Life in Los Angeles in late 2003:
One Sunday, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant trade verbal barbs, nothing new for them at all. While the county burns, media and fans fiddle away, obsessing over the latest round of Shaq Said-Kobe Said and tossing around such terms as "firestorm" and "apocalypse" to describe a petty squabble between two basketball teammates.
The next Sunday, local pro football fans settle in for the big game at the season's halfway mark, and the only thing CBS serves up is a 10 a.m. dog between the 2-5 team from Oakland and the 1-6 team from Detroit.
Two Southland annoyances, seemingly unrelated, except for one frayed common thread.
It is spelled: N-F-L.
This is what happens when you take two NFL teams out of a major media market and order it to go cold turkey after a 50-year habit. Sports sections still have pages to fill. Sports-talk shows still need topics to beat to death between commercials. The NFL was great for this, for a long time in L.A., but without the Rams and the Raiders, the Lakers have been left to feed the beast from October on.
Feuding Laker superstars are old hat in this town. Egos clashed on the Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain Lakers, but when they did, there was always another Ram game to deflect attention. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had their moments, but L.A. also had the Raiders, and the weekly Raider crisis was always good for instant distraction.
For better or worse, pro football rules in NFL cities. From a fan and media perspective, an NFL team soaks up newspaper inches and talk-show hours the same way a rubber-armed pitcher soaks up innings. Its diversionary potential cannot be understated.
But take that team, or teams, out of that city, and the vacuum left behind will seek new targets. With nothing else to diffuse it, the latest flare-up in a long-standing rift between Laker teammates is allowed to spin on and on, becoming over-amplified and over-analyzed, making life miserable for many, Phil Jackson in particular.
In addition, television networks, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, presume that the former home of the Raiders and Rams continues to pine for those long-ago crushes. So instead of getting the most intriguing AFC matchup on the schedule, Indianapolis at Miami, Los Angeles fans are stuck instead with the least attractive game on the board, Raiders at Lions.
If L.A. had never experienced the NFL -- no Rams, no Raiders -- it would have had a much better chance of seeing the Colts and the Dolphins on Sunday. Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? Not when the NFL is concerned.
There it is, Los Angeles. We've got the worst of both worlds.
On the plus side, the Lakers remain undefeated this season.
Available for viewing this weekend:
* Washington State at USC
(Channel 7, 4 p.m.)
To the winner goes ... fourth place in the bowl championship series standings? This matchup of football-flinging 7-1 teams deserves better stakes, but East Coast bias is a virus even BCS computer hacks haven't yet figured out. On a perfect Trojan day, USC needs three teams to lose: Washington State and take your pick from Oklahoma, Miami and Florida State.
* Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
(Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.)
Hope for USC: Oklahoma State is 2-0 versus Oklahoma since the Sooners last played in the BCS title game.
* Miami at Virginia Tech
(ESPN, 4:45 p.m.)
Hope for USC: Miami has won 39 consecutive regular-season games. Miami can't win them all.
* Florida State at Notre Dame
(Channel 4, 11:30 a.m.)
Hope for USC: This one's at Notre Dame. And, well, when's the last time Notre Dame did USC any favors? Go Oklahoma State! Go Virginia Tech!
* UCLA at Stanford
(Fox Sports Net, 12:30 p.m.)
If USC defeats Washington State and UCLA beats Stanford, UCLA will be alone atop the Pac-10 standings at 5-0. So on the same afternoon Trojan fans are rooting for Notre Dame, Bruin fans will be rooting for USC. Strange day indeed.
* "EA Sports Elite 11 Quarterback Show"
(ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.)
This one-hour documentary begins at the Elite 11 high-school quarterback camp in July and follows four top prospects back to their high schools -- except for John David Booty, who never made it back to high school, trading in his senior year for an early indoctrination with the USC bench. Among the others: Canyon Country's Nate Longshore, a devout Mormon who bypassed BYU, orally committing to Cal, and Matt Tuiasosopo -- son of Manu, brother of Marques -- who lists USC and UCLA among his "favorite schools."
* Lakers at Phoenix Suns
(Channel 9, 6 p.m.)
Sure, the Lakers are big news here. But if you want to see them live on the road on Channel 9, this is your last chance for a while. Games at Milwaukee on Tuesday, New Orleans on Friday and Memphis on Nov. 10 will be delayed one hour by Channel 9. You can't stop the Lakers, you can only delay them.
* San Jose Earthquakes at Galaxy
(Fox Sports World, 7 p.m.)
The Galaxy opens a two-game home-and-away playoff series against its California rival at the Home Depot Center. The Galaxy is winless on the road this season. You want the definition of a must-win game, here it is.
* Oakland Raiders at Detroit Lions
(Channel 2, 10 a.m.)
You can throw away the records when these two meet. Or so CBS wishes. Why should you watch? Marques Tuiasosopo was Pac-10 player of the year in 2000, followed by Joey Harrington in 2001. Don't think of this as the 2-5 Raiders at the 1-6 Lions. Think of it as Washington Huskies at Oregon Ducks on CBS Classic.
* St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers
(Channel 11, 1:15 p.m.)
Who says the NFL is impossible to predict anymore? Everybody knew this would be Marc Bulger against Tim Rattay when the season kicked off in September.