Tuesday, February 5, 2008
A little perspective
Well, it's been 48 hours, and I've officially passed through the 5 stages of grief in dealing with the New England loss on Sunday.
First, we had denial, which Belichick did a splendid job of embodying for me when he ran out on to the field and demanded that :01 be put back on the clock. Whatever. Anger followed quickly, as I stormed home and locked myself in my room while my Manning-loving roommate watched the post-game celebrations in our living room. I ranted. I raved. I wept angry tears. Anger sucks, but it sure feels good.
Bargaining came next. Please, lord, I promise I'll never say another bad word about Tom Coughlin if you promise that I'll never have to see Frank Caliendo's face on television again. Yeah, ok, there's not much to bargain with when the game's already over. Whatever. Depression was the real bitch. I couldn't turn on ESPN or even the local news. I hurt. It hurts to see your team lose. Blech. Now I'm at the good part. Acceptance. This stage was made easier by how doofy and happy Eli Manning looked in the parade photos... and by the fact that I've come to the realization that
this is better.
[Disclaimer: Extreme histrionics from here on out. If you don't like it, then for pete's sake go read something else.]
Yup. It's better this way. I didn't want to see my team lose, that's for damn sure, but I think this was what needed to happen. The Boston fan base has become so bloated, so full of itself, so entitled, so Jabba-the-Hutt-like in its own crapulence and demand for adulation that SOMETHING had to give in order to bring things around here back to something approximating normality. It's been a spectacular year to be a Boston fan: the Red Sox parlaying an inspired season into a dominant post-season performance and a world title, the rebirth of the Celtics as a team to be feared, the arrival of Randy Moss, and, of course, the Patriots' perfect season. (The Bruins are boasting some pretty damn impressive goaltending right now, too.) When I think back on it, though, there's one era in memory that this one simply can't compare to. Ready?
The fall of 2001.
Oh god. The Red Sox had spent yet another season squandering the brilliance of Pedro Martinez and then-It Boy Nomar Garciaparra. Our beloved quarterback -- he who had fought through so many injuries in seasons past -- was sidelined for what looked likely to be the entire season. Many loyal Bostonians had spent the hockey season prior secretly cheering for the Avalanche because we wanted so badly to see Ray Bourque win a Stanley Cup before he retired. The Celtics hadn't been to the playoffs for the better part of a decade, and no one was sure if Paul Pierce was ever going to recover fully after his near-fatal stabbing the year before. That year, we had to bring in current events stories that interested us for my world history class every Friday. I got in trouble for always bringing in sports articles. (My response? "But you said to bring an article that we CARED about!") That was the year that I, like many other born-and-raised Boston teens surely did, wrote my college essays about how proud I was to be a Boston fan. Loyalty. Optimism. Faith. Perseverance. As ridiculous and over-the-top as it may sound (cut me some slack, it was a college essay and I was 17), I believed then, as I believe now, that there was something special about choosing to wear my love for my teams on my sleeve. I lived to see Pedro throw strikes. I cheered myself hoarse when I went to games at the Garden (I NEVER called it the Fleet Center).
I'm not proud to be a Boston fan any more.
Things changed when we won that Superbowl in 2002. It was a phenomenal feeling, to be sure, but it heralded the arrival of a whole new culture of Pats fandom. Almost 3 years later, when we won the Series, I distinctly remember what it felt like to wake up the next day. I felt different. I knew there was something different about being a Boston fan. It didn't feel like I was carrying my hope inside me like a sputtering little flame it was my job never to let die. I didn't need to hope any more. I had what I'd been waiting for my whole life. I was thrilled, but something was gone.
Sometime amid the orgy of this year -- of a giddying second World Series win followed immediately by the arrival of the greatest regular season in the history of football -- it started sucking to be a Pats fan. When I used to tell people that I was a Boston fan, it was accompanied by a shrug, a "what are you gonna do" roll of the eyes, a little flicker of pride inside me that I was asserting my love for a big bunch of losers despite their loserdom. This year, it was always immediately followed by some sort of apologia: I'm not one of THOSE fans. I liked them BEFORE they started winning. I actually KNOW sports. I can NAME a player other than Papelbon. Oh, you don't want to hear me talk about my team? Well, that sucks, because I freaking LOVE talking Boston sports, but honestly, buddy, I don't blame you. Hey, uh, how about that crazy Britney Spears, huh?
It's a natural part of the life of a fan base to swell and decline with victories, losses, exciting trades, idiotic front office decisions, and all of the other things that professional sports franchises undergo. But it's not natural for a fan base to keep building and growing, tumor-like, fueled by victory after exhilarating victory until it forgets what it's like to experience sports for the sake of sports rather than for the sake of winning. The shouting hooligans that turned a truck over on the street outside my apartment the night the Red Sox won the Series this year were not the fans I grew up with. As it turned out, they were the same fans who erupted in terrifying violence against the few Giants fans in the bar I was out this past Sunday -- cursing, screaming, smashing bottles, and throwing punches while they chanted "YANKEES SUCK!" at the top of their drunken lungs. I don't LIKE having to be escorted out by policemen in riot gear. That's not football. That's BULLSHIT.
Remember what it was like a few years ago when the Yankees won all those titles? God, Yankees fans were obnoxious. They cropped up everywhere -- half of them probably wouldn't know a ground-rule double if it bit them in the ass -- chanting "1918" and annoying the everloving hell out of everyone around them. The Yankees were an incredible team under the leadership of an incredible skipper, and it was simply impossible to respect them because their fans acted so gloatingly ENTITLED to every victory their team earned them. Like they, not Aaron Boone, had hit that damn home run. And, as much as I hate a) any comparison with New York and b) pointless comparisons between different teams *cough BILL SIMMONS cough*, it's pretty obvious what the parallel (it's a slim one, but bear with me) is here: Yes, my beloved Patriots were one Superbowl victory away from cementing their status as the Yankees of the NFL. The team everyone loves to hate. The team that simply became too synonymous with its leering fans. A fate I never want to befall one of MY teams.
And I'm glad we're not there. I'm not glad we lost the Superbowl. But I hope this means the end of this particular epoch in Boston fandom, and a return to an atmosphere in which I can talk sports with anyone and not have to apologize for my loyalties. Because dammit, I love sports, and I love my teams, and I don't like assholes.
I don't want to have to go another 86 years without a World Series, though.