It appears the greatest era of major sport dominance in American history is now coming to a close. As New England sports fans, we knew this was coming. We couldn’t be this obnoxious forever.
We’ve talked about it for years now, wondering how much longer all four Boston teams could be playing at championship levels. For educated fans (and what fan base prides themselves on their education and knowledge more than New England fans?) we couldn’t help but notice the parallels between rooting for a truly dominant sports empire during a decade that saw our country’s preeminent geopolitical position challenged and weakened both from outside and within. We knew that nothing lasts forever, that pride goes before a fall, and that empires, like everything else in this world, are either growing or dying.
By 2010, we were talking about it openly, wondering if this was it, examining slight deviations from championship form as a sign of the coming collapse. The Celtics were old, true, but they forced the Heat to a Game 7 last year. The Patriots secondary had starters that Monday Night Football didn’t have pictures of a few years ago, but they still contended for a Super Bowl the last few years. The beer and chicken late season swoon gave way to the horrifying Bobby Valentine era for the Red Sox, but the fire sale to LA and John Farrell’s guidance seemed to have righted the ship. We kept looking for signs that the pendulum was staring to swing the other way. We were aware it couldn’t last because we remembered what it was like before.
It’s easy to see New England sports fans as entitled brats spoiled by victory, and the fact that I’m writing this eulogy while the Red Sox are in first place, the Bruins are the current eastern conference champions, and Tom Brady is still the Patriots QB illustrates this point pretty clearly. But those of us who grew up in the nineties as I did are acutely aware of how precious this decade was. I “saw” the Celtics win the 1986 Finals in only the most strict optical-neurological sense; being one year old at the time have no memory of the event. Although, I also don’t remember Buckner’s error or the destruction of the Patriots at the hands of the Super-Bowl shuffling Chicago Bears from that same year, so that’s probably a fair trade. A Boston team didn’t win a title between 1986 and 2001, the longest stretch in Boston sports history since the drought between the Bruins Stanley cup win in 1941 and the first Celtics title in 1957. Even the long-suffering Red Sox fan of older generations had seen the Celtics dominate four decades of basketball. That long championship-free run lined up perfectly with my youth, and as such, I was raised on sports ineptitude.
There were some moments of success between then and the beginning of the 21st century, including a trip to the Super Bowl for the Patriots and Pedro’s six hitless innings of relief in game five of the ALDS against the Indians in 1999 (a game Troy “yum-yum” O’Leary hit two home runs in, second one at 2:00:00). Those were the two highlights of my first sixteen years of sports allegiance.
So when Patriots pulled off the greatest upset in Super Bowl history in 2001, and the Red Sox pulled off the greatest comeback in sports history in 2004, it was not only shocking, it was as if God himself had smiled on us. We were no longer the lovable losers, we were the best. There were those three Super Bowls, two world series, an NBA title, and a Stanley Cup. Our teams were excellent. All the organizations were excellent.
That’s what we valued: excellence. So at some point, realizing that the cynical New England doomsday gloominess no longer befit a people so gifted by the sports gods, we decided to become excellent ourselves, nearly precisely at the moment when we realized the run was unsustainable, that our own window for excellence could not last.
We became the most excellent assholes in the history of sports fans.
No one could come close to our mix of hubris, condescension, knowledge, conviction, and volume. We were the most excellent assholes that have ever gone into a bar. I was one of them. And I was truly obnoxious not because I thought we would never have our comeuppance. On the contrary, I understood the window would inevitably shut, that such a run of championships and perennial contention was unsustainable. We knew we had a small window to be the greatest assholes in sports history, so we took up the mantle and wore it proudly. We were obnoxious because we realized that we could be smug in a way that no fan had ever been, we could reach new levels of arrogance, we could belittle other fans in ways that no on had ever been able to do.
When destiny knocks, you open the goddamn door.
Of course, pointing out that we were the most excellent assholes in sports history is, in and of itself, a really asshole thing to do. But I am one of them. You see, a Boston fan is not just louder than you, and won’t just yell at the TV louder than any other fan at the bar. A Boston fan will yell really good points and will drunkenly slobber statistics while quoting both members of the mainstream sports media and esoteric analytics guys. They will also spill your drink on you and blame you for putting it there. This is us. This is who we are.
And when you cross us, or tell us that Boston sucks in some way, unlike Yankee fans from their era of dominance in the late 1990’s, we don’t simply have catchphrases we repeat like half-retarded plains politicians spouting talking points (1918! 27 rings! Drill baby drill!). We would sarcastically, caustically, and condescendingly remind you that you didn’t matter. We usually laughed while we did it. I remember one time being with my brother in Philadelphia after Vince Young had very incorrectly dubbed the Eagles a “dream team” and a guy in a Eagles jersey called out my brother for being in a Patriots sweatshirt during a minor league hockey game. The Philadelphia fan, in typical Philadelphia mediocre-asshole style, said simply “Pats suck!” My brother looked at him, burst out laughing and said in the manner of the more-seasoned, professional asshole, “good luck with that dream team!” The guy had to be restrained by his buddies. My brother laughed at him like you would at a child threatening you if don’t provide it with cookies. How dare he even attempt to say something negative about the Patriots. Have you seen Tom Brady play?
This attitude is hard to give up. I was in a bar in New York when the Knicks eliminated the Celtics. People were celebrating, I was heartbroken knowing that it might be the last time I got to watch the Big Three era Celtics. They had come from 3-0 down to force a game six. They were scrappy and they even made a come back in the fourth after everyone thought the game was far out of reach.
