Mrs. Living on a Community Sportswriter’s Salary asked me a pivotal question a few days before the start of the World Series.
I’m online shopping for Christmas bargains that may or may not be sports-related and may or may not be for you, she related.
Red Sox or Patriots?
It’s the modern-day Ginger/Mary Ann or Coke/Pepsi question, I guess, if you’re a fellow of a certain age born in a certain part of the country. At least she didn’t throw in the Celtics and/or Bruins to complicate matters.
You might think it’s a more difficult choice on this side of the not-so-thin line between lovable loser-hood and the embarrassment of riches that is now nine combined championships in just a handful more than 6,000 days. Instead, that rare air has provided clarity.
When the New England Patriots win a Super Bowl, I jump around and yelp at a level that annoys my neighbors. Then I tackle my son, taunt his Oakland Raiders-sympathizing mother, spill what’s left of my ninth beer, wait until the losing quarterback is on the screen and deliver a D-Generation X crotch chop from late 1990s WWE, and generally act like a spoiled, belligerent chowderhead.
When the Boston Red Sox win a World Series, I sit in my recliner, rock back and forth with my eyes fixated on the celebration before me, and fight back real tears with minimal success.
So there’s your answer, and I guess the question doesn’t make the head itch after all.
The reasons aren’t that hard to discern. It isn’t about fair weather or fickleness. Some of us were Patriots fans before Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, or even Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe, arrived in Foxborough. It was no easy task, either. Many of my friends chose the less challenging path as 49ers, Redskins or Cowboys supporters in elementary school, and who can blame them?
We were kind of on an island at home, too. Our parents grew up in a world where the NFL wasn’t must-see television on Sunday afternoon. And if it was part of their culture, well, it was handed down by our grandparents, who rooted for Y.A. Tittle and Frank Gifford because the New York Giants were the only game in town.
Combine all that with the annual, soul-crushing, season-abbreviating losses to Miami, Pittsburgh and Denver, and naturally there wasn’t a heavy emotional investment in the Patsies. The life-sized Steve Grogan poster and ill-fitting zip-up worn every day to fifth grade were evidence that the team existed and mattered. Suffering was no birthright, though, and it could take place in relative silence.
Red Flops passion was community property and passed along like predispositions to pattern baldness and high blood pressure. My first memories in life are watching the Sox via Channel 6 on a black-and-white, 10-inch TV with my mom’s mom and listening on WKTJ 1380 AM out of Farmington on a crackling transistor radio with my dad’s dad.
They didn’t need me to explain my feelings about Bucky Bleeping Dent after he ruined my arrival home from afternoon kindergarten on a Monday in October 1978, because they had been there in 1967 and 1975. I lost them both not many years later, much too soon and long before either one of them could list watching the Sox hoist a world championship banner as a highlight in their lives.
We all have those stories if we grew up in northern New England. Maybe Aunt So-and-So or Uncle Such-and-Such took us to Fenway Park for the first time. They spent their entire time on earth inside that wretched 86-year window.
And with the exception of the classmates who did the intellectually lazy thing, became internet trolls in training and openly rooted for the New York Yankees, we had strength in numbers. It transcended political or religious affiliation.
Nobody attached the now-cliche label of “nation” to us. There were no overpriced seats overlooking the wall and obscuring the Citgo sign. The only Neil Diamond song reverberating out of the speakers was whichever one lurked in the bottom half of the top 40 that day. No pink hats or blue tops were available in the gift shop.
It was real tradition and true, shared experience. We were part of something larger than ourselves; a thread that connected generations and broke down whatever man-made barriers existed at the time.
So yes, honey, make sure whatever you’re putting on that credit card is adorned with a red ‘B.’ And forgive me if my voice trails off when I open and thank you for it.
— Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.