I should have known the direction it was all headed in on the early morning hours of June 2, 2001. The warm New York City breeze was wafting over me as I stood in front of Penn Station, cigarette clenched between fingers, waiting for the arrival of a friend to begin our trip southbound for the summer of 2001 in Washington.
And then I looked up. And there he was, in all his shimmering, green glory: Joey Harrington. Oregon Ducks quarterback. Ten stories high. His Heisman campaign was now in full swing, and as I gazed in wonderment, I thought to myself, “Wow, Pac-10 football.”
Although I have long been a fan of Pac-10 football, the entire western region of the United States had a sports renaissance during the summer of ‘01.
Consider baseball. The best stories are all developing within the NL West. The tightest pennant race is between the Diamondbacks, the Giants and the Dodgers. This is made even more extraordinary by the fact that the Diamondbacks have an average team age somewhere north of CBS’ viewing populace, that the Dodgers lose $192,000 per day on injured pitchers and are managed by a man who used to sell boxes door to door, and that the Giants’ batting average leader spent about six years at Single-A ball. And better still, Barry Bonds, the new poster boy for America’s obsession with the long ball, plays out west, and it seems ESPN and CNNSI want to burn him at the stake every time he plants a double to right center.
I thought the NL was the 90-feet-at-a-time league.
And if you need some more evidence as to why the West, during this summer, is superior to other regions of the nation, look no further than the Minnesota Twins, the darlings of baseball for all of three months before going on a flameout roughly equivalent to the career of Shelley Long. The acquisition of Rick Reed did a lot for them, if your definition of “a lot” is “adding a useless, 35-year-old bad Greg Maddux clone.”
The Midwest is awful.
Consider college football. It all comes down to Dec. 1, 2001 in Eugene, Ore. It’s the Civil War, pitting Harrington and his Duck Power against Ken Simonton, his Heisman campaign, and the “Miami West” style of the Oregon State Beavers. I’m calling it right now. It’s gonna be for the national title. Oregon State is picked by Sports Illustrated as the No. 1 team in all the land, which normally would be the kiss of death. But aha! Simonton didn’t grace their cover.
Oh wait, he did. Forget it. USC is gonna win it all.
Consider pro football. The Raiders are hungry. Tony “I’m fat” Siragusa sat on Rich Gannon’s body during the AFC Title game last January, thus destroying the hopes of Bay Area thousands. Egad. With Gannon back and scrambling, Jerry Rice in the fold and the two-tailback set slicing and dicing, the Raiders are the team to beat in the AFC. And, puhleeze, don’t give me the whole “Ravens will repeat” argument. The last time Elvis Grbac won anything, his dad was coaching his little league team.
Want more proof the West is where it’s at? Two words, baby: Matt Hasselbeck. Just watch and learn.