The end of the Super Bowl officially marks the end of the sports calendar. The New York Giants are the last team to go into the books as a champion of the 2011 season. A key part of TheSportsNotebook’s Historical Museum is to pick out the geographic area that had the best year in sports when you consider the entire picture. With that in mind, let’s decide who wins the Battle of 2011.
I start with the premise whichever city had the best run has to win at least one championship. I suppose we could make an exception for a situation like Philadelphia in 1980, where all four pro sports teams made the championship round. In this case, the Phillies won the World Series so the city had a ring, but even if they hadn’t, getting your team to the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals all in one year is incredible enough to win on its own merits. But that’s the exception and not the norm, and no such city exists in 2011. So here’s a list of the contenders, as we run through the four major pro sports champions and the two major college champs to see whose fan bases had the best year.
Connecticut: The first champ of 2011 was Jim Calhoun’s UConn Huskies basketball program. The football team fell off the pace this year, so we need to find some help for Connecticut fans in pro sports if they’re going to win Most Livable Sports Area for ’11. It’s in spots like these where we have to draw careful distinctions. I’m sure people in the Nutmeg State have rooting preferences that range from Boston to New York to Philadelphia. But in general, from what I have been told by residents of the area and what I learned in my time living out East, is that Connecticut more or less defaults to New York City, Rhode Island goes to Boston and Delaware goes to Philadelphia.
But New York, as we’ll discuss again in the NFL section, goes a little further than just one team. We have to split The Big Apple into fan bases, and we can segment by them by the Aristocracy (who root for the Yankees, Giants & Rangers) and the Salt Of The Earth Populists (backing the Mets, Jets & Islanders). Everyone can unite around—and curse–the Knicks. The SOE Populists are having a rough go of it right now, but the Aristocracy just won a Super Bowl yesterday, won the AL East in baseball and made the playoffs with the Rangers (and may do more this spring). So if you’re a member of the Aristocracy who moved out to the Connecticut suburbs or a UConn grad from The Big Apple, life is pretty good. And your demographic is going to be hard to beat.
Boston: The city of Boston has been a tremendous pro sports run lately, and the Bruins’ Stanley Cup triumph completed the Grand Slam—in a span of eight years, the Old Towne had won the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals and Cup, a record well ahead of any other contender. For 2011 specifically, the Patriots gave them an AFC title and got to within a minute of winning another Super Bowl. The Celtics faded off the pace a bit, but still won a first-round playoff series over the Knicks last April. This is the kind of thing I like to see in a sports fans’ package—those solid third-level seasons. It’s nothing that the franchise is going to celebrate or hang a banner for, but it provided solid entertainment in an environment where there was already a championship either in hand or on the way. A Red Sox run could have locked it up, but the Fenway Fried Chicken Fiasco hurt the city in more ways than one. Boston College did nothing in either football or basketball. Overall, another solid year for the Hub.
Dallas: We’ve got another live contender here. Like Boston, the city of Big D won a championship in June, as the Mavericks brought it home. Like Boston, they had a near-miss heartbreak on another, as the Rangers came up just short against the Cardinals. And like Boston, their signature team melted down at the most crucial time of year. But, using the Celtics, as a measuring stick, does Dallas have a solid third-level contender? Texas made a bowl game and made the NCAA Tournament, but nothing really stood out. I’d have to keep Big D a little bit behind the Hub, not to mention CWNYA.
St. Louis: Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals delivered a stunning World Series triumph to a baseball-mad town. The NFL was a disaster with the Rams, while college sports were pretty solid. Missouri had a nice year in 2011 in hoops, as did the football team. But this isn’t going to challenge the Connecticut Wing Of The New York Aristocracy (CWNYA) and St. Louis got nothing from the Blues.
The most I can come up with is if there were fans who defaulted to Dallas in the NBA. Hear this one out—a hard-core St. Louis person wouldn’t root for the Bulls, because he doesn’t want to risk standing in solidarity with the same people who cheer on the Cubs in the summer. He doesn’t root for Oklahoma City, the next-nearest team, because their new to the area and in his youth he went to the next-nearest team which was the Mavericks. Who won the NBA crown. You know, I don’t doubt that this fan I described does exist, and I’m happy for him. But it’s a weaker demographic than CWNYA.
Alabama: Time to break out the geographic creativity and see if there were any Alabama football fans that might have celebrating other championships. It certainly wasn’t with the school’s basketball program, so it’s going to have a be a long-distance pro relationship. Atlanta would be the nearest pro city to Tuscaloosa. The Hawks had a good year and won a first-round playoff series over Atlanta. The Falcons made the playoffs. Nothing in hockey, and baseball has the same problem Boston has—the Braves are remembered for their complete and utter meltdown. It’s just college football for this fan base, though frankly, I suspect it’s more than enough.
The New York Aristocracy: Time for one last visit to The Big Apple to commemorate the Giants’ Super Bowl win. Remember, so far only the unique Connecticut wing of this group is in line for top fan honors in 2011. As discussed before, The Mainstream NYA has the Yankees making the playoffs, although when you drop $220 million and lose in the Division Series some of the luster is gone. The Knicks and Rangers got into the playoffs. St. John’s made the NCAA Tournament and put themselves back on the map. Not a bad year, by any stretch, but the Connecticut wing triumphs over the Mainstream in the NYA—got all that?
The first thing that jumps out at me this year is just how many good geographic candidates this year. Do what I do for the Historical Museum and you can find a lot of years where any one of the CWNYA, Boston or Dallas would have won. But I have to grudgingly give the nod to the people at CWNYA this year. The Super Bowl ultimately swung it. It was the difference between CWNYA or Boston having two major championships instead of one, and each had solid third-level play. The Giants’ game-winning drive had huge implications and I can’t believe Al Michaels and Cris Collingsworth didn’t mention this. So if you’re in our chosen demographic up there in Connecticut, or a grad living in New York, kick back this morning. Life is good. You’re on top of the world, just like back in 1990.