Wednesday, November 14, 2007

2007: New England Sports Heaven

Remember "Dot Com Guilt"? It was a media-created condition to describe the handful of people who needed therapy because they couldn't cope with the financial windfall they received from the technology bubble during the late 90's. Although the vast majority of people who jumped tax brackets during that time either went on to tackle new challenges or retired happily, Dot Com Guilt was a serious condition for a few irrational people. Now, a new version of Dot Com Guilt is manifesting itself in widespread fashion up here in the Kingdom of Kennedy. Although this time, the victims couldn't be happier.

The parallels are striking. For the longest time, we in New England had been conditioned to hope for the best, but to know failure is lurking around every corner. Every year, there was always one team a little better and a little smarter. If a local side was lucky enough to approach the promise land, the cheering masses would have their hopes dashed, usually in painfully dramatic fashion.

The 2001 Patriots started to change things and the 2004 Red Sox dispelled absurd assertions of being cursed (if the definition of "cursed" is "stuck with incompetent management", I'll concede we were cursed). However, the Patriots seemed to win every game by half a point during the three of four years and the Sox's 2004 run was nothing short of miraculous. In other words, watching our teams was a nail-biting, irregular heart beating, turning pale experience. Even though this region had experienced championships for the first time in a decade and a half, we had the feelings of hopelessness from a few years earlier fresh in our minds. We were very grateful for what our teams had delivered to us and seemed almost embarrassed by all the "best sports city" monikers offered up to Boston by the national media.

Prior to all this happening, I had the fortunate experience to have rooted for one truly great team in my lifetime: the Boston Celtics of the mid 80's. They were something every other local team had never been: dominant. The Patriots were never dominant in their three Super Bowls run and the 2004 Sox certainly weren't. The problem with the Celtics was they ran into other dominant teams, namely the Lakers, Pistons, Bulls, and maybe even the early 80's Sixers. When the Celts played these teams, you never felt "safe".

"Safe" is something I had never felt while watching my local sides. I could only imagine what fans for teams like MJ's Bulls, Jimmie Johnson's Cowboys (was there ever a safer pattern than the Aikman to Irvin sideline route?), and the deplorable 99-00 Yankees felt like while watching them play. I had watched with envy as those teams demolished opponents with impunity and wondered what it would be like to be a fan of a team that you just knew would win.

Well, now I know and it feels great! A little empty, but still great. The Patriots are just like those first two Chelsea teams under Moreno, but they are playing in a sport where might can demolish an opponent nearly every time out. In soccer, a bad bounce can lose you a 1-0 game while outshooting an opponent 25-2. That happens at least five time a year in the EPL. American football is a whole different animal. The Pats are dominating and it took ten absolutely rotten calls for the second best team in the league to lose to them by only four points at home. The Red Sox worked pitchers all year, which won them anywhere from two to ten extra games and did the reverse to divisional opponents. They went into the post season and stepped up every time they had to. That was exciting enough, but no way nearly as emotional as when they used to fail. I could envision success when guys like Lowell and Youkilis stepped into the batters box, and then they delivered. Again, unfamiliar territory for me. Maybe a once in a lifetime feeling. Now, the Celtics are getting into the act courtesy of a gift trade with our favorite GM, Kevin McHale, to bring Kevin Garnett to Boston. You watch them and you just realize how much better they are than their opponents. They don't need to rise up to win games. They are just taking them from their opposition because they are better.

So there's the backdrop of where the major New England sports scene is at in November, 2007. Now you can see why I feel like we've been given a load of wealth out of nowhere and don't know what to do with it. There's an uneasy backdrop to that feeling, as if we are undeserving of all this sports glory. There's definitely some truth to that, as no one is deserving of such riches without building at least some of it on their own. New Englanders were passionate losers for so long, building a somewhat maniacal fanbase that may or may not have brought players to our teams. More realistically, it attracted competent owners and GM's to our teams which made the right decisions which won the championships. They saw the payoff for being successful, and have now built juggernauts to keep our teams rolling. In that sense, I guess we can feel responsible. However, when we watch the Patriots run it up on the rest of the league, or watch Sox fans outnumber the home team's, there is a sense of guilt. It's the feeling of guilt one gets when they cheat and get away with it in poker. Winning the game may still feel good, but not nearly as good as when you don't know the outcome ahead of time.

Surprisingly enough, the Revolution have actually benefited from the New England sports success. Sure, all of this has buried the Revs in the media throughout the year. Then again, you have to be above ground to get buried. However, amidst all the mainstream sports hoopla, the Revs are getting more coverage than they did for the past two MLS Cups. The reason: for the first time, the outcome does matter on the New England sports landscape.

How can this be? Well, it's rather simple. If the Revs win, the region will be home to yet another champion. It's something to pile on the heap of evidence when we talk about great eras in American sports history. It's something to add to the smack talk when we nab yet another franchise player from Minnesota, Johann Santana, in a few months. If the Revs lose, they would have lost three straight finals. That would somewhat tarnish the image the area has right now. Sure, the soccer haters will dismiss it, but they are becoming less and less prevalent in the local media. Many more writers and radio hosts are at least becoming open to soccer, in the same way they are open to hockey. Sure, they'll never cover it extensively, but they do acknowledge that a championship holds some importance to a portion of the population. As the Revs continue to have successful seasons, more and more people have at least turned an eye to them.

People will be watching on Sunday just because they know what a championship would mean and what a loss would mean. A lot of these people are indifferent towards soccer and MLS, but they know a championship game is important. If this weren't their third straight final, I'm not sure the Revs would be getting the hype, or even the acknowledgment, it is getting up here. The region will be watching on Sunday with a good deal of pride and a lot of faith.

As well as a little guilt.

1 Comment:

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