Checking out ‘America’s most dominant sports city’

The television colossus ESPN also has a magazine and because it is aimed at the semi-literate under-class of the internet age it is assumed the vast majority of the Dorchester Reporter’s sophisticated readership is but dimly aware and couldn’t possibly care less. You’re not missing much. Like everything associated with ESPN, its magazine is bloated and shallow, full of glitz and pretty pics but woefully short on substance.

And thus to be ignored. Right? Most of the time, the answer is “yes.” But the current edition commands attention because it is mainly all about Boston and goes literally nuts over our alleged on-going run-away eminence in the field of fun and games. There’s been nothing quite like it since the fall of the Roman Empire, according to ESPN the Magazine.

The cover is headlined, “America’s most dominant sports city. Welcome to Boston, Loozah!” (no kidding). The cover is further adorned with a dirty and clenched fist graced with the four championship rings of your four local professional sporting pets.  Wow! Gripping stuff! Sufficient to make every card-carrying acolyte of Red Sox Nation swell with pride up to the dimensions of the Goodyear blimp. It’s just what we needed: more tributes to our manifest glory.

But there’s a flip side. There is always a flip side. It is with delicious irony that ESPN’s so-called “Boston issue” hits the streets at precisely the moment the sheer fragility of riding the top of the sporting wave  is being painfully illustrated, and rarely has that been done better.

Testifying to it all are the shocked and addled masses of The Nation figuratively cowering in the long shadow of The Wall as they sulk over their beloved kids’ quite craven works in their most hilarious September since the charmed season of 1978. What a blow to the collective Nation’s ego. Being a devoted follower of the Town Team hasn’t been so embarrassing since the last hours of the hilarious Pinky Higgins administration, the 46th anniversary of which we are now reverently observing.

It’s a bitter encounter with reality. But some good comes from it as a whole generation of spoiled rotten Red Sox fans discover what it truly means to be a certified follower of this historically whacky team, not some accidental traveler riding a gravy train. Every generation of Red Sox devotees needs at least one meltdown, one waltz with looming catastrophe. It’s good for their souls and teaches them some nice, old-fashioned humility. And if ever there was a community in need of a little humility it’s this team and this Nation.

The Red Sox are the Red Sox are the Red Sox, as Gertrude Stein might have said. But the Patriots, their adherents boisterously insist, are made of sterner stuff. After their first two giddy wins, you could sense the awe building. That familiar reverence Boss Belichick always inspires when his club is rolling was starting to tug on the heartstrings of the football pundits. Many were searching the schedule and asking, “Who can possibly beat this wonderful team?”

Well, try the Buffalo Bills for openers, old Sport. Yes, the same Bills who have been a doormat for a dozen years and treated like street urchins by the imperial likes of Tom Brady. The Bills were so desperate they had to cast their lot with an economics major from Harvard, the unheralded Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has the temerity to regard a 21-0 deficit when playing the alleged titans of the game rather amusing. Silly boy.

In the end, the Boss and his own much more glamorous QB will probably have the last laugh. But you have to be heartless not to have been warmed by the joy the Bills’ gallant upset of the big shots from Foxborough brought to that tired old industrial town where the frost already coats the pumpkins and won’t depart until next June. Let Buffalo have its moment. It’s much deserved.

Then there are the Celtics, last seen slinking into the night after being humiliated by the Miami upstarts. Instead of reporting to camp loaded with questions as they ought momentarily to be doing, they are adrift with the rest of pro basketball’s chattel in the odd twilight of sports’ strangest labor dispute ever.
Does anybody fathom the NBA lockout?  Does anyone have any idea of where it stands or might be headed? Why are they doing this and when will it end?  Is it possible these lunatics could wipe out a season, or significant chunks thereof? Does anyone care?

It’s that last question that increasingly seems most relevant. The indifference that the NBA’s labor woes have inspired in the sporting world – let alone points beyond – has been astounding. Nobody, it seems, gives a hoot. And so the Celtics, the true architects of whatever genuine grandeur Boston sport can legitimately claim historically, are obliged to wander and wonder. Might the next serious basketball some of them play be in Greece or Ghana?

Which brings us to the Bruins, no longer the after-thought, the mere waifs but now a full partner at the local roundtable of redoubtable champions. Moreover, their improbable coup near uniquely charmed the entire region, restoring their game’s stature which had seriously waned over the long title drought. New England was profoundly touched by their dramatic playoff odyssey last spring. It was riveting. Hockey is back, and it may be bigger than ever.

You only hope success doesn’t spoil them. It’s a very different game and different team. Of all the games, hockey has changed the least over the years of big-sports transformation into very big-buck business and its rise to a comparable clout in the culture at large.  Even the fans are different. It’s hard to imagine the hockey crowd acquiring the lordly airs and righteous claims to a superior entitlement that so deeply characterize Red Sox Nation in all of its pomposity. That shouldn’t happen down in the North End, but you never know.

The Bruins will have little interest in concerning themselves with such trifles. Staying at the top level of contention will be challenge enough, harder for the Bruins than it has been for the Red Sox or Patriots. Turnover in the NHL is sharp and constant. The parity is relentless and the margin of difference between genuine contenders and mere also-rans is very slight.

It has been 14 years since a Cup winner has repeated, the admirable Detroit Red Wings being the last to do so (1998). The Wings are also the only team that’s never drifted from contention over that generational span. The contemporary Wings are the Bruins model, what they aspire to become.

But you should appreciate how difficult it will be for them to repeat. They are gritty and plucky but not a dominant team and they did little to re-load unless you consider replacing Tomas Kaberle with Joe Corvo a major upgrade and I don’t. You may be surprised by how much they will miss Mark Recchi. They will hold their breath until it becomes clear that Nathan Horton bears no lingering effects from that vicious blow that knocked him out of the Finals with a concussion. There are plenty of issues. Everything broke neatly, precisely, and right on cue last spring. Such marvelous happenstance is rarely reprised.

But after a summer of dancing about elegantly with the beloved Cup, they are about to begin the quest in what should be a barn-burner of an opener against the properly loathed Philadelphia Flyers. It may offer a welcome diversion from your ongoing lamentations over your favorite baseball team and its spectacular sputtering.  Winter may come early this year.

In the meantime, you can continue to wallow in the grand illusion of our innate superiority by immersing yourself in ESPN the Magazine’s glowing accolades. The premise is interesting. But the timing could have been better. Let the bloodletting begin.