St. Louis has Mark McGwire. Philadelphia has Allen Iverson. Miami has Pavel Bure. Detroit has Barry Sanders. Seattle has Ken Griffey Jr. Boston has Pedro Martinez. Buffalo has Dominik Hasek. New York City? Fuhgeddaboutit. New York City has Latrell Sprewell and Derek Jeter and Mike Piazza and Keyshawn Johnson. All of America has Mia Hamm.
Who do we have?
Who is our "go-to" guy?
Who do you want to go to see? Who do you need to go to see?
You can't keep saying Sonny. He's 64 years old.
There were athletes who played here in the '70s and '80s who were worth dropping everything to see: John Riggins and Wes Unseld were at the top of the list. But Riggo retired 14 years ago, and Wes retired four years before Riggo. Rod Langway was worth making the schlep out to Capital Centre, but he's long gone, too.
Excuse me, Tony, but before this gets too depressing, why don't you talk about the Women's World Cup?
Because everything that needed to be said about that has already been said 12 times. This was the most overstated sports event in history. We haven't seen this kind of boosterism and feel-good coverage since . . .
Since The Bandwagon, Tony?
Oh, please. This makes The Bandwagon look like investigative reporting. Newsweek screams: "Girls Rule!" on its cover. But do they? Are "girls sports" on TV anywhere near as often as "boys sports"? Call me the next time they preempt Auburn-Alabama for a women's soccer game. This was Cinderella. This was a fantasy team in a fantasy sport, a politically correct fable for suburban soccer moms. American women winning the soccer World Cup does not mean American men will stop watching college football and start watching field hockey.
Don't get me wrong. The Women's World Cup was a swell event. I watched the final, like 40 million other Americans, and it is not lost on me that the ratings were way higher than for most NBA playoff games. It's neat that we have the best female soccer players in the world. And as the father of a girl who played youth soccer for a few years, I'm grateful for Title IX. But Mia Hamm and Brandi "If I Rip My Shirt Off I Can Get On More Covers Than Nicole Kidman And Set Myself Up For A Sports Bra Endorsement" Chastain didn't invent the wheel. Women's team sports flourished in the Atlanta Olympics: Our softball, basketball and soccer teams were huge draws, and all won gold medals. Our women's hockey team was the highlight of Nagano. Women's sports have been growing and building for years, and this is another escalation -- not some biblical revelation.
For all the breathless commentary, let's remember that women's soccer is not the NFL. If they put a women's pro soccer league out there tomorrow, the games would draw 7,000 people max. Soccer is a tough sell in America; men have been trying it for 20 years without much success. Part of the reason the Women's World Cup drew so well is that Americans love Big Events, and we love winning them. These women fit so neatly into the idea of ourselves as the greatest equal-opportunity, can-do country on earth. In a sense, this was a populist referendum on the long-gone ERA. But I would remind you that women's soccer gathered the four best teams in the world on Saturday. And in two games they produced a total of zero goals. None. So enjoy this for what it was. It was an orchid. It's over. Six months from now, people won't know Kristine Lilly from Lily Tomlin. And then whom will Newsweek put on its cover?
Ah, where was I?
Minneapolis has Randy Moss. Atlanta has Greg Maddux. Dallas has Brett Hull. San Francisco still has Steve Young and Jerry Rice. San Antonio has Tim Duncan. Phoenix has Jake Plummer. Chicago has Sammy Sosa. Houston has Charles Barkley and Cynthia Cooper. Green Bay has Brett Favre.
Who do we have?
Certainly no one on the Wizards. Mitch Richmond came here with six straight all-star games behind him -- and immediately sank in the quicksand that sucks down everyone on this team. Olie Kolzig had a great run two seasons ago when he was worth the high price of admission to Caps games. But he receded this season, as did all the Caps. Peter Bondra scores a lot of goals, but I've yet to hear anybody say, "Forget about dinner, let's go see Bondra tonight."
The Redskins have nobody to make the endless trip to The Big Jack for. It could have been Desmond Howard and Heath Shuler. It should have been Michael Westbrook. I would have drafted Ricky Williams for the energizing effect alone. But I'm not the general manager. Who is these days?
The Baltimore Orioles are not our team. But they have someone worth watching -- though it is not Albert Belle, because the impulse in going to see Belle is to be there for his meltdown. The person to see is Cal. But we have seen him for 20 years now. It's like going to a DeNiro movie. You've seen all his moves already, and at this stage in the game your feeling is more like appreciation than thrill.
Chamique Holdsclaw? Wilbon proclaimed she'd be the greatest thing since sliced bread. And maybe she will be, down the road. But despite the flirtation with the Women's World Cup, Americans haven't embraced a woman on a team sport to anywhere near the degree they have embraced individual female tennis players, skaters and gymnasts. And right now Holdsclaw is just a nice player on a bad team. That's the real problem here: All the teams are bad. They have no juice. Only a transcendent star, such as McGwire in St. Louis, can overcome a bad team. And we have no transcendent stars. We have one good team, D.C. United. But the best player, Marco Etcheverry, spends more time playing for Bolivia than in Washington. You can't say on a whim, "Let's go see Etcheverry," because when you get there he might not be there.
Occasionally a college kid comes through who stands this city on its ear. Patrick Ewing in the early '80s, certainly. He's been gone, what now, 14 years? Today, the great college players are gone before you have a chance to focus on them. Allen Iverson and Joe Smith stayed two years; Steve Francis was here only one -- we'll be lucky if we ever hear from him again, out there in Vancouver.
We don't even have great coaches to cajole us out to the ballpark. In Los Angeles, people will buy tickets to see Phil Jackson. Pat Riley sells tickets in Miami. Bill Parcells sells tickets at the Meadowlands. Mike Ditka sells tickets at the Superdome. We've got some fine fellows here. But when was the last time you bought a ticket to see Norv Turner?
The Home Run Derby at baseball's All-Star Game is one of the coolest things in sports. But watching it last night just gave me the blues. Wondering how long it will be until Washington gets its own true star, someone you'd stay up late and pay good money to see.
CAPTION: Goalie Olaf Kolzig provided a little magic with his brilliant play in the Caps' march to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. But Kolzig and his teammates were disappointments last season.
CAPTION: Mystics rookie Chamique Holdsclaw, left, is an all-star, but is she a drawing card, too?