. I got into baseball during the 2000 season, during the tail end of the Yankee dynasty of the 90’s, and in a year which concluded in a subway World Series between the Mets and Yankees.

By all means, I’m a Mets fan who happens to not cheer for the Mets. All the circumstances I was born into should have tattooed “Mets” onto every available space of my body when I was launched into this world. I’m an underdog as a person, originally born into the working class in one of the poorest cities in the United States. My parents proudly proclaim the Mets as their own team, and it was the Mets who dominated the New York baseball scene in the 80’s. As a baseball fan, I prefer the National League’s style of play. As a team, the Mets are more privy to rolling out the red carpet to the common man than the stoic, corporate, stuck-in-their-ways Yankees. So it comes across as very unusual to any sports-minded friends that I chose the Yankees over the Mets when I began watching baseball. (I rectified this mistake upon my move to Chicago when I chose to support the White Sox over the Cubs, who are basically the Yankees without the titles.) But understand that when I began watching baseball during that 2000 season, the robot drone version of the Yankees wasn’t the team I was seeing, at all.

Often forgotten about those dynastic Yankee teams was that their core was a cohesive, tough, punchy unit which the team had raised and promoted through their farm system. They were a team of underdogs themselves, either raised on the Yankee farm or cast off from other teams for bad play or behavioral problems, and led by a manager who was doubted from the start and expected to become George Steinbrenner’s latest casualty. No one, least of all Yankee fans, expected them to win, and if anything they were expected to go into a severe regression after all the progress they had made in the previous couple of years through Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter. When I began tuning into ballgames regularly, the Yankees weren’t winning because of George’s payroll; they had the best, most cohesive, and most exciting team in the league. Their talent was merely the help and not the entire lineup, and their lineup didn’t believe in no-win situations. The Yankees weren’t always the best team in the league, but they were an emotional squad that left everything they had out on the field. Those Yankees were Andy Pettitte calmly confusing opposing batters and David Wells attacking with the ferocity of an angry grizzly bear. They were Jason Giambi punishing pitchers who dared throw inside while Derek Jeter made every big play that needed making; Jorge Posada calling the best-pitched games in the league and Alfonso Soriano morphing into a human light whip and Bernie Williams patrolling the outfield like a rottweiler. Mariano Rivera slamming the door against star batters who only went to the box out of obligation: Just go up and strike out so they can get drunk before the bars close, it’s not like Mo is going to give them a chance.

I loved watching the team from the 2000 title to the first few years afterward, and I suffered through the disappointments: The weird bloop against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, the implosion against the Los Angeles Angels in 2002, the axel wear-out against the Florida Marlins in 2003, and (god, this is so painful that my fingers hurt typing it out) that dumbfounding, godawful, embarrassing, nightmarish meltdown against the Boston Red Sox in 2004. But still, I loved those Yankee teams – the 2003 Yankees in particular have a special piece of my heart, and I’ll always look at them as the grand finale of the dynasty. The team won plenty afterward, and I always cheered them on, through their beating at Detroit in 2006 to screaming at my screen during the 2009 title whenever Girardi played Phil Coke. Still, it’s that 2003 Pennant which stands as the last testament to true Yankee greatness. That team could have beat the hell out of the decade’s later Yankee teams, including the 2009 team. They would barely have broken a sweat doing it, too.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Bronx Bombers, but the teams they’re fielding now are difficult to take. New York’s current ace, CC Sabathia, is one of the most boring players in the league. I could conclusively disprove Saint Augustine’s proofs of God in three languages between each and every one of his pitches. I was embarrassed by the Red Sox meltdown in 2004, but the Yankees managed to top that a couple of years later when they yanked Roger Clemens out of his 783rd retirement. That they were so desperate for pitching help said everything. Their games are now crawling by at the pace of a snail swimming through a tar lake. I’m an adult. I have things I would prefer to be doing rather than watch the Yankees play a three-and-a-half hour marathon that doesn’t even go into extra innings. That seems to be the length of a normal, everyday game these days when I happen to watch, and it’s inexcusable. It’s also not likely to be fixed anytime soon, not with a commissioner who apparently believes his league’s biggest problem is that the playoffs don’t run long enough. I’m flipping on Mets games more often now whenever I need a baseball fix. While the Mets aren’t threatening to replace the Yankees, they play baseball in lieu of standing there scratching their asses, even though Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes both walked out the team’s front door.

