|What's a 'wind-chill factor' anyway?|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
SAN DIEGO -- The predictable, patented formula for an early Super Bowl column is for the writer to fly into town and immediately rip the host city. You won't read that here though. How could I? It's San Diego. As soon as I landed here Sunday, I made my way to the bar at the famous Hotel Del Coronado, arriving just in time to watch the Raiders score 10 quick points to take a lead they would never surrender, glance westward at the sun setting over the Pacific and offer a small salute to the state that offers the absolute best in American sports:
Aside from offering a fabulous sunset view, the Del Coronado was an appropriate place to watch Oakland clinch the AFC title. The hotel supposedly inspired L. Frank Baum's vision of the Emerald City for his "Wizard of Oz" books, and for the past year, the yellow brick road of American sports that is Interstate 5 has been leading right here.
Just two hours north of here, the Los Angeles Lakers won their third consecutive NBA championship last spring. Just a little ways from there, the Anaheim Angels won the World Series last fall. And this week, the Oakland Raiders will roar down I-5, wave to their former home in Los Angeles, arrive in San Diego and win the Super Bowl, once again crowning California as the king of American sports.
No wonder California bottles so many sparkling wines. It has to, what with all its teams constantly celebrating new championships.
Sure, Los Angeles lost its two NFL teams, but who would notice? California still has three NFL teams to follow, five baseball teams, three NBA teams (plus the Clippers), four Pac-10 teams and three NHL teams. California also is home to the greatest venues in all sports: the Rose Bowl, Pebble Beach, Dodger Stadium, Pauley Pavilion, Santa Anita, Surf City, the Los Angeles Coliseum (host of two, count 'em, two Olympics), McCovey Cove and Rubio's fish taco stands at San Diego's old Murph.
What other state provides palm trees in center field, Vin Scully on the car radio and the USC song girls on the sidelines? What other state can claim Tiger Woods and Torrey Pines? What other state gives you the Rally Monkey?
Oh, I know. Fans back east think they're more passionate about sports than Californians. But I dare them to say that to a parking lot full of bearded, chain-wielding Raiders fans dressed in black leather, spikes and Darth Vader masks. (The male fans are even more intimidating.)
Passionless? Remember, Californians are so serious about their sports that they go to court over who caught a baseball.
If California fans don't always seem to live and die with their teams quite as vicariously as do Easterners, it's because they don't feel the need. Sure, East Coast and Midwest fans get all weepy when their favorite teams lose -- after all, once the season ends, those poor devils have nothing ahead of them but months of shoveling snow and moaning about the price of heating oil. On those rare occasions when California teams lose -- usually to other California teams -- their fans feel bad for a minute or two and then remember where they live. And then they go run on the beach or ski in the mountains.
Eastern fans also think they are more knowledgeable about sports than Californians. It's nonsense, but if that's the only way they can soothe their wounded pride, that's fine. When it comes to trivia, Californians are content to know that the records for longest hitting streak (Joe DiMaggio), most home runs in a season (Barry Bonds), most career touchdowns and receptions (Jerry Rice), most points in a career (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), and the last .400 season (Ted Williams) are all held by athletes who grew up or played in their state.
Easterners no doubt will point out that sports success is cyclical, that the Patriots won the Super Bowl last year in New Orleans and that the Yankees have won the World Series far more than anyone else. Which is true ... but so what? Regardless of which teams are on top, their best players likely grew up in California. UConn may have just won its NCAA women's record 55th consecutive game, but they rely on Diana Taurasi to keep it going, and she's from California. As are Tiger, Barry, the Williams sisters, John Elway, Mark McGwire and the Waltons (the basketball family, not the television series).
In fact, California athletes have won so much hardware in the past couple years that not even Shaquille O'Neal's crib could hold it all. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner (USC's Carson Palmer) and the MVPs of the NFL (Oakland's Rich Gannon), the American League (Oakland's Miguel Tejada) and the National League (Bonds) all play for California teams. True, San Antonio's Tim Duncan won the NBA's MVP award last spring, but that's only because voters probably grew tired of giving it out every year to Shaq.
And let us not forget that Eddie Murray, just elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, grew up in Los Angeles.
The best thing about California sports, however, is the Pacific Time Zone. Here in California, they laugh whenever East Coast fans whine about playoff games that end near midnight. At the same time, Easterners are wondering how they're ever going to be able to finish Lumbergh's TPS report on three hours' sleep, California fans are wondering which movie to go see after the game (they'll probably go see one which hasn't even opened in the rest of the country yet).
And if you still aren't convinced that California is the place for sports and for sports fans, consider this: While the Raiders rolled to victory on hotel TV screens Sunday, five guys in shorts played beach volleyball in the January dusk.
"The only bad part about living in San Diego is sometimes you have to go away from it and you don't get to be here all the time," Pittsburgh native Jerry Bremmers said after the volleyball game. "But then you get to come back."
And just what is the wind chill factor in Philadelphia this morning?
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.