It is difficult enough to live with Atlanta’s civic history of sporting failure and the certain dread that the next game is going to be grimmer than the last. And here, I’ll refer to the simple lament my son texted me this past weekend after Georgia fell to Alabama and the Braves were ousted by L.A.: “Why can’t I enjoy things?”
But then, here comes Tampa Bay, pouring brackish salt water over that wound. Here is a relative neighbor that got into the pro football business 10 years after Atlanta and into big-league baseball 32 years later, now the hub of sporting universe. They’re making this winning thing look easy – if Tampa Frickin' Bay can do it, then anyone can. Anyone except Atlanta, apparently, as we have just been reminded by another traumatic sporting weekend, one in a long series.
I was born and raised in Tampa Bay, although that’s not what it says on my birth certificate. For there is no actual Tampa Bay address. Tampa Bay is a loose confederation of gerontologists, scientologists, snowbirds and sandspurs. Heaven help me, I love it there, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the absurdity of it suddenly dominating the sports landscape.
Tampa Bay, Sporting Capital, makes about as much sense as Des Moines, Surf City, U.S.A.
So many news reports begin, “A Florida man ...”
A Florida man was arrested today by the ATF. ...
A Florida man yesterday fell into a sinkhole while taking his pet tiger for a midnight walk. ...
It’s not supposed to be about a Florida man who is just happy about winning another championship. Where’s the news value in that?
When I was growing up there, there were no big-time pro sports. Back in my day, a Roger Maris bubble-gum card was a relic from a faraway world, like an Egyptian papyrus. Now Tampa Bay is awash in its own, unborrowed glory. That’s just a little stunning for an old native.
It’s not like the place is recognized as a pro-sports mecca. Back when people were allowed to attend events - just a year ago, they say - the Tampa Bay Rays ranked 29th of 30 teams in average attendance. This season, they are 28th in team payroll. Despite such modest standings, those fans and that franchise get to share the biggest stage in baseball while the Braves are back home reviewing their base-running primers.
And while Atlanta has never won a Super Bowl, thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Brady, Tampa Bay got one with Brad Johnson at quarterback. How fair is any of that?
By the time the 2020 sports cycle plays out, it’s conceivable Tampa Bay could be playing for three major sports titles. Chances are the Rays can’t outlast the lordly Dodgers. And while the Brady-led Bucs are fresh off a 28-point victory over Green Bay, and they are the apple of the sports-media eye, the odds remain tilted against them to reach the Super Bowl. Still, those same odds have taken up rocks and clubs to beat the Falcons over the head.
The point is, we in Atlanta are in the quite uncomfortable position of envying Tampa Bay for its sporting successes. It’s unbecoming of a great city, but here we are.
Green Bay can call itself “Titletown USA,” and that’s adorable. But if Tampa Bay goes after the crown, it’s annoying.
However the World Series plays out, one city/geographical area will have won two championships this year – Los Angeles has an NBA championship in hand, while Tampa Bay has the Stanley Cup. As for Atlanta? Omitted from the NBA bubble, last in the NFC South and pretty unlikely to get another rich sucker to buy into the NHL.
It’s easy to make fun of Florida. In fact, I’ll drop a personal favorite joke, courtesy of the late sitcom 30 Rock: “Have you ever been to Florida? It’s basically a prison population. It’s America’s Australia.”
But being a sports fan in Tampa Bay has to be pretty sweet right now. They are laughing all the way to the big game, and I can’t help but be a lot jealous.