Boston - the city of champions
You could try to understand Boston through its food (clam chowder, baked beans, lobster roll) or its rich history and many significant landmarks (the Prudential and John Hancock buildings, Boston Common, Faneuil Hall), or through its rock bands (Aerosmith, Boston, the Pixies) and you’d get a good picture of what the city’s about.
However, the best way to get at the essence of Boston is through its sports teams and the fans who follow them.
Everyone has a best or worst sports moment
Ask Boston sports fans what they believe is the greatest moment in sports history and the answers will likely vary depending on their favorite sport.
The Bruins fan will probably say Bobby Orr’s iconic “flying” goal in 1970, which clinched the Bruins’ first Stanley Cup since 1941. A younger fan may talk at length about the more recent dramatic Stanley Cup win in 2011 over the Vancouver Canucks, about goaltender Tim Thomas, or the 202-cm-tall Slovak defenseman Zdeno Chara.
A Celtics fan might bring up Game 7 of the 1984 NBA finals with Celtics legend Larry Bird triumphing over his career-long rival Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers. Or they might talk about the 2008 NBA championship when, once again, the Celtics beat the Lakers. (A neat fact: the two teams combined have won more than half of all the NBA Championships in history.)
Patriots fans will likely bring up Adam Vinatieri’s Super Bowl winning field goal in 2002, but they could also bring up Vinatieri’s “snow kick” field goal that same season, or his Super Bowl winning field goal in 2004. And don’t even get them started on star quarterback Tom Brady.
The Red Sox fan is without doubt going to talk about Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series when Boston came back from three games down to defeat their archrivals the New York Yankees in what has to be one of the greatest comebacks in all of sports history. They went on to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years, breaking the infamous “curse” against the team. Since then, the Red Sox have also won the World Series in 2007 and 2013.
You see the trend here? There are lots of great Boston sports moments through the years. And in the past 15 years, it’s mind-boggling how many there are.
In the 2000s, Boston’s professional teams had arguably the most successful decade in sports history, winning nine championships (four by the Patriots, three by the Red Sox and one each by the Celtics and the Bruins).
They didn’t stop there.
The Bruins were champs again in 2011, the Red Sox in 2013, and the Patriots in 2014. That’s hard to believe. And for a city obsessed with sports, it’s been an epic ride.
But here’s the thing. And it’s a big thing because it’s a reminder of what sports is really all about, and why we love sports as a life metaphor: There are almost as many terrible Boston sports memories, crushing defeats that have broken the very spirit of dedicated fans.
Bostonians remember Bill Buckner’s infamous error during the 1986 baseball World Series. They’ll never forget the Patriots’ loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, a defeat that ruined their perfect 2007 season.
I’ll stop there because two is enough, but trust me, there are many more.
Anyone from Boston reading this is already cringing and squirming in their seat.
And that’s what shapes the Boston sports fan and the Boston psyche. It’s the winning and the losing and all that messy stuff that comes with striving for the win and avoiding the loss.
What’s common in any conversation about impactful sports moments is the passionate response, the thoughtful consideration of what that moment is and why it’s meaningful to them. It’s how they connect to the city, their family and friends, their colleagues, neighbors, themselves.
Never, ever, would someone in Boston say, “Best or worst sports moment? Oh, I don’t really have one.”
I consider myself an average sports fan, and having grown up in Maine, it’s always been New England sports teams for me. And for the past 12 years or so, I’ve lived in metropolitan Boston. I follow the Sox, and I know what Brady is up to.
‘What shapes the Boston sports fan and the Boston psyche is the winning and the losing and all that messy stuff that comes with striving for the win and avoiding the loss’
Even as an average fan, I know exactly where I was during that incredible 2004 World Series run for the Red Sox. I watched all those Patriots championship games in rooms full of raucous fans, fireplaces blazing to keep the room warm against the chilly winter outside. I erupted with fellow hockey fans at sports bars when the Bruins did what they did in 2011.
I own perfectly broken-in Red Sox and Patriots hats. I might personally draw the line at wearing jerseys, but I’m an outlier there. On game days in Boston at any time of year the city is teeming (and teaming?) with grown men, women, and children wearing jerseys of the team playing that day.
They might not even be going to the game, but they are going to wear the jersey.
And then there’s the Boston sports event that perhaps trumps them all when it comes to touching the essence of this city.
It’s got nothing to do with jerseys or professional teams, nothing to do winning or losing, and everything to do with strength, heart, support, and triumph of spirit. It’s the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
The bombings at the finish line of the 117th running of the world’s oldest annual marathon killed three people and injured more than 260. In the seconds, days, and weeks after the bombings, the world got to see the very best of Boston – an instant willingness to help, human cooperation, rapid support, determined leadership, gritty resolve, a tenacious focus on righting a wrong, vulnerability coupled with courage.
Those are many of the same things that Bostonians love about their sports teams at their best. It was a terrifying and also unifying moment not just in sports history but in the city’s history, and it will define the city of Boston for decades to come.
The popular social media hashtag #bostonstrong said it all and still does.
A die-hard, born-and-raised Boston sports fan once told me that British Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” best sums up the essence of Boston. Also, it’s quintessential Boston that a sports fan will quote you a Nobel Laureate.
So let’s close with it:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
… If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
By Devin Wilson
Published: May 20, 2017