NFL Week Four Picks: Home Is Not Where the Heart Is

What an interesting weekend this will be for professional football: Ten – count ’em – home teams are going down. Not just against the spread – I mean they are going to lose. To help these hometown fans, I’ll be accompanying my picks with some interesting facts about their locales. Home teams are in caps.

Detroit over DALLAS

You can tell a lot about a town by the trivia posted on its Visitors Bureau site. has posted some “fun facts,” including the following:

  • The 52 foot ‘Big Tex’ statue that greets visitors at the annual State Fair of Texas is the tallest cowboy in Texas.
  • With the roof enclosed, the entire Statue of Liberty could fit into the new Cowboys Stadium.
  • The Trinity River Corridor Project, when completed, will be more than 10 times the size of New York’s Central Park.
  • The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is home to 41 of the richest Americans.

Okay, I cherry-picked those. To be fair, the frozen margarita machine was also invented in Dallas. There will be plenty of margarita-infused hangovers on Monday after fans watch the Lions rip through Cowboys Stadium. By the way, I’m pretty sure Detroit is home to 41 of the poorest Americans.

CHICAGO over Carolina

Did you know that Chicagoans frequently vacation in Wisconsin because the rest of Illinois is soul-crushingly boring and flat? I guess that’s not really trivia, but it’s better than what Explore Chicago dishes up. How come these tourism sites offer up the lamest “fun facts” about their subjects? Example: The first drive-in bank opened in Chicago in 1946. Gee, I always wondered where such a monumental step for mankind had its divine origin. I hear it was a young Roger Ebert who was given the first drive-in bank lollipop via pneumatic canister later that year. Well Windy Citizens, here’s something you can take to the bank: Cam Newton is exactly what Lovie Smith’s “Tampa 2” defense needs right now.

Buffalo over CINCINNATI

Probably the coolest thing you should know about Cincinnati is that underneath the Queen City lies the largest abandoned subway system in the country. Construction began in 1920, but ground to a halt in 1925 due to skyrocketing costs. The tunnels were sealed and mostly forgotten about; they’ve lain fallow ever since. Remind you of a bestriped football club?

(Bonus for all you underground thrill-seekers: a similarly abandoned but smaller-scale subway can be found in Rochester, NY; Newark’s subway system has several abandoned stations.)

Tennessee over CLEVELAND

Where is Superman from? Metropolis? Kansas? Krypton? All fine answers. In reality, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster dreamed him up in 1933 at 10622 Kimberly Avenue. And while it’s true that Metropolis has long been understood to be a fictional stand-in for New York, early on the Man of Tomorrow’s co-creators slipped (or at least couldn’t resist paying homage to their hometown). In Action Comics #2 (1938), Clark Kent claims to work for the Cleveland Evening News. (A couple of more Cleveland references in those formative years, as well as a strange tie to Elliot Ness, are detailed here.) If this were 2010, I’d work in a “taking my talents to Metropolis” joke, but that’s played out, isn’t it?

Minnesota over KANSAS CITY

Here’s something crazy: There are actually TWO Kansas Cities! Whaa? And one of them isn’t even in Kansas – it’s in Missouri! And it’s the bigger one. Weird, huh? They say Kansas City (the big one) has more fountains than any city but Rome. Or is that Paris? Though it still has fewer bubblers than Milwaukee. It’s also home to the legendary Johnny Dare.

Washington over ST LOUIS

Since baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals won the wild card spot in the NL playoffs, let’s talk about them for a second. The term America’s Team gets bandied about and fought over, but if there ever truly were an America’s Team, it was probably the Cardinals of the ’40s and ’50s. Their games were broadcast on KMOX, a “clear channel” radio station whose signal could be picked up across the country (and it’s been reported, many places around the world). In those days, the team located farthest south was St. Louis. The farthest west? St. Louis. Therefore you had Cards fans in Omaha, Cards fans in Denver, Cards fans in Biloxi – and plenty of them are still around.

