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Sports

McKenna: Should the Boston sports fan stay unbearable?

| Friday, September 18, 2020

As a Boston sports fan, my dad grew up knowing what it meant to root for a group of lovable losers. Of course, that outside sympathy could largely be attributed to “the curse,” Bill Buckner, and a World Series game 7 loss in both the ’70s and ’80s, but most of Beantown’s other teams didn’t exactly flout the stereotype either. 

The Patriots, the only major Boston sports team that’s not a founding member of its professional league, did make an appearance in Super Bowl XX, but Ditka’s Bears made very quick work of them. Before the organization was purchased by Robert Kraft in 1994, playoff appearances were few and far between. 

After two titles when my dad could barely walk, the Bruins, one of the NHL’s original six, had five championships, but a thirty-nine year drought would shortly follow.

There was a Beantown team that still dominated, of course. The Celtics were the preeminent franchise in basketball that, unlike the Red Sox, backed up their rich history with more championships, and they inevitably attracted plenty of resentment from almost everyone else for it. The epic Magic-Bird battles didn’t always go the Celtics’ way, but their five championships during the ’70s and ’80s (out of a still NBA-leading 17), along with the especially polarizing nature of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, gave people plenty of reasons to hate. 

I have never asked him, but I’m sure any flak he received for being a Celtics fan must have caught my dad off guard. Sure, every Boston team obviously has its storied rivalries, but actual resentment for winning? He had to have been relatively unaccustomed to that. Despite the Celtics’ dominance, the heartbreak inextricably linked to being a Sox fan and the chronic mediocrity of the Pats and Bruins must have surely quelled any instinct to revel in the hate.

Twelve championships over the last twenty years, of course, naturally intensified the sporting world’s distaste for the general Boston fanbase, and so I have much more experience supporting the villain. Pulling for the team everybody else hates is really all I know. As I approach almost two decades on this planet, however, some say a golden era in Boston sports may be coming to a close. Is the era of listening to “Dirty Water” virtually every day over? Will the “obnoxious winner” shtick no longer be a viable persona for me and Boston sports fans everywhere? I have to take a closer look.  

The Patriots: 

I’ve had enough grimaces and (usually playful) expletives thrown my way upon informing people of my Patriots fandom to know this is the real crux of the issue. In their heart of hearts, I bet some die-hard Yankees fans actually hate the NFL’s model organization more than the Sox. After suffering through six Super Bowl victories and 17 divisional titles, Patriot-haters everywhere seemingly had reason to rejoice over Brady’s departure this March, especially when he added insult to injury by bringing Gronk to Tampa with him. The despicable dynasty, they said, was over. 

After Week 1, however, I am finding it very hard to hear them. Despite a whopping eight corona-virus opt-outs, including pro-bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower, one the best defenses in the league last year still looks elite. Cam Newton, meanwhile, was exceedingly efficient for a guy coming off a second major surgery in under two years. Amidst the uncertainty of the global pandemic, Mr. Belichick should be thanked for reminding us of the wise old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” I guess the “Brady or Belichick” debate was settled quickly after all. I’ll still assert that any reasonable person would like their footballs below 12.5 PSI, but I find the dislike for Belichick the more hypocritical anyway. People love Bond movies but think some good scouting should be punished with confiscated draft picks? Please. Anyway, my fantasy team has been doomed ever since I inexplicably drafted Mark Ingram as my first running back, but at least my team-name — InCamWeTrust  — still rings true. 

Verdict: Stay Obnoxious 

The Celtics 

The C’s have usually played the role of adorable overachievers during the majority of Brad Stevens’s tenure, but it’s time for his team to finally deliver. If Jayson Tatum and Stevens don’t want to fall short in the Eastern Conference Finals for a third time in four years, they can’t throw away five-point leads with just over a minute to go like they did Tuesday night. Bam Adebayo’s block on Tatum was a terrific defensive play, and there was no stopping Jimmy Butler in overtime, but it should have never gotten to that point. It is also disheartening to lose when Marcus Smart is playing like a man possessed, but there is no reason to lose hope yet. Bet against “Cardiac Kemba” at your own peril, and Gordon Hayward’s imminent return will provide some much needed depth, even if he can’t be at his best. It’s usually been “close but no cigar” for the Celtics since the Big Three’s only championship in 2008, but the C’s are well-positioned to challenge for a championship not only this season, but for many years to come. Some good ol’ fashioned Celtics hate might be on the horizon.  

Verdict: Stay Obnoxious

The Bruins

The last time the Bruins won a title in 2011, media coverage of the resulting riots in Vancouver almost rivaled that of the Bruins’ celebrations. Since then, the Bruins have become accustomed to playoff heartbreak. The Blackhawks were too much in 2013, but last year’s game 7 loss at home to the Blues after rookie goalie Jordan Bennington’s virtuoso performance stung a bit more. When the 2019-2020 season was postponed, the Bruins had the best record in the league. After the Bruins entered the bubble, it was mostly downhill from there. A 4-1 series victory for the Lightning in the conference semis signified another playoff failure. 

Verdict: Learn Humility 

Yes, I’m aware the Red Sox are absolutely terrible. Yes, Mookie Betts is gone. Considering just how sparse the pitching staff was after Eduardo Rodriguez was forced to miss the entire season with myocarditis, however, I think it’s genuinely impressive that the Sox will likely win more than twenty games this season. The last time the Red Sox finished last in the East in 2015, they went on to win the division for three straight years before winning their fourth title in fifteen years in 2018. The unlikely World Series win in 2013, meanwhile, was the ultimate “worst-to-first” after going 69-93 in 2012. Don’t worry, we’ll be back. 

Final Verdict: Stay Unbearable

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