Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy Flippin' New Year

All in all, I suppose it was a fairly decent decade, the 'aughts'.  My personal best accomplishment has to be the purchasing of my first home in the spring of 2008.  Late in the decade as it was, it's the biggest change I've made in the past 10 years.  Outside of that, the most drastic of changes - not withstanding the geo-political nonsense we find ourselves in as a nation - have to be those of the local sports scene and my personal investment in it.  For better or for worse.

When the decade began, it had been 80+ years since the Red Sox last won a World Series.  The Celtics hadn't been NBA champs since the 1985-86 season.  The Bruins were on a stretch lasting twice as long, going back 28 years to 1972.  And the youngest of the local four franchises, the Patriots, had never experienced the opportunity of being labeled 'Champions'.

At the time, I'd classify my sports enthusiasm as being above average.  I was engaged enough in all of them to be aware of the ongoing successes (and failures) of each team but my team of choice was the Boston Bruins.  That was the team I most hoped would get back to the top and take home the Stanley Cup.  Unfortunately, it appeared that owner Jeremy Jacobs and management (Harry Sinden and Mike O'Connell) seemed not to have the same desire.  At least it appeared that way based on the player contract decisions being made.

I had (and still have) all but lost any interest in the Celtics, and the NBA in particular, due to the way the NBA devolved into a me-first league filled with showboaters and seemed hellbent on promoting a player-first, team-second league.  I still feel this way.  I don't think I'll ever be interested in the NBA again - not like I was as a kid and my teen years.

Baseball wasn't a huge priority, either, but I was interested in the Sox even while they were fielding abominations of teams.  Joining a fantasy baseball league increased my interest greatly, however.  As did Pedro Martinez, who landed in Boston via trade before the 1998 season.  Luckily, that also coincided somewhat with the selling of the team to the current ownership four years later, when the team's fortunes seemed to take a turn for the better.

The Pats?  There was excitement which went back to the Bledsoe signing in the early-90s, and the hiring of Bill Parcells as head coach, but they never seemed to be good enough to compete with the elite in the NFL.

However, everything changed on a snowy (very snowy) night in January 2001 during a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders at Foxboro stadium.  I won't get into the details but the win they pulled out in that game was the beginning of a heightening of my sports enthusiasm that would last for the next three to four years.

I was at the house of a friend for "Italian Night" for that playoff game.  A core group of 'chefs' spent the day in his kitchen making all sorts of delicious Italian food - home-made pastas, timpano, deserts, and the like.  The snow had been falling all day and night and, needless to say, the beer and wine was going down just as smoothly.  When the game ended, we all rushed out of the house and - with the lights of the stadium visible in the distance - hooted and hollered in jubiliation.  Snow angels were made.  It was delightful.

The Patriots went on to shock the high-powered St. Louis Rams in the New Orleans Superdome to take the franchise's first ever Super Bowl victory.  The Lombardi Trophy belonged to the "lowly" Patsies.  Unbelievable.

At that point, the Bruins were still terrible; the Red Sox were getting marginally better; and the Celtics managed a decent showing in the NBA playoffs the following year.  But that was it.  Still, the Patriots Super Bowl victory had the effect of turning up the volume on the station in my brain that was tuned to the local sports scene.

Then the avalanche began.  The Patriots, led by young quarterback Tom Brady and the seemingly infallible mind of head coach Bill Belichick and his equally competent assistant staff, went on to capture two more Lombardis - back to back - in 2003 and 2004.  Patriots euphoria ruled the land (at least New Eng-'land').  I was hooked.  During the stretch, it was an odd Sunday afternoon when my mates and I weren't found cooking up delicious food while watching the Pats battle whatever hapless bunch happened to be on the schedule that week.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox were putting together pieces of their own and quietly improving their squad, summer after summer.  2003 was a precursor of things to come, as they managed to find themselves putting their "ying" against their forever-linked "yang," the New York Yankees, in the American League Championship series.  New York prevailed, going on only to lose the World Series to the (what?) Florida Marlins.

Although it is de rigeur around these parts to pin that ALCS series loss on Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, and pin the moniker of "Aaron 'Bleeping' Boone" on the Yankee that hit the clinching home run, the truth is, Wakefield pitched his ass off in that series.  He had come into the game on very little rest to try and keep the series alive.  The bottom line is, he was simply out of gas.  A microcosm of how the entire team was playing, if we're being honest.

