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THE CITIES WHERE THE WILD FANS ARE

"Which city has the best sports fans?"

That question came to mind the other day at the Monday Quarterback Club luncheon, when a very classy gent named Jim Richter thanked the fans for their support during his days here.

The feeling is that if a poll were taken that day, all the fans at that luncheon would have said, "Buffalo." Then they would be disappointed when a pollster told a national magazine publisher they weren't.

Saturday night at the David Delgado reunion at the Gateway Niagara, a displaced Brooklyn man, now a Floridian, came close to the reality of the situation when he said, "You people are such sports fans because being a fan keeps your mind off the weather."

He was close, but it has been my experience that the interest in fandom has to do with the length of time a city has been without a major-league franchise and the number of cultural pursuits available in that city.

Sure, there would have been citizens at the Quarterback Club luncheon who would have talked about how the people here had a parade for Jim Kelly the day of his arrival. And some young old-timers would have reminisced about the time a bank opened its doors at 2:30 a.m. to accommodate one O.J. Simpson.

Certainly one of my sisters would vote for the Buffalo area. She was in her hotel room in Amherst when a newscaster talked about the investigation of a miracle. By the time Dorothy arrived at the the set the newscaster had moved along to "something really important" -- the Buffalo Bills highlights.

Let's do a rundown of other cities and recall when they got their first new pro sports franchise and their cultural opportunities.

In Manhattan, Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote attracted attention in Toots Shor's. But Shor's was a sports bar where one went to see sports luminaries. Those same three wouldn't cause excitement at, say, the Museum of Fine Arts. Such stars would in our city.

Until Namath came along, the Jets would not have attracted attention if they had danced on the tables at Shor's. Bill Parcells is giving the team new life on the sports pages. But no place else.

I have to figure Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and maybe San Francisco in the same category of uninterest. Los Angeles doesn't have even have a pro football team (we don't count Southern Cal or UCLA) and wise guys say they don't have one in Chicago.

Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia and Washington have ardent fans, but not of the sort who feel strangers must start a conversation with a remark about the pro football team.

In Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis, Oakland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, the fans might match those in Buffalo.

Then we have Green Bay. Wonder what a "non-footballer" does there.