By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Every couple of months, some magazine or Web site is coming out with the latest bogus list of which cities are the best to live in or have the best quality of life or whatever. And what factors are considered when compiling these assessments? Totally irrelevant criteria such as the food, the weather, crime rates, affordability, school systems, cultural scenes, blah blah blah -- as if anyone cared about that stuff.

Everyone knows there's only one quality of life issue worth considering when you're deciding where to live: How good are the local teams' uniforms?

Face it, if you're gonna be stuck looking at the same teams every day (not just on TV but also in the newspaper, on billboards, etc.), they'd better be easy on the eyes. Or as an acquaintance once told Uni Watch, "You're lucky to live in New York because you get to watch the Yankees, Giants and Knicks all year long. Imagine what it's like for us out here in …" Never mind which city he mentioned. You get the idea.

In an effort to redress this glaring oversight in municipal measurement, Uni Watch has painstakingly devised a system to gauge a city's performance in the crucial category of athletics aesthetics. This system -- known as the uniform numerical index, or UNI -- offers the most accurate barometer of a city's suitability for human habitation.

Here's how it works: First, only cities with at least three major-level sports teams are eligible for a UNI ranking (college and minor league teams don't count -- because there are too many of them and because their uniforms tend to change too frequently anyway). Unfortunately, this means two-team cities such as San Diego, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Buffalo and Nashville didn't make the cut (and are therefore implicitly uninhabitable). But ineligibility can have its advantages: Because Cincinnati has only two teams, for example, it was spared the albatross of having its ranking pulled down by the Bengals.

Assigning teams to specific cities involved a few judgment calls. Should the A's, Raiders, Warriors and Sharks count as San Francisco teams? (Yes.) Should the Nets, Devils and Islanders be filed under New York? (No.) Should the Patriots be assigned to Boston? (Duh.) That sort of thing. After lots of careful consideration, Uni Watch ended up with 20 U.S. cities plus Toronto meeting the three-team standard.

A rigorous, highly scientific set of standards then was employed to rate the uniforms of each team in the 21 cities. The ratings, on a scale of one to five stars, roughly translate to the following expressions of civic pride (or angst, as the case might be):

= "Man, is this a great city or what? Why didn't we move here sooner?"
= "Hey, maybe that broker's fee wasn't so outrageous after all."
= "I really like it here. But you know, I like lots of places."
= "I pay property tax, school tax and garbage tax just so I can look at this?"
= "Call the movers -- we're leaving tomorrow."

After adding up a city's ratings and dividing by the number of teams, Uni Watch ended up with the city's average score. Because a uniform can be enhanced or diminished by its surrounding context, especially on TV, a stadium/arena bonus (for particularly attractive settings) or penalty (for domes or artificial turf) of as much as one point was applied to certain cities. The average score, plus this bonus or penalty, yields the city's final UNI, destined to become the key yardstick of urban stature.

OK, enough preliminaries. Uni Watch hereby presents America's five best-dressed cities, any of which would make a fine home base for a budding sports aesthete:

1. Boston
Even if you have trouble understanding the local accent, you'll find that the Red Sox (), Celtics (), and Bruins () are all speaking of the universal language of aesthetic excellence. If only the Pats () hadn't traded in Pat Patriot for Flying Elvis, Beantown would've had a near-perfect score. Toss in a bonus point for Fenway Park (which makes every team look better), and you've got America's best-looking sports city. UNI Score: 5.25

2. Chicago
OK, so the weather occasionally can get a tad balmy in the summer and a mite brisk in the winter, but who cares about that when you have such excellent uniforms to look at every day? The Cubs' design () is a timeless classic; the White Sox () are firmly ensconced in MLB's upper echelon; the Bears () and Blackhawks () are among the best-looking teams in their leagues; and the Bulls (), although unspectacular, are never painful to look at (visually, at least). Uni Watch originally was going to award a bonus point for Wrigley Field, but let's make it half a point instead because many fans don't even get to see all those afternoon games. UNI Score: 4.8

3. San Francisco and vicinity
San Francisco treat, indeed. If we stuck to MLB and NFL, the Bay Area might have nabbed the top spot: Giants (), A's (), Niners (), Raiders () -- not a dog in the bunch. The same can't be said, alas, for the Warriors () and Sharks (). But a half-point bonus for visually alluring AT&T Park helps, as does an additional quarter-point bonus for Niners coach Mike Nolan's successful efforts to bring the suit back to NFL sidelines. UNI Score: 4.33