Knicks fans were celebrating. I yelled across the whole bar: “So glad New York has moved to .500 when up 3-0 against Boston teams in the 21st century! Good to break even!”
I am the worst.
People really started to not like us during the run, and absolutely justifiably so. Having lived in Philadelphia and New York over the past few years, I see people roll their eyes when they find out I follow Boston sports. It’s not just New York or Philly people either, it’s any sports fan from anywhere else in the country. People will tell me to my face “Boston fans are obnoxious.” I had a girlfriend who was born overseas and only spent two years in the U.S. before I met her. She was telling a group of mixed-company friends about me when we first started dating, and she reported back to me that the males present had all uniformly agreed that New England sports fans were assholes, and I, as such, must be one as well. I explained to her that people hate us they way people hate the U.S. They hate us because we control everything and their tiny countries don’t matter. This explanation convinced her that her friends were correct.
Here’s one of my favorite stand ups explaining just how annoying Red Sox fans are in an offensive and hilarious analogy.
But suffice to say, that era of dominance across all four sports (although the Celtics and Bruins were late to the party) seems safely behind us now after last week ended with a shitstorm of calamity that hadn’t been seen even during the pre-Rams upset days.
First, the Bruins blew the Stanley Cup up by two goals with barely a minute left to play. Then the rumors started that Doc Rivers wanted out. This was personally deflating for me, because I had, and I am dead serious, wrote-in Doc Rivers for President in 2012 specifically because I felt betrayed by Obama. Now this? Why do all the black men I vote for placement in our highest office betray me?
(Late addition to this: just found out that Brad Stevens was hired as the Celtics new coach. Not sure Rondo is going to listen to a college coach who looks like he’s twelve. Although Rondo doesn’t listen to anybody. Fingers crossed.)
Then there was the arrest of Aaron Hernandez for MURDER which was amazing because when the story broke that a body was found near his house and he was wanted for questioning, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was, according to all accounts, a “good kid.” The transformation in my mind from “maybe Aaron Hernandez hangs out with the wrong people” to “Aaron Hernandez has DEFINITELY murdered a bunch of dudes in cold blood” was shocking. In a few short days his case morphed from something akin to Ray Lewis hanging out with the wrong people to Marvin Harrison’s kingpin-level execution of witnesses. This is not just bad for Hernandez and the poor people, as in plural of person, that he probably killed, it’s really bad for the Patriots. This is the organization that let the greatest receiver in franchise history walk, a move that some argued would open up the middle of the field for our two stud tight ends, one of which will most certainly never play football again, and the other of which has had five surgeries this year. (It should be noted that when you Google “how many surgeries has….” the first autofill is Joan Rivers, the second is Rob Gronkowski). It’s looking an awful lot like that gargantuan body of Gronk’s is just not meant to hold up. Professional athletes don’t have that many surgeries on unrelated issues and then come back and play a long and healthy career. The future for the Patriots is suddenly looking bleak, because the future of the Patriots is limited to the short time left in Brady’s career. (Again, look at how entitled that is. “We don’t have a team unless we have the best quarterback of all time.” I know its ridiculous. But once you have Tom Brady, no other QB will ever be able to satisfy you again).
Then Paul and KG were shipped out of town for draft picks and a heaping pile of guaranteed money owed to Gerald Wallace. I am pretty devastated that they, and especially Paul, will not retire as Celtics. I could write forever on Paul, but my man Alex at Journeymen pretty much summed up the relationship Boston fans my age have with Paul as well as anyone could. I have a lot of conflicted feelings about the trade, and a good deal of that conflict arises from the fact that I live a fifteen-minute walk from the Barclay’s Center, which means I get to watch Paul and KG play more than I would’ve if they were still in Boston. I will be scalping tickets at every home game. I will be like the guy at this Lakers game, only desperate for Paul to look at me instead of Bonner.
And something that hasn’t been mentioned much recently in the wake of all that’s happened in the past week, but remember somebody also BOMBED the most important amateur New England sporting event. It’s been a rough year.
John Liam Policastro wrote an article over at Vice.com about how the Boston’s return to (relative) sports mediocrity will be good for the city. He reminds us that the indie music and comedy scene in Boston was awesome when the sports teams sucked. Besides the real big issues with causation, correlation, and coincidence in that article, it does bring up an interesting point about what happens when a whole city gets high on its own glory. He argues that with less people asking to turn the game on in bars, there will be more bands and comics getting attention. I doubt that’s the case, although that would be nice. But what Policastro doesn’t think about, and probably fairly so as the article is about Boston specifically, is the rest of New England. New England roots for Boston teams just as much as Boston does, and as someone who grew up in Bangor, ME, and just spent time last weekend in a sports bar in Putnam, CT, there are no “scenes” that will emerge in these places because the regional sports teams aren’t winning titles. Boston people often forget just how regional their sports teams are, and in doing so dismiss the thousands of fans that stream south from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, and North from Connecticut and Rhode Island to fill Fenway, Gillette, and TD Garden. Don’t tell those people that their going to get more culture now that the Celtics suck. That Celtics are their culture.
But we, those from the farthest flung corners of New England, knew the end was coming as much as any Harvard or MIT student (or janitor) did. If Boston fans want to start going to hear bands instead of watching the games, let them. We New Englanders will keep watching.
After all, those Boston fans are assholes anyway.