The Good News About Boston's Horrible Week in Sports
Photo by Keith Allison, via Flickr
If you are a die-hard Boston sports fan, chances are you're relieved this week is over. The cavalcade of bad news might finally end. The heartbreak started on Sunday with the announcement that Doc Rivers, head coach for the Boston Celtics, was leaving for the Los Angeles Clippers. It only got worse as reports surfaced that star players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were being traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Rivers, Pierce, and Garnett were all fan favorites who were instrumental in leading the storied Celts to their first title in 22 years. Things got worse the following night when the Boston Bruins (who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 after a near 40-year drought), kept up a time-honored Boston sports tradition and choked at the last second of the big game—resulting in a stunning Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. All of this was happening while (now former) New England Patriots star tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with the murder of his friend, semi-pro football player Odin Llyod. He's also being investigated for a double homicide that happened last summer.
Hernandez was arraigned Wednesday morning, and the Patriots immediately released him from his $40-million-dollar contract. The Pats will be still be good this coming season, but after spy-gate (when their coach was fined for recording other teams' practices, Uggs-gate (when their pretty boy quarterback was photographed wearing the lamest footwear imaginable), and now Tebow-time (when the team acquired the most annoying player in the league) the Pats seem a shadow of their dyanstic dominance of last decade. The Boston Red Sox are currently in 1st place, but they have plenty of time to blow it. Indeed it seems that many Beantown fans (a term no one from Boston actually uses) have been taken back to a gloomy time when Boston sports teams always lost. Granted the Bruins made it to the finals and will likely continue to be OK next season, but its their futility in clutch moments that matters.
To me the descent into sports mediocrity bodes well for the city. We might be taken back to a golden time when Boston was cool and no one really cared about sports.
With all four major sports teams in Boston winning multiple championships over the course of the last decade (I'm not even going to include the New England Revolution, since nobody else does), it's hard to remember a time when local sports weren't the talk of the town. A walk around the city today makes it even harder to remember when there were more interesting and exciting things happening in the city than sitting in a crowded, crappy bar in front of a TV screen watching overpaid out-of-state athletes play with their respective balls while bellyaching to the townie next to you about gentrification. Besides a few huge championships for the Celtics in the early 80s, many local sports fans glumly sat in silence while bitterly sipping a perpetually half-empty bottle for 20 years.
Meanwhile, when sports were terrible in Boston, there were groundbreaking comedy and music scenes bubbling up throughout the city and in neighboring Cambridge. Comedians such as Louis CK, David Cross, Steven Wright, and scores of others got their start during the mid-to-late 80s Boston comedy boom. Propelled by pioneer rock radio stations WBCN and WFNX, Boston was at one time a mecca for live music. On any night of the week, dozens upon dozens of nightclubs throughout the city swelled with rowdy revelers who got to see bands like the Cars, the Lemonheads, and the Pixies get their starts in intimate venues like The Rat or TT The Bear's alongside a seminal and respected punk and indie scene. A string of nightclubs and discos were also at the height of their popularity back then and cologned jabronis felt free to act rapey while blowing lines until they could find an open Dunkin' Donuts for the drive back to Saugus.
Basically, there was something cool for you to do no matter what you were into, especially if you hated sports. Ever since the Sox broke the curse and the Pats started winning and the Celts and Bruins made it to the finals semi-reliably, these party-killing words infected so many, many flat-screen-laden bars:
"The game's on."
While the same Atlantic waters also flow through the veins of New York and Philadelphia fans, Boston, to its credit, easily has the most irascibly passionate and loyal sports fans in the country. It is a long and indisputable part of the city's history. However, the fans are also the most irrationally sore losers in sports history. (I was caught in a crowd of dejected Sox fans during Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series who were chanting "Yankees Suck!" even after the Red Sox gave up the lead and lost in an agonizing extra inning.) Even with that flaw, Boston teams and their fans were generally revered and respected nationwide. The teams (other than the Celts) were plucky underdogs you knew were going to lose but you had to cheer them on because you couldn't believe they even made it that far to begin with. Soon enough as the teams began winning championships and the fans became even cockier and unrepentant about it, the rest of the country finally saw Boston's hubris peeking out.
Even more inexplicable was how the line between punks and jocks blurred in the late 90s. Kenmore Square was long a battleground between the patrons of Fenway Park and the punk club The Rathskeller. Fenway's famed left field wall, The Green Monster, almost served as a sort of Berlin Wall seperating the two cultural factions. But as sports took Boston over, and with the help of bro-punk bands like Dropkick Murphy's, you began seeing undercover looking Sullys in Red Sox jerseys and scaly caps pogoing around in the Rat basement while neon green mohawks burst out from under navy blue Red Sox caps on Yawkey Way heading to a Sox game. The high school jock/punk rivalry was as longstanding and bitter as the Red Sox vs the Yankees or Celtics vs Lakers. Whenever I would hear someone yell, "HEY FREAK!" at me in the hallway at school, it was never followed up with, "I got fahkin bleacha seats against the Orioles this weekend, you in?" To give you an idea of how absolutely lame the Boston music scene has become, Anngelle Wood, who now runs The Rock N Roll Rumble, Boston's long-running annual competition for young local bands, had this to say about the Boston Police routinely harassing and shutting down clandestine venues around the city, in the wake of Boston turning into a massively stale sports bar. It is also humorous to mention that many fans have long said that the Rumble was a curse for whichever band won that year. Move over curse of the Bambino.
As Boston makes the painful realization that its teams might suck again, perhaps they will also realize how many cool and exciting things used to happen in the city when there was hardly ever a post-season to get worked up about. While it is sad to see people feel like "winners" based on other people's accomplishments, there is nothing sadder than watching losers pin their hopes onto other losers. Nobody wants to be Providence.
More about Boston's storied past:
New Fiction by PEN/Faulkner Award-Winner Akhil Sharma
Photos by Donald Weber
This Short Is Three Smoked Cigarettes Long
My Archive of Unmentionables
Filmmaker David Ridgen Cracks Open a 40-Year-Old Cold Case