The most interesting aspect of the Yankees’ morph into robot automatons in my sports viewing has been the way its affected my view of the NBA. The NBA is a league I only began paying attention to because I wanted to support Damone Brown, the bigshot jock from my high school who led the Seneca VHS basketball team to an undefeated 1997 championship season. After a spectacular career at Syracuse, Damone was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the league’s most storied teams. In 2003, I watched the entirety of the NBA Finals and decided there was no way I was ever going to fully understand basketball. That was a slow, dreadful series between the New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs, who won it in six games. That fifth game stands among my all-time nadirs of sports-watching, and the only reason I kept tuning into the league after seeing it was to try to get any word on Damone’s career.

Since Damone was an inconspicuous player who put up career grand totals of 108 points in the only 39 games he played in, I had no idea he was out of the league by 2005, so I continued to watch. Fortunately, the 2003 Finals turned out to be a fluke perpetrated by the NBA version of hockey’s New Jersey Devils (the boring, BORING Spurs, who have since topped my list of basketball teams I hate). I became more of a casual watcher, but as the Yankees got more boring, I started watching more basketball. Soon I found myself becoming more invested in the outcomes of certain games, from supporting the Boston Celtics in their last couple of title runs to hating LeBron James after The Decision. Finally, just a couple of years ago, I got interested enough to end my casual team drifting and adopt the teams of my two life localities for better or worse. I started to care about the Chicago Bulls just in time to see Derrick Rose lead them in one of NBA history’s legendary postseason series against the Celtics in 2009. And, going against the grain for NBA fans in Buffalo, I also adopted the New York Knicks over Buffalo’s most common municipal basketball loyalty, the Celtics. The Knicks and Bulls are now my teams, for better or worse.

The robo-Yankees have pushed me into watching the basketball season more closely than I ever have in my life, and I’m watching the NBA playoffs with greater interest than ever. When I watched my first basketball Finals in 2003, I assumed that the NBA had been playing out in the same way as the NHL. When the New Jersey Devils began employing the Trap, other NHL teams followed because of the great success the Devils had employing it. (They won the Stanley Cup three times.) It ruined hockey until the NHL finally rid itself of the two-line pass rule in 2005. In the NBA, that wasn’t the case. The slow pace of the San Antonio Spurs was something radical, but teams weren’t following them, so it happened to merely be the style that worked for a very deep and talented Spurs team. The Spurs these days aren’t quite so boring either, now that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have reached their full potential. This is the first year that I’m actually looking forward to the NBA Finals and watching the preceding rounds. Just in the past couple of days, I watched two epic comebacks, one by the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Los Angeles Lakers, the other by the Sixers over the Celtics. I’m caught up, and past the event horizon. There’s no going back from here.

As for the Yankees, they’ll have to get used to the backburner for now. I’m waiting for them to play the White Sox, a team that still plays exciting baseball. Otherwise, go Knicks, go Bulls.

Damone Brown, by the way, was quickly put into Philadelphia’s d-league system. When the Sixers decided they couldn’t get anything else out of him, he also played briefly for the Toronto Raptors (where he once put up 13 against Michael Jordan), New Jersey Nets, and Washington Wizards before the NBA let him go. His life since must have taken a couple of wrong turns, because the last I heard of him was on a local news broadcast earlier this year, when he was going to jail for a year due to involvement in a drug ring. I sincerely hope he gets his life rebuilt afterward, because while his career never reached the great heights of Bob Lanier or Clifford Robinson – two Buffalo natives who went on to long, immensely productive careers in the NBA – Seneca alumni will always regard him as our school’s conquering hero.

King James is a Royal Ass

Buffalo isn’t really much of a basketball city. I follow the sport and know what’s going on in the NBA, and I love the Knicks and Bulls and want them to do well every season. But I’m not enough of a diehard to put everything on hold to watch them – I might catch one of the really important games if I’m fascinated enough with the opponent. And while I would definitely put in an appearance at a title victory parade for either of them, I won’t consider my life unlived if I die having never seen the Knicks or Bulls hoist new banners in their arenas.

