This is how my feeble brain works.
Rather than contemplate the cosmos or map out a strategy for paying my son’s college tuition, I think about things like what would have happened if Len Bias hadn’t decided to give cocaine a try or if the Patriots hadn’t traded down in the 1985 draft and given up the draft pick the 49ers used to pick Jerry Rice.
I also have given a lot of thought to why I root for the teams I root for. I bleed red, white and blue in the autumn, kelly green and white in the winter and carmine red and white in the spring and summer. Sure, it makes sense because Boston is the closest major market to where I live. But I’ve lived in New England all my life, and it wasn’t always that way.
I wonder if I’d been born 10 years earlier, or 10 years later, whether I’d still follow the same teams. If I’d been born in the `50s or `60s, would I be a fan of the New York Giants, like my father and a lot of generations of football fans between us are? If I hadn’t had access to cable for much of my adolescence, would I have still been a Celtic fan?
On the other hand, if I grew up with the Internet at my fingertips and a satellite dish, and all I had to do to read about a particular team or watch one of their games is press a button, would I be so provincial? How would I decide which team was mine? Or would I even identify with a team, but pour my loyalties into certain athletes instead?
Not that the route I took to rooting for the Boston-based teams was all that direct, and I can’t claim that it wasn’t influenced by some dynamic athletes. The only team I’ve bled for my whole life is the Red Sox. They’re a part of the fabric of New England, so that pretty much explains that. I was a latecomer to the Celtics and slightly more tardy when jumping on the Patriots’ bandwagon, however.
As a youngster in the mid-to-late 1970s, I was a devout Dallas Cowboys fan and a casual Phoenix Suns fan. The Cowboys are easy to justify – they were great, they were always on TV, they were America’s Team and they had Roger Staubach, still No. 1 on my all-time favorite quarterbacks list. Yes, even ahead of the dreamy Tom Brady.
The Suns are quite a bit harder to explain. I’m not sure I fully understand it myself, so I won’t bore you with the details. Simply put, Paul Westphal was my favorite basketball player and the Phoenix Suns were my favorite basketball team.
But they weren’t for very long. Two things happened in the 1980s that changed my rooting interests – 1) I started reading the Boston Globe, and 2)cable came to small-town Maine.
Since the Internet was still a figment of Al Gore’s imagination, the Globe was the only outside source I had for sports information, and I could read reams more information on the Boston teams in it than the Cowboys and Suns. It wasn’t long before reading about the game in the paper the next day became just as much fun as watching the game itself.
Once cable came to my small town in 1984, I dropped the Suns faster than you can say Truck Robinson for the Hick from French Lick. The Celtics, and more specifically Larry Bird, became appointment television in my home.
That winter, since Staubach was long gone and the Cowboys weren’t anything to brag about anymore and they were getting less and less national TV time, I decided to take the plunge with the Pats.
But what if I’d had DirecTV back then? What if I could watch the Suns or Cowboys whenever they played just by subscribing, then go on-line to read the Dallas or Phoenix newspapers the next day?
Kids today have these options, plus they’re constantly bombarded by the marketing machines that now promote so many individual athletes. As a result, you’re almost as likely, or in some cases, more likely, to see someone wearing a LeBron James jersey or a Michael Vick shirt in downtown Boston or Lewiston as you are someone in a Paul Pierce or Tom Brady jersey.
Because of our distance from any major cities, fans in Maine have maintained our independence and had very mixed loyalties for some time. Yes, the Boston teams have always been in the majority, but even a quarter of a century ago, Giants, Cowboys, Steelers, Lakers, Canadiens and Yankee fans were everywhere.
They’re still here, but now the fanbase is even more diluted with segments of Cavaliers, Heat, 76ers, Nuggets, Falcons or Chargers fans (or probably more accurately, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Michael Vick or LaDainian Tomlinson fans). But if you go to Massachusetts or New York or Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the country, you’ll notice geography has a lot less to do with who the fans root for than it did 25 years ago.
Which makes me wonder, if I’d turned 16 instead of 36 this past Thursday, would I be walking around in a Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey, or would my first instinct still be to burn it? Would I be defending the critics who think Vick is overrated or would I still be echoing the chorus? Would I, ugh, be a Yankee fan?
That’s it. I’ve gotta stop thinking about this.
Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He may be reached by e-mail at rwhitehouse