Saturday, January 26, 2013

"City of Champions"

It's one of the rarest phenomena in professional sports.

It's only happened eight times.

It happened in Baltimore in 1970. In Pittsburgh in 1979, the title of this screed was coined when it happened there.  Most recently, it happened in Boston in 2004 (and the media hangover is only now subsiding). It even happened in Detroit, back in 1935. And, of course, it has happened four times in New York City: in 1927, in 1938, in 1956, and in 1986 (that is, if you count East Rutherford, N.J., as "New York City").  Now, if all goes well at the Louisiana Superdome on February 3 upcoming, it will happen in San Francisco.

Simultaneously, the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers will both, at the same time, be the reigning world champions in America's two premier sports.

We've only waited 48 years for this.

As far as we know, there is no official name for such a rare event. Our own ideas-- "The Clean Sweep," "The Two Titles," "The Daily (daily?) Double"-- have met with deserved ridicule or, perhaps more accurately, utter indifference. So "City of Champions" it is. It's cool, it's extremely rare, and it can be ours if Our Boys come through.

O San Francisco, didn't we come so close in 1989? The 49ers were in their glory, sweeping to a second straight Super Bowl title. Unfortunately our Giants, after a thrilling regular season and a sensational NLCS,  became engaged on the business end of a different kind of "sweeping" and thus fell short. (About the only positive thing that can be said about the Loma Prieta earthquake is that it made everybody forget about the World Series. And no, the fact that is was Oakland who won that Series, right across the bay, does not change a thing. It wasn't The City, so it doesn't count, and you all know how we feel about asterisks.)

Other towns have taken a shot and fallen just short. The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, and the 1980 Eagles reached the Super Bowl-- but lost to the Raiders. In 1954, the NFL champion Cleveland Browns were not joined by the Cleveland Indians, thanks to Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes.  Had David Tyree not made that helmet-top catch in Super Bowl XLIII, Boston would've had another 'twofer' to brag about in 2007, given the Red Sox' autumn success. The Oakland Raiders from 1972-1974 were in the hunt every year but always one game short, while their Coliseum roommates, the A's, were winning three straight World Series. Had Allie Sherman's New York Football Giants been able to win the Big One back in the early sixties, the Big Apple would have a few more of these to lord over everybody. Even those lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, had a chance (well, a sporting chance, anyway) in the '32 World Series, given that the Bears would win the NFL that year with a 7-1-6 mark. (Yes, that's six ties, sports fans.)

Strangely enough, probably the best known pairing of all is a combo-that-wasn't--  the New York Jets and New York Mets from 1969. Truth is, the Jets won the Super Bowl in the 1968 season, in which the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. That the world championship for 1968 was played on January 12, 1969 might be of interest to sports-based hemerologists, but in and of itself changes nothing. The Jets and Mets were champions in back-to-back seasons, not the same season, with the added fillip of both clubs beating heavily-favored teams from Baltimore.  As a consolation prize, we will note that in 2006, all four New York sports teams-- Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets-- made their respective postseason tournaments, which has to count as some sort of record.

So perhaps one day soon in The City, we'll see Jim Harbaugh and  Bruce Bochy (and how's that for an unlikely pairing) share the same podium at the same celebration. If it happens, it'll have been a long time coming, and history tells us it will be a long time gone.

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