4 (tie). Los Angeles
No surprise that a city obsessed with looks would field a good-looking set of teams. L.A.'s uniforms are led by the timeless Dodgers () and Lakers () and the modern classic Angels (), with the Clippers () and Ducks () holding down a respectable middle ground. Unfortunately, not even a crew of L.A.'s best plastic surgeons can help the Kings (, but a half-point bonus for Dodger Stadium helps to lessen that pain. UNI Score: 4.0

4 (tie). Pittsburgh
You can look at all those Brillo boxes at the Warhol Museum if you want, but the Steel City's real artworks are on the field and the ice (and, OK, at Primanti's). Start with the Pirates (), who've been so bad for so long that it's easy to forget how sharp their unis are (dig that unique number font). Then you have the Steelers (), whose uni design is so understatedly simple that it's easy to take it for granted. Add a skating penguin () to the mix and you've got a city Uni Watch would be proud to call home. UNI Score: 4.0

Those are the top five. Uni Watch's full breakdown of all 21 cities shapes up like this:

UNI WATCH'S MOST LIVABLE CITIES
City MLB NFL NBA NHL Average Bonus/
Penalty
UNI
score
1. Boston Red Sox
Patriots
Celtics
Bruins
4.25 Fenway Park (+1) 5.25
2. Chicago Cubs

White Sox
Bears
Bulls
Blackhawks
4.3 Wrigley Field (+0.5) 4.8
3. San Francisco
Bay Area
Giants

A's
49ers

Raiders
Warriors
Sharks
3.58 AT&T Park (+0.5), Mike Nolan's suit (+0.25) 4.33
T4. Los Angeles Dodgers

Angels
  Lakers

Clippers
Kings

Ducks
3.5 Dodger Stadium (+0.5) 4.0
T4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Steelers
  Penguins
4.0 None 4.0
6. New York Yankees

Mets
Giants

Jets
Knicks
Rangers
3.83 None 3.83
T7. St. Louis Cardinals
Rams
  Blues
4.17 Edward Jones Dome (-0.5) 3.67
T7. Cleveland Indians
Browns
Cavaliers
  3.67 None 3.67
T7. Seattle Mariners
Seahawks
Sonics
  3.17 Safeco Field (+0.5) 3.67
T10. Philadelphia Phillies
Eagles
76ers
Flyers
3.5 None 3.5
T10. Houston Astros
Texans
Rockets
  3.5 None 3.5
12. Detroit Tigers
Lions
Pistons
Red Wings
3.88 Ford Field (-0.5) 3.38
T13. Miami Marlins
Dolphins
Heat
Panthers
3.0 None 3.0
T13. Washington Nationals
Redskins
Wizards
Capitals
3.0 None 3.0
T15. Dallas Rangers
Cowboys
Mavericks
Stars
3.38 Texas Stadium (-0.5) 2.88
T15. Denver Rockies
Broncos
Nuggets
Avalanche
2.88 None 2.88
17. Toronto Blue Jays
  Raptors
Maple Leafs
3.17 Rogers Centre (-0.5) 2.67
T18. Phoenix Diamondbacks
Cardinals
Suns
Coyotes
2.5 None 2.5
T18. Tampa Devil Rays
Bucs
  Lightning
3.0 Tropicana Field (-0-5) 2.5
20. Atlanta Braves
Falcons
Hawks
Thrashers
2.88 Georgia Dome (-0.5) 2.38
21. Minneapolis Twins
Vikings
Timberwolves
Wild
2.63 Metrodome (-1.0) 1.63

Want to vote for your favorite among Uni Watch's top five? Place your vote in the poll at the top of the page. If you'd rather cast a write-in vote for one of the other 16 cites, e-mail your choice to bestdressedcity@earthlink.net.

The Topic That Wouldn't Die
If you had asked Uni Watch which recently covered topic would have the longest life in terms of reader feedback, chin straps wouldn't even have been on the radar. But chin strap observations continue to trickle in, most recently from the several readers who've noted that Antonio Pierce wears a little "ny" logo on his chin strap's cup -- sometimes in red, sometimes in blue.

Meanwhile, reader Darin Nelson noticed that Boise State QB Jared Zabransky was wearing a particularly unusual rig in the Fiesta Bowl: two straps on one side and only one strap on the other. Amid all the halfback options and hook-and-laterals, that might have been Boise's niftiest trick of all.

Paul Lukas lives in New York, which would move up in the UNI rankings if the Mets would just ditch the black. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here; his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here; and archives of his columns are available here, here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.




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