Sunday, June 22, 2008

'Title Town' search ends in Los Angeles

ESPN is spending its days searching the crevices of American cities for what they call “Title town”. But they can save fuel and travel costs, because the obvious choice sits out West, and I dare anyone to challenge it. The Boston area owns the most recent success, but even with all they’ve achieved over the past 5 years, they lag far behind the City of Angels.

Titletown is to be a gathering place of champions and legends of the game, and I doubt anyone across America has more to offer than this smog filled, star-studded, sports paradise along the Pacific Ocean. The numbers are as staggering as the names, and the venues echo with history and ghosts that romped to fame.

Today, Los Angeles is without an NFL franchise, but both the Los Angeles Coliseum and Pasadena Rose Bowl have hosted the NFL’s biggest game. Bart Starr rang in the Superbowl era with a victory on the Coliseum floor, and After trailing at the half, Terry Bradshaw orchestrated a second half masterpiece on the blades of Rose Bowl grass. The last championship for the Raiders was as a representative of the City of L.A., and the Rams were NFL champions in ’51, before moving on to Saint Louis and Superbowl stardom.

The Lakers arrived in Los Angeles, representing the first NBA dynasty, after winning championships in Minnesota in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1954. They've added another 9 NBA titles, and the Staples Center rafters hold the jerseys of the NBA’s all time leading scorer (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), all time rebounder (Wilt Chamberlain), and 2nd all time in assists (Magic Johnson). Other legends wearing the purple and gold are Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and James Worthy. They won 3 titles with future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neil, and currently boast the league’s best player in Kobe Bryant. Phil Jackson has coached 9 champions, and though 6 were earned in Chicago, the triangle offense has been his greatest weapon against opponents. The architect of that offense, Tex Winter, is a USC graduate.

The Dodgers moved to L.A, after securing one title in Brooklyn. They added 5 more for the city, with their neighboring Angels adding another. Everyone remembers the famed Kirk Gibson homerun that added to the legends of Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Don Sutton, Tommy John, Don Drysdale and Fernando Valenzuela. Orel Hersheiser had a scoreless innings streak, and Eric Gagne had a record streak for saves. Nolan Ryan originally wore a halo, before moving on elsewhere in the league to establish records. And though Jackie Robinson is most remembered as a Brooklyn dodger, he was stealing bases for UCLA, before breaking any major league barriers.

When it comes to college sports, it’s a runaway. The USC Trojans are 12 time champions in baseball, and 11 times in football. No basketball program in the country has more titles than the 11 achieved by UCLA. UCLA is the first school to reach 100 combined national titles in sports. No other school has more Men’s team titles than USC. As one ESPN reporter put it, If USC was a country, they would have placed 16th in the medal count of the 2004 Olympic Games. Candace Parker has joined the WNBA’s L.A sparks, looking to build on a legacy that can possibly make her the greatest female basketball player in history. To do so, she needs to surpass 3 local products, Cheryl Miller (USC), Lisa Leslie (USC), and Ann Meyers (UCLA). 8 Heisman trophies have been won in Los Angeles, and the list of high profile athletes and coaches from USC and UCLA alone could easily create an all time greatest team in nearly any sport.

Though the Kings have no titles, the great one, Wayne Gretzky, skated on their ice. In Orange County, the Anaheim Ducks are just one year removed from Hockey superiority. Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins fought their way from the L.A streets and to championship belts. The L.A Galaxy were kicking their way to the top of the soccer world, before adding David Beckham to market it. At UCLA, Arthur Ashe was setting the pace, and erasing color from the game of tennis. Across town, many years later, Venus and Serena Williams went from little girls in a big city to playing temporary roles as Queen of England. A 7 year old named Pete Sampras first picked up a racket in his Los Angeles area home, before he went on to rule the world.

The city has hosted 2 summer Olympiads. A young NBA prospect named Michael Jordan claimed his first Olympic gold in L.A. A young Boxer named Evander Holyfield was disqualified in ’84 for a knockout punch that came after the bell. Carl Lewis equaled the 4 golden moments of Jesse Owens' Berlin brilliance,and Mary Lou Retton became America's sweetheart.

Search no more, because this is "Title town". Is there another City to compare? You tell me, because I'm more than willing to listen and give it thought. As USC alumnus George Lucas would say, “The force has been with us.” And as for this article, as a young UCLA film student named Jim Morrison would put it, “This is the end.”

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