As previously mentioned, the Patriots' third Super Bowl win in early 2004 (second consecutive, and third in four years) was somewhat of a salve for that bitter disappointment we were left with in October, 2003.

Looking back it's easy to point to 2004 as the apex year of my enthusiasm for all things sport in the region I call home.  The Patriots were Super Bowl champs (again) and, once again, the fall of 2004 pitted the ancient rivals in the ALCS in the MLB playoffs.  In spectacular fashion, the Red Sox managed to defeat the Yankees in the seven game series after falling behind 3-0.  It was the first time in the history of the MLB playoffs that a team had come from a three game deficit to win a series.  The details are well documented, so I won't even pretend to have any further insight on that magnificent series.  The more important point is that this, this was the pinnacle of sports nirvana.

Not only did the local nine eliminate a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series.  They did it against their life-long rival!  Amazing!  They then went on to win their first World Series in 86 years.  And, sadly, this is where the wheels fall off the bus.

You would think that such an impressive feat would only strengthen a fan's love and enthusiasm for a team, a sport, and even sport in general.  It may have done for some.  However, as I alluded to at the outset of this post, it actually had the opposite effect on me.  For better or for worse, right?

You see, with success comes adulation.  And with adulation comes blind loyalty.  And where success, adulation, and blind loyalty can be found - so can opportunism.  And, I'm afraid, it is the accompanying opportunism that eventually brought me from an enthusiastic supporter of some of my favorite teams to a more cynical, passive acquaintance of them.

As the local teams gained more and more success, the fanaticism grew and grew.  This, of course, wasn't happening in a bubble.  The local television and radio networks and corporations were also well aware of the clout that all the winning had brought to the teams.  In time, the airwaves and businesses - from the largest corporations to the smallest mom-and-pop shops - did everything they could to associate themselves with the  teams.

The Patriots and, most saturating, Red Sox brands were everywhere.  Fueling the seemingly never-ending appetite of the general public, everything from coffee shops to the nightly local news did everything they could to take advantage of the immense popularity of the champions.  The onslaught was (and still is) incessant.

It has become an overwhelming force that is impossible to avoid.  For me, it has tarnished what were supposed to be pleasant memories of the successes of my favorite teams.  I'm not saying that I'd prefer it if the Pats still don't have a Super Bowl win or the Red Sox were hurtling towards 100 years without a World Series win - that's not the point.

My contention is, with all the recent success and ensuing hype, it seems the majority of 'fans' these days have developed an entitled attitude.  That their teams (as if they have something to do with their success) should always have the best of the best - and nothing less will do.  It's an impossible scenario, yet people whinge and moan about every single game, every individual play, that doesn't go "right."

It is these things, and I suppose my own aging, errr... maturation, that have combined to make me more likely to watch a History Channel program on the French Revolution over a Patriots game on Sunday afternoon.  Not every Sunday but this is where I am, this past Sunday an example.

I'm still interested in seeing the Red Sox and Patriots do well.  The Celtics, I suppose the same, albeit without the same level of interest.  However, my discontent is that this attitude is quickly permeating the so-called fanbase of the the one team that I still watch with intensity - the Bruins.

It's almost a certainty that, in this day and age, if the Bruins do manage the same success - if they eventually win the Stanley Cup - the same fate may be in store.

New England has always been one of the nation's hotbeds of hockey.  The college teams in the area bear that out quite well.  A championship for the local professional team is something I hope to see - and sooner rather than later.  I just hope I can withstand the inevitable deluge and it doesn't sour my enthusiasm for the last vestige of my withering appreciation for professional sport.

I suppose the old adage still holds sway here: Be careful what you wish for.

Happy New Year to all...


emetic sage said...

hey, for all the sports content in this post, it was actually quite interesting and entertaining and well written. kudos to you, little viszlat.

Viszlát Sjáumst said...

hey, thanks... I purposely tried to keep the sports details to a minimum, as their not entirely relevant to the final outcome.

in fact, i may have messed up on some of the years here or there. it gets confusing 'cuz the football season is in one year but the superbowl is in the next year.

in any case, thanks for the kind words... go-NADS!

Viszlát Sjáumst said...

oops ... "they're" - not "their" above. hate when i do that!

and i spelled 'desserts' wrong in the post. we didn't make any 'deserts' on Italian Night...