New Orleans over JACKSONVILLE

This is kind of hard to believe, but Jacksonville is technically the largest city in Florida – population 821, 784. And yet as a television market, it’s ranked 47th – a few spots ahead of New Orleans (51) and Buffalo (52). (Green Bay is ranked lowest, #70 overall – this according to Nielsen.)

HOUSTON over Pittsburgh

“Houston” was the first word uttered by Neil Armstrong from the moon. By the way, Texas is so big, if you were to drive (or walk) from Houston all the way to Los Angeles, you’d be a little less than halfway there when you get to El Paso.

San Francisco over PHILADELPHIA

On the surface, this seems like the strangest upset choice of the week. But you’ve got one of the better pass defenses in the 49ers going against a shaky and injured Michael Vick (or his backup). Meanwhile, Alex Smith is not exactly lighting it up (what else is new), but – believe it or not – he’ll get a chance to do just that against a surprisingly average (so far) Philly pass defense. Incidentally, “Philadelphia” literally means “brotherly love.” The name comes from the Greek words philos (“loving”) and adelphos (literally, “from the same womb” or brothers). You bible-o-philes (I can’t say bibliophiles because that refers generically to books and not the Bible) probably remember reading of an ancient town by the same name in the Lydia region (modern-day west-central Turkey).

New York Giants over ARIZONA

The Cardinals of Arizona were founded in Chicago in 1898 (more than two decades before the NFL itself) under the less-catchy name The Morgan Athletic Club. A couple of years later, playing at Normal Park on Racine Avenue in Chicago, the team changed its name to the Racine Normals. Why they didn’t think people might assume they play in Racine (WI) is anyone’s guess; sports teams had weird names back then, but most likely the team played in a city-wide league. They took the name Cardinals in 1901, played a few years, broke up in 1906, then got back together in 1913 – one year after Arizona became a state. (That’s the Arizona-related portion of the trivia – the state is 14 years younger than its team!)

Atlanta over SEATTLE

More underground city trivia: Seattle sits atop an earlier version of Seattle, which can still be toured today. In 1889, a fire ravaged the town, built mostly of wood. Apparently the fire chief was out of town, and the volunteer firefighters tapped too many hoses, resulting in a drop in water pressure. After the destruction, the city fathers decided to regrade Seattle, as it sat on a low tideland vulnerable to flooding (which, ironically, would have at least put out the fire – these things never happen at the right time). Although the new Seattle had been mostly completed, pedestrians were still using the underground sidewalks as late as 1907. That was when, according to Wikipedia, “the city condemned the Underground for fear of pneumonic plague…The basements were left to deteriorate or were used as storage. Some became illegal flophouses for the homeless, gambling halls, speakeasies, and opium dens.” Awesome.

SAN DIEGO over Miami

Baseball’s San Diego Padres are the only major league sports team in the US with an entirely non-English name. By the way, Miami Dolphins ownership and management told reports that head coach Tony Sparano’s job is “safe.” For an NFL head coach, that’s about as reassuring as a kiss on the cheek from a mafia chief.

New England over OAKLAND

The Mai Tai cocktail was created in Oakland. Depending on whose story you believe, it was created either by the Trader Vic’s owner Vic Bergeron in 1944, or by his rival, Don the Beachcomber, eleven years earlier. Nothing like a contested origin story.

GREEN BAY over Denver

Was the state of Oregon named after Wisconsin? Does that even make any sense? The etymology of the name “Oregon” is undetermined, but many historians believe it was derived from the Indian pronunciation of Wisconsin (that would be, in other words, the correct, non Anglicized or Franc-afied original name). The natives called the land Ouisconsin or Ouisconsink. An 18th century French map of the Wisconsin region labeled the Wisconsin River as “Ouaricon-sint,” with the word broken in two at the hyphen. The result was that a river flowing west appeared to be named Ouaricon.

