MASSACHUSETTS — I don’t remember what bar I was at or how long I kept drinking after Aaron Boone put one in the leftfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium.
But I remember walking home to my place at the corner of Harvard and Comm Ave. in Allston on that October night. I remember everyone looking like a zombie. I remember the quiet, broken by the occasional “F—!” I remember the weird feeling the next morning when I walked to Dunkin Donuts. And I remember how what happened, that team doing that to the Red Sox, felt inevitable beforehand.
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Want to know why New England is pissed off at Roger Goodell and the NFL? Why it seems as intense now as ever, nearly two years later? Why the people here are monitoring Roger Goodell’s itinerary like a bunch of whacked-out travel agents?
As I see it, that night in 2003 explains it. For people my age—I’ll be 37 next week—the last 15 years of Boston sports have been like an out-of-body experience, because for us, growing up, the only thing you could count on was collapse.
I was 6 when Larry Bird won his last title. Len Bias, the guy who’d take the torch from Bird, died a few weeks later. A few months after that, the ball went through Buckner’s legs. Bird’s back went out. The Bruins were cheap. The Patriots were pathetic, then got good, only to have Bill Parcells bolt for—where else?—New York.
Later, the Celtics’ homegrown star, Reggie Lewis, died. Rick Pitino arrived thinking he’d get Tim Duncan, got Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer with two lottery picks instead, then whined about our negativity and left. Pete Carroll was here just before he became PETE CARROLL. Roger Clemens abandoned ship too.
By the turn of the century, things were so grim here that Herald columnis Gerry Callahan dubbed us “Loserville.” He was proven right less than a year later, when Ray Bourque—another star who found greener pastures elsewhere—won a Stanley Cup in Denver, and we threw him a friggin’ parade.
So here’s the bottom line: By the time we hit our 20s, it wasn’t that you thought bad things were going to happen. You flat-out knew they would. It felt like the other shoe was always about to drop.
And then, along came a team that changed everything.
When Boone hit that home run, it was still hard to know what to make of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots. Their 2001 run was incredible, but those guys would be the first to tell you that that team was playing way over its head and what they did that year hardly seemed sustainable, at least on the surface.
Fifteen years later there’s no more reliable entity in professional sports.
Even the Super Bowls they lost featured Brady staking the Patriots to leads in the waning moments. What he and Belichick have done isn’t just remarkable in the annals of the NFL—it has changed the mentality with which people around here view sports.
The sky isn’t falling anymore, nor is anyone waiting for it too, and that’s how it goes now for all the teams. Expectations are outrageously high and, yeah, there’s an arrogance and entitlement that’s attached to that. And though the other three teams—previously far more deeply embedded in the culture here than the Patriots were—have followed Brady and Belichick’s championship lead, they’re still chasing.
The Red Sox are kind of a circus—Theo Epstein’s 2005 gorilla suit act and the chicken-and-beer smearing of Tito Francona are two pieces of proof. The Celtics’ run behind Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had an expiration date on it from the moment it started. The Bruins’ owners aren’t from here and have never fully earned the trust of the people here.
The Patriots are different. They’re the forerunners to all of it, and they don’t have the caveats the other teams do. They’re counted on, and they deliver.
And now, Roger Goodell and the NFL were going to take that away?
The rest comes after—the homemade science projects, Wells Report fact-checkers, drug-store lawyers, and monitors of Goodell’s every move. That’s all a result of what happened, but the root of the over-the-top reaction, to me at least, is born of two factors: 1) the intense passion this area has for its teams and 2) the loyalty to the one team that’s been so unrealistically reliable over a decade-and-a-half.
Now, that’s not to say that this isn’t about Brady versus Goodell. It is. It’s not to say that the people are faking their belief that the whole investigation and prosecution of the Patriots was a farce. They’re not. And it’s not as if there isn’t a general edge to the part of the country that plays into it. That’s there, too.
It’s just that, if you look at the totality of the situation, and why the reaction has been so strong that Goodell literally feels like he can’t come and see a game at the home of one his flagship franchises, those factors are all ancillary. Central is what the Patriots have done to literally change the way people think about sports, and how grateful people around here are for it.
So the league threw a haymaker at Brady, and by proxy the Patriots and Belichick? If you know Boston, it’d be dumb to think this area wouldn’t swing back.