Sporting Green // Scott Ostler

The 49ers fans’ guide to Kansas City, the Soccer Capital of America

The Super Bowl, 49ers vs. Chiefs, will be an epic and titanic tussle involving many sports cliches. But, more important, it will feature a historic civic rivalry between two of America’s greatest cities: San Francisco and Santa Clara.

This column was going to be one of those dueling columnist things, where I would go against a Kansas City writer, each of us making fun of the other’s city.

That didn’t work out. Kansas City’s columnist was busy on a cattle drive. Besides, he or she would not have known which 49ers’ home city to mock and belittle. Most people outside the Bay Area are unaware that the 49ers play in Santa Clara, known as the City With No Nickname, although its friends sometimes call it Chip or Lefty.

So, today’s column will be simply a beginner’s introduction to Kansas City, a public service to help 49ers fans learn about the city and the people they will spend the next 10 days hating.

The two cities — K.C. and S.F. — have interesting connections. Kansas City is owned by former San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner.

Walt Disney was born and began his cartooning career in Kansas City. San Francisco has a rodent problem.

One of Kansas City’s nicknames is the Paris of the Plains. One of the nicknames of Paris is the San Francisco of Europe.

Kansas City also calls itself the Soccer Capital of America. Apparently, the Yo-Yo Capital of America was already taken.

San Francisco was named for St. Francis of Assisi, who loved animals. Kansas City is famed for its love of animals. Yum!

You can’t swing a dead cow in Kansas City without hitting a famous barbecue joint. (Note: Swinging dead cows is illegal within city limits.) The three most famous barbecue joints are Gates Bar-B-Q, Arthur Bryant’s and Jack Stack Barbecue. Or, as they call those three in Kansas City: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Most discussions and debates among K.C. citizens and visitors alike revolve around the preferred spelling of barbecue, and the best joints. (Warning: If you are in Kansas City and ask a local to suggest a barbecue “restaurant,” or a vegetarian restaurant, the local will grab your dog and brand him.)

Barbecue is the only food available in Kansas City. And because meat is meat, what distinguishes one famous K.C. barbecue joint from another is its distinctive sauce. So, yes, culinary preferences are determined by how you like to mix your ketchup and sugar.

If you love barbecue — and who doesn’t? — you will die for Kansas City’s most distinctive delicacy, burnt ends, which are the crispiest, tastiest part of a smoked brisket. Brisket, incidentally, is the only thing you can legally smoke in Kansas City. For burnt ends, slow cooking is the secret. The burnt ends you eat today might have been cooking since the ’50s.

Kansas City also calls itself the City of Fountains. There are hundreds of them all over town, admired for their beauty, as well as for their effectiveness in washing barbecue sauce off your hands.

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Both Super Bowl team cities are proud of their literary heritage. San Francisco boasts Mark Twain, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac and Michael Chabon among its great writers. Kansas City boasts the people who write Hallmark greeting cards.

Kansas Citians consider their town a modern metropolis, yet locals are proud of the city’s cowtown past. Until Kansas City’s famed stockyards closed in 1991, the city was pretty much wall-to-wall cows and pigs, few of whom were housebroken. The livestock were shipped in from all over the West and Midwest to be fattened up, then (surprise, fellas!) slaughtered and packed.

The Great Flood of 1951 devastated the stockyards, which never fully recovered, although the town did smell better for a few days. The cattle industry in Kansas City is now kaput, but the cattle-eating industry is roaring.

Kansas City has a rich sports heritage. Like San Francisco, Kansas City used to have an NBA team.

Kansas City is a leading exporter of sports teams. The Kansas City A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, and eventually were replaced by the Royals. The city’s rich legacy of winning — zero NBA titles in 13 years by the NBA Kings, who moved to Sacramento; one Super Bowl title by the Chiefs in 53 years; two World Series titles by the Royals in 51 years — perhaps explains why Kansas City calls itself the Soccer Capital of America.

The Royals, incidentally, were named in honor of Kansas City’s American Royal, which is an annual horse show, livestock exhibit, rodeo and barbecue competition. Where today’s Best in Show is tomorrow’s burnt ends.

Scott Ostler is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @scottostler

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