Walcoff: Niners, Stanford and Cal among Bay Area’s top draws

So sports fans, with money tighter than Angelina Jolie’s nightie, who gets you to fight the traffic, pay $30 to park, dish out $70 for a ticket and $9 bucks a beer to cheer for the home team?

– The 49ers remain the Bay Area’s most enticing winter attraction. The Stick may be a dive, but there’s enough intensity and intrigue in Mike Singletary’s team to warrant those sellouts in every game so far this season. With marquee attractions Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and the resurgent Alex Smith leading the way, the Niners should see big crowds for a playoff chase right through the holidays.

– Until a few weeks ago, beautifully renovated Stanford Stadium was more mausoleum than mecca for college football fans, but Saturday’s Big Game is another sellout for the suddenly relevant Cardinal. Led by senior running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for six touchdowns and 401 yards in stunning upsets of USC and Oregon, and redshirt freshman Andrew Luck, who Jim Harbaugh calls the best quarterback in the country (no one is laughing anymore), No. 14 Stanford has gone from unwatchable (1-11 in 2006), to unbelievable (7-3) and still in the Rose Bowl hunt.

– Cal had the thrill factor at full throttle until Jahvid Best got hurt. Even so, the Bears came within a whisker of averaging at least 60,000 fans a game in Berkeley for a fourth straight season, even with all that construction going on outside Memorial Stadium.

– The Sharks have also had capacity crowds for all eight of their home games at HP Pavilion. When you’re the NHL’s winningest team boasting a bevy of stars in Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle and Evgeni Nabokov, the rink side experience at the Shark Tank is exhilarating. 

– Haas Pavilion is also a campus hot spot, especially with Cal’s men’s and women’s basketball teams both being nationally ranked. Back down on The Farm, look for the No. 2 Stanford women to outdraw the Cardinal men’s hoop team, which could finish last in the Pac-10.

– The Raiders are facing a fifth local TV blackout in six home games Sunday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals. Top draft picks JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey were supposed to be gamebreakers, but instead have become heartbreakers to the Raider Nation which is likely looking at a seventh straight double-digit loss season. The Silver and Black hasn’t borrowed the A’s tarps to cover the upper deck just yet, but with a barely half-filled Oakland Coliseum the past two games, it’s getting mighty lonely up on Mount Davis.

– The Warriors round out Oakland’s Bermuda Triangle of troubled pro teams. Since selling out their opener, Golden State has averaged a respectable 17,500 a game. But with a rash of injuries, infighting and the incessant barrage of pumped in noise masquerading as entertainment at Oracle Arena, fans will get tired of the circus. Maybe when the losses mount and the crowds shrink, Don Nelson will come out in a clown costume or grab a chair and a whip. I’d pay to see that.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news and is also the co-host of “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.
 

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