But Oregon is some 1600 miles west of Wisconsin. Especially far by 18th century standards, it seems a leap to believe that someone read the map, saw the river, figured it ran to the Pacific and named (or misnamed) Oregon for it. Yet the book Oregon Geographic Names endorsed this as the “most plausible explanation.” Perhaps this was because many towns in the Pacific Northwest were named for other logging towns, for example Milwaukie, Oregon and Onalaska, Washington. (There is a town in Wisconsin named Oregon, but it seems to have been settled after the name was applied to the western territory.) Considering the myriad Native American names that have been mispronounced and appropriated by the white man, the etymology shall probably remain a mystery.

Incidentally, natives of Oregon pronounce it “OH-re-gun,” not “OH-re-gahn,” as many outsiders do (including Wisconsinites, with their propensity for short ‘O’ sounds – think “octagon”). I’ve had people – including members of my own family – tell me that Oregonians pronounce the name of their state incorrectly. People who live there – pronouncing their own state’s name wrong? “Octagon” is a worthy example – it’s not pronounced “OCT-a-gun,” after all. But this is not a hard and fast rule; you say “WAY-gun,” not “WAY-gahn” for wagon. Neither is “correct,” it’s just a regional difference. Just don’t get me started on Missour-uh.

BALTIMORE over New York Jets

Baltimore is the home to the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins University. I’ve always found it a peculiar name. How many Hopkins John were there? Did two guys name John Hopkins run into each other in Baltimore, find it a funny coincidence, and pool their resources?

Actually, there really was a guy named Johns Hopkins. He was a 19th century entrepreneur, abolitionist, and yes, philanthropist who endowed these fine institutions. Hopkins’ great grandfather was Gerard Hopkins, who married Margaret Johns; they named their son Johns Hopkins and the name was passed to that man’s grandson. (The naming after a mother’s surname was not uncommon in those days.)

TAMPA BAY over Indianapolis

In hunting for Tampa trivia, I’ve found a couple of web sites claiming that Tampa is Florida’s largest city (and not, as many assume, Miami). Of course I covered this in the Jacksonville section – J’ville is Florida’s largest city in terms of population. Here is the breakdown.

Jacksonville             821,784

Miami                        399,457

Tampa                        335,709

Tampa isn’t even second-largest. Anyway, why the confusion? Why does Miami seem like the huge metropolis when it’s smaller than Portland, Omaha, and Fresno?

That’s because as measured by metropolitan area, the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale region is the nation’s 8th largest (and by far Florida’s biggest): 5.5 million people. Tampa, with 2.8 million, ranks 19th – and Jacksonville is 40th at 1.3 million. (Metropolitan areas are similar but not exactly the same as “media markets” as determined by companies like Nielsen; hence the #47 ranking in that category for J’ville). When we hear about older cities like Boston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Detroit losing huge segments of population, it only means a decrease within the city limits. Many who flee cities move only out to the suburbs – thus they still function as a part of the greater metro area. Only three of the top 40 metro areas in the US had a net population loss from 2000 to 2010: Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.

Metropolitan areas encompass many neighboring cities and villages, and can cross state lines (New York City’s covers New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and even Pennsylvania). In some cases they can cross national borders – the San Diego-Tijuana (or Tijuana-San Diego, depending on where you live) metro area is the nation’s largest international conurbation.

Chicago’s metro area includes Gary, Indiana and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s includes Racine, Wisconsin – just to the south. Only eleven miles separate Racine from Kenosha. Shouldn’t Chicago-Milwaukee be one giant metro area? One must assume that only civic pride and/or lobbying has kept the Census Bureau from cynically placing mid-sized Milwaukee into gargantuan Chicago’s orbit.

But getting back to Tampa – its metro area includes neighboring cities St. Petersburg and Clearwater among several smaller ones. Hence the addition of “Bay” to the name of its sports teams – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lighting, and Rays. The “bay area” includes the surrounding communities – a clever marketing gimmick by the teams to extend their reach. (It’s the naming equivalent of a “clear channel” radio station.) Other examples: Arizona (nee Phoenix) Cardinals, New England (nee Boston) Patriots, and Golden State (nee San Francisco) Warriors. In the future will we watch the Fox Valley Packers or Chicagoland Bears?

Not this season, anyway.

Last week: 12-4. Season: 35-12.

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