New York sports fans, never a humble lot, have good reason to feel they're living high on the hog these days. Not only is the Big Apple hosting its first Subway Series since 1956, but the football Giants and Jets are in races for their respective division titles, and the Knicks and the Rangers are beginning their seasons with new looks and rekindled hopes. None of these teams play in a fancy new stadium, yet all command deeply loyal followings whose loud, abrasive voices can be heard through good years and bad. All this leads to the question, as painful as it is to for me to pose: Is New York the best sports town in America?
That's a tough pill to swallow for most non-New Yorkers, whose loathing of Big Apple teams is surpassed only by their dislike of the Gotham media, who carry on as if life beyond the Hudson is endless Hicksville. But let's be objective about this. What makes up a great sports town? Loyalty, tradition, passion—a visceral connection between a city and its teams. Lots of burgs have a love affair with one sport while behaving indifferently toward others. Dallas, Pittsburgh and Washington are great football havens, not great sports towns. Philadelphia is passionate about its Flyers, not its Phillies. The Lakers own L.A., but the city couldn't keep the Rams.
Chicago suffers too much from Second City—itis. Its fans politely support its teams just for showing up. The Black-hawks have been without a Stanley Cup since '61, the White Sox haven't won the World Series since 1917 and the Cubs.... Lost in the frenzy over this year's Fall Classic is the fact that the first Subway Series—actually an El Series—was held in the Windy City in '06. But if by some miracle the Cubs and the White Sox met in October now, it would be a saccharine affair lacking the depth and drama of Mets versus Yankees. Sox fans—the few of us left—don't hate Cubs fans. The latter have been so bad for so long that the only emotion they inspire is pity.
Boston? A great sports town in the best of times, which these are certainly not The Bruins and the Celtics are lousy, the new FleetCenter is sterile, the Patriots came within a whisker of moving to Hartford and there's talk that Fenway Park, the most beloved edifice in the city, will soon be torn down.
St. Louis? Riding high, no question. But Rams fans are too new, Blues fans too fickle and Cardinals fans lack the edge, the urgency with which New Yorkers root. Autumn in New York? Now is the time to win. Had Tony La Russa been managing the Mets, with Mark McGwire, the greatest home run hitter in baseball, available for pinch hitting duty, do you think he'd have survived the wrath of the fans, the vilification of the press, if he'd only used him three times in five games? Not in Gotham. Not this fall. There is no next year when you're playing in the greatest sports town in the land.