A few weeks ago, ESPN asked the fans in each state to select their Mount Rushmore of Sports legends. The goal was to pick the greatest foursome of all time. You know, sort like a 50-team tournament for Final Fours. Pretty cool, huh?
Then the Worldwide Leader announced the results of its nation-wide poll: 1. Illinois; 2. Pennsylvania; 3. California; 4. New York; 5. Alabama.
What—everyone in Chicago voted five times?
Puh-leeze, don’t make me Ill.
Look, I have nothing against the state that Al Capone and Rod Blagojevich made infamous—er, the Land of Lincoln. It's just that, when you compare the best that the fans say the Windy City has to offer—Ernie Banks, Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan and Walter Payton—with the best foursome in Pee-Eh history—Wilt Chamberlain, Roberto Clemente, Mario Lemieux and Joe Paterno—well, there is no comparison.
Illinois against Pennsylvania is the Coldplay versus U2. The Golden Girls versus Sex in the City. Tom, Dick, Harry and their illegitimate brother versus Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Why, Pennsylvania didn't even suit up Josh Gibson, Mean Joe Greene, Dan Marino, Arnold Palmer or Michael Jack Schmidt, for goshsakes!
Never mind the rest of the country. As far as I can tell, there's only one person qualified to make a judgment call of this significance:
See, I was born in Chicago. I was raised in Chicago. If there's an athlete in the toddlin' town that I haven't seen as a fan or media member, then the person hasn't been born yet.
At the same time, I'm happy to report that, at a young age, my brain took my heart to Western Pennsylvania. Since then, nobody has followed Pittsburgh sports more closely than yours truly.
So please allow this neutral corner to break it down once and for all...
Banks versus Clemente. Banks is a Hall Famer, two-time home run leader, two-time Most Valuable Player and member of the 500 home run club.
But as much as I admire Mr. Cub, bless him, he also stands as the monument to the franchise that hasn't won a World Series in 101 years and counting.
And you thought the last 16 seasons for the Pirates were hard to take?
Clemente was a career .317 hitter, four-time batting champion, 12-time Gold Glover and one-time MVP selection. The Hall of Famer also was a true champion. The higher the stakes, the better he played (aee 1971 World Series).
Here's what separates The Great One from the rest: As brilliant as The Great One was on the field, his social impact was even greater away from it.
Advantage: Keystone State.
Ditka versus Paterno. Joe Pa has more victories than any head coach in college football history—his Penn State teams probably would have walked off with three or four national titles if a playoff system were in place—but never mind that. He may have done more for his university than any other head coach as well.
Ditka starred at Pitt before he went on to redefine the tight end position in the pros. (To give you an idea of how deep Team Pennsylvania is, not even he could make the cut.) As for Ditka Da Coach, more than one Chicagoan will tell you that his ridiculously talented Bears teams underachieved to some extent.
Pssst, voters: Shouldn't Bears legend George Halas be here instead?
Jordan versus Chamberlain. The best matchup on the board pits the greatest 6-foot-6-and-under player in hoops history against the most dominant force at any size, any position, any era.
Jordan averaged the most points per game (30.1) in NBA history. Chamberlain averaged the most points in one season (50.4) and scored the most (100) in one game. His Airness put up 32,292 points (third overall) in the regular season.
The Big Dipper totaled 31,419 points (fourth), 23,924 rebounds (first) and 20,000-plus…how can I put this? Oh, you know what I mean.
Jordan boasts a wide edge in league championships, 6-2, but Chamberlain played for perhaps the two greatest teams ever. And, remember, the Big Dipper had to butt heads against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics for much of his career. Who did His Airness have to beat—John Starks and the New York Knicks?
Payton versus Lemieux. Another photo finish. Payton is the No. 2 ground-gainer (16,726 yards) in NFL history, a one-time MVP selection and among the best all-around players ever.
Lemieux is the No. 2 scorer (1.88 points per game) in NHL history, a three-time MVP choice, and arguably the most gifted player ever to lace up skates.
Tie-breaker: Sweetness saved a team, but Super Mario saved a franchise.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. The final results are in: Pennsylvania 3, Illinois zippo, one tie.
And you can chisel that in stone.