Be this as it may, I usually don’t get emotionally involved in the Finals if one of my teams isn’t involved. I made sure to catch the Celtics/Lakers matchups because hey, they’re the Celtics and Lakers, two storied and talented teams, rivals who make for terrific basketball theater. But those weren’t emotional, watch-with-whiskey-on-the-side life-or-death matches. I rooted against the San Antonio Spurs earlier because they’re a boring team, but again, it had no impact on my emotional well-being the following day. The only time I really got emotionally involved with a basketball final was way back in 2004, when I was still in college, about the time I began paying attention. That was the year the Lakers put together their must-win dream team when they signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone to single-year contracts to compliment Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil. I consider such signings to be a classless win-without-working-for-it ethic and wanted the Lakers – whom I had liked until then – to get their comeuppance, which they did spectacularly against an underdog Detroit Pistons team which turned the Lakers’ superstar galaxy into nonfactors.

This made the recent NBA Finals unusual. Not even in 2004 was I so emotionally invested in the loss of one team to another. To one extent, it’s the same ring-chasing philosophy which put me off the Lakers seven years ago – a team going on a signing spree and bragging about how good it is before they hit the hardwood in an official capacity. But even in 2004, I was merely cheering against a team, a set of uniforms. I had nothing against any of the big four, not even the widely hated Bryant. This year, however, I was holding a grudge against not quite the Miami Heat – whom I found a fun novelty team in their title year back in 2006, when they signed Shaquille O’Neil and Dwayne Wade burst into basketball consciousness – but specifically against James.

I understand LeBron James really isn’t a bad guy in real life, but he is NBA villain number one at the moment. It isn’t the fact that James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to win with a team he thought would give him the best shot. The Buffalo Sabres, after all, are such masters of letting their best players go to hit pay dirt that my family and friends and I have taken to referring to them as the NHL’s official farm team. But James did it in the most classless fashion imaginable. His hourlong “The Decision” was never going to come off as anything other than a giant middle finger to the city of Cleveland, even if he had announced in three seconds flat, “Cleveland got me to the Finals three years ago, and I’m signing back with them to finish the job!” But he played Judas against the team that made him on national TV, which had to be embarrassing for Cavs fans. This is why they reacted the way they did – the jersey and effigy burnings were the fans saving face.

Blatant ring-chasing isn’t something I normally have a huge problem with. As I mentioned, professional athletes in their primes rarely come to Buffalo. A superstar landing with the Sabres or Bills is either making his name there so he can head to sunny skies and a big payoff (Daniel Briere, whom I still think very highly of) or dodging retirement once he’s accomplished everything that can be accomplished (Rob Neidermeyer). It’s very rare that Buffalo teams land a superstar-caliber player who stays with Buffalo through his career, thick and thin. It does happen – Jim Kelly is a prime example, and things are looking good with Ryan Miller – but it’s very rare. So I’m used to seeing my favorite players walk out of Buffalo’s revolving door.

James’s ring-chasing is a bit different, though. James popped off to do it at age 26. Ring-chasing isn’t something he should be doing at 26 – that’s an unspoken sports code which Payton and Malone both understood. If he did it at 36 having exhausted his best opportunities earlier, then it’s okay. That championship ring, after all, isn’t there just to look pretty – it’s a symbol which is representative of all the work, sweat, training, and frustrations that go at least through a hard 82-game season. Earning just one is a real point of pride. Many players simply luck into one, and here’s James begging off the added burden of leading his team to it in lieu of riding the coattails of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. He may well now be permanently barred from any discussions regarding the greatest basketball player in history for failing to grasp that. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwan were both the souls of their teams – they saw their teams through the worst and were eventually rewarded. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson proved to be keystones on teams already brimming with talent and needing one more important piece. James looked at his cast and begged off because it was too hard.

Since then, he’s done an impressive job chipping away at his public image. There was the commercial. Then there was trying to call critics of The Decision racist. Then his comments about his critics after the Heat lost the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks gave off a lot of implications – he called his critics losers without lives, even though plenty of smart and successful people hated the way he left Cleveland, up to and including the owner of the Cavaliers. His bragging about how good he has it also came off as though he doesn’t really care, which again can’t sit well in Cleveland because it holds the implication that James, an area native, just wanted out.

Cleveland and Buffalo sports are in similar places, as they are in many other respects. That’s why I have such strong feelings about this. Both Cleveland and Buffalo are hard luck sports cases, and neither can reel in free agents on the appeal of their cities or the prospect of their teams suddenly turning it around or being one player away. They need all the help they can get, and LeBron ditching Cleveland without even a thank you really doesn’t do anything for the city’s image.