What happened to New Englanders? In a region that was known for its cynicism as much as its clam chowder, there has been a cosmic shift in attitude these past several years. Boston fans have gone from hopeful, cautiously optimistic, humble pariahs of parity to arrogant, greedy, purveyors of power. In short, they’ve become New Yorkers.
Well, not quite, but gone are the days when the residents of the city by the bay (seriously, it’s the “Bay State,” the place is riddled with bays, how did San Francisco get the name ahead of Boston?) held vigil waiting for the giant proverbial shoe hanging over them to fall. This was a fan base that, when faced with a mere eight-run lead in the ninth inning would frequently bite their fingernails down to the elbow. (Venus de Milo was a Red Sox fan.)
Even when New England was the favorite, they were the underdog. Fans were afraid of that other shoe. The laces were beginning to fray and it looked ready to fall at any time.
Gone are those halcyon days when the streets went unencumbered by parade confetti, when the mayor never had to show up to give a speech where he references the baseball team’s captain as the hero of the Super Bowl, when America felt bad for these lovable losers.
Whereas socialites in most cities reserve a table at their favorite restaurant on a Saturday evening, these denizens of Boston would reserve a spot on their favorite bridge after a game, just in case it ended badly.
The new generation does not have the same paranoid panache as their ancestors. Those born in this millennium have known only success with six championships among the four major sports teams. They think winning is easy. They think the stork dropped them on the right city like Reche Caldwell dropped surefire touchdown passes ... a moment that was clearly shoe-related. It doesn’t mean the shoe isn’t there anymore, but fewer people are paying attention.
Last weekend, most of the country, with neutral allegiances, chose to root for the Jets of New York -- the Jets!!! They chose a reality program over the gold standard in how a professional sports franchise should be run. The country is tired of Boston’s braggadocios behavior.
How did this happen? An attitude that took 86 years to cultivate, to nurture, to adopt has disappeared in less than 86 months. Oh, they still hate to lose, but they expect to win; which is odd because they’ve seen their share of horrific collapses.
In 2003, after the Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, I went to a local watering hole catering to Boston patrons and said out loud, “Maybe this will rub off on the Red Sox.” I turned to see a reveler, stone-faced, starting daggers at me. He said, “I can’t believe you just said that.” And he was serious. If the Red Sox did not win, it would have been my fault.
From that, they’ve transformed into one like my friend who, the other day posted on my Facebook Wall, “Why does the league even bother playing these playoff games? They should just hand the Patriots the trophy now.” Oooof.
How quickly we have forgotten those named Grady and Mookie and Manning and, er, other Manning. And way back in 2001, there was another unbeatable team that people termed the “Greatest Show on Turf” and made them 14-point favorites in the Super Bowl over the underdogs only to be shocked by the upstarts.
New England had seen it up close and personal, for they were those upstarts, but in more recent times they were on the other side of the ledger, and fans believed an upset couldn’t possibly happen.
Then, it did two years ago, in stunning ball-on-helmet fashion. But that did not return the fans to a place of humility, of anxiety. Ah, such is the curse of “hubris” which, although it sounds like a Chinese circumcision ritual, is actually pride.
Boston is the town from whence the midnight ride of Paul Revere started (he only got a few miles due to excessive construction on the old dirt road). These revolutionaries were all about, “Look out!!! The British are coming!” And centuries later, that carried over to “Hide the valuables! New Yorkers are coming!”
In years past, when Boston teams lost, their fans would be devastated, but they understood it as just a matter of genealogy. “Why not us, Lord?” they’d ask with genuine curiosity. “Why does New York get to win so many times and we don’t even get one.”
Then they got one and they wanted more. Like Brett Favre trying to zip a pass twenty yards downfield in between four defenders, they liked what they tasted and couldn't get enough. It became, “Why can’t we win all the time? New York did and so should we.” All from a few impressive victories.
The Patriots made it look so easy by winning three out of four Super Bowls. From "hope for the best, expect the worst" to "expect the best, toss me another beer" (pronounced: “be-ah”).
Yes, Belichick is on par with the best coaches in NFL history. Yes, Brady is going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But the phrases “any given Sunday” and “that’s why they play the games” should remain your best friend in these situations. It’s about managing expectations and revisiting the days of yore when you’d be excited for a win.
LeBron James had it wrong. It’s not karma you should worry about, but rather “the shoe.” The sooner you remember that, the easier it will be to deal with loss ... though nothing will help you avoid New Yorkers.