Sacramento: The City of Sports in 21st Century


Looking back, I can hardly believe it. Used to be I could say things like, "The great, the awful, the young, the old--yup, I've seen 'em come, I've seen 'em go."

But here, from the vantage point of the year 2024, I can safely say I can't remember the last time I saw anyone go. I've just sat here watching this town--been doing it since 1983--and all I can say is, "I've seen 'em come and come . . . and keep on coming."

Remember that scene in "The Ten Commandments" when Charlton Heston (who was, I might add, just elected to his second term as U.S. president at age 103) led thousands of slaves on the exodus to the Promised Land? Well, that's what it was like. Suddenly, everyone in the world seemed to be moving to Sacramento. Nothing could stop them.

It began as a trickle in '85, when the Kings packed up and left Kansas City. They were the pioneers of The Great Migration, the first ones in. After that, for five, six years, no one came. Some people here, thinking no one would come again, panicked. It was a bitter time filled with darkness and woe. Later, it became known as The Black Lull.

Luckily, it didn't last. After Al Davis moved his Raiders to Sacramento in '92, the floodgates collapsed. Moving vans and trailers and Range Rovers jammed I-80 at all hours. The sound of hammers and saws didn't stop for three years as stadiums and arenas and practice facilities sprung up all over town. Those of us who were around then couldn't believe it.

In fact, I saw Anne Rudin, who was mayor then, selling sushidogs at a concession stand in The Al & Gregg, 2-Gether, 4-Ever, ARCO/Gulf, Western & Toshiba Palace of Happiness And Sport the other day, and she told me she still hasn't gotten over the shock.

"Other important people visited me," she said, "but they never did. They never stopped in to visit. They just brought their teams in without even saying hello."

Now, naturally, it's easy to take for granted what we have. But all those teams didn't have the easiest time getting here. Take Notre Dame.

It was '02 or maybe '03 when The Irish dropped roots in town, but it might have never happened if Athletic Director Lou Holtz hadn't started to crack. Holtz, you should know, went insane in 2012 and was carted away raving that George Gipp had been living a lie for the last 90 years. A decade earlier, when he'd authorized the move west, he seemed stable. But looking back, I'm not so sure.

"I made a list of 100 things I wanted to do before I died," Holtz said then," and No. 100 was to move the Fighting Irish to a world-class city. South Bend is too small. Everyone calls it a cow town. I'm sick of it. Give me those bright lights on the Tower Bridge any day."

As you know, Notre Dame's basketball team was never much. So Gregg Lukenbill enticed (books and movie rights, that's what I heard) Indiana's hoopsters and their incendiary coach B. Knight--who in 1997 insisted on shortening his first name from Bob to "B"--to come west. Left the rest of the school in Bloomington, though. Luke said their business school was pretty lame.

Of course, it wasn't all gravy. We had to take some of the bad with the good, too. Like when the Yankees came, Luke had to agree to take the Bronx along with them. Yes, we had to fill in the Sacramento River, but so what? We had to have some place to put the zoo and Fort Apache and all those bombed-out tenements.

Speaking of the river, that brings to mind the time Lukenbill first brought home the America's Cup. Luke saw what he wanted and went out and got it. Piloted a gunboat into San Diego Harbor during the '92 Cup races there and just grabbed the Cup, and some lip balm, right out of Dennis Conner's hands. Conner started shrieking, but Luke bolted and lost those tri-hulls but fast.

They had to change the race to a cigarette boat sprint and name it the American River Cup, but what of it? We've successfully defended it the last four tries.

No rest for the burned-out scribe, though. Just three years later, the A's and the Giants merged and moved here, and two years after that, major-league baseball decided to expand again by throwing yet another team into Sacramento.

"You can't stop the tide," baseball Commissioner Angelo Tsakopoulos said then. "This is the dawn of the Sacramento Century. We know it. America knows it. Three teams for this city may not be enough."

Of course, that became something of a moot point when one of the members of Sacramento's Gang of Omniscient Developers (G.O.D.)--we won't name names here, naturally--was suspected of fixing an election in San Francisco after folks went to bed thinking they'd approved a new, 3,400-seat baseball park for the minor-league Minnows and awoke to find they'd agreed to the annexation of the Bay Area to Sacramento. Historians are calling it the American Anschluss.

But don't think this whole affair ended with sports. No sir, it began with it. Once Michigan Gov. Bo Schembechler approved the move of the entire U.S. auto industry to Sacramento in '98, we knew anything could happen. No one even blinked when Eastern Hemisphere President Mikhail Gorbachev, looking toward Japan, moved his headquarters, lock, stock and sickle, here.

And now there's talk that Lukenbill is negotiating with Rome for the rights to St. Peter's Basilica. The deal is close to being done. Just some niggling details--something about changing the name to St. Luke's.

If that isn't progress, I don't know what is.

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