It’s time for the clearing of the deck as another vintage year comes lumbering fitfully to an end, and they are all “vintage,” matey, as long as you remain on the right side of the grass. And again there is the metaphysical marvel to be pondered as the days trickle down: How is it no other region in America is better served by its professional sporting franchises than New England?
Consider the wonder of it:
Football – The Patriots, after suffering a couple of impertinent rebukes from teams that have no manners or don’t know their place, are back on the prowl. They are buoyed again, undaunted and in the mood to take no prisoners, and back again as the AFC’s No. 1 seed which is where, one bets, they’ll remain.
Again, they are odds-on favorites to grace the monumental 50th Soupey with their august presence. Fears that consecutive losses presaged something catastrophic proved, like every other thesis disputing their ultimate eminence, to be quite foolish. As if there was ever a chance they’d let their former back-up QB beat them in a game having even a semblance of import.
Maybe overall the win over the Texans was ugly. The margin of victory probably should have been four touchdowns heftier, given poor Brian Hoyer’s plight. Disconcerting to the faithful might have been another crop of apparent Patriot injuries, and some who got nicked are important characters. But we should understand by now any such losses are meaningless. Boss Belichick will simply pluck a few more James Martins or Leonard Johnsons or Brandon Boldens off the waiver wire. They’ll look like all-stars next week. Journeymen scrubs report to Foxborough and immediately become reborn. The place is pixilated.
The Patriots lead our Grand Parade, and properly so, to the chagrin of the rest of the Republic of Hallowed American Sport. Can you begin to imagine the fuss and furor – in the wake of Deflategate, etc. – that will attend their presence at Soupey L, should it come about. And it will.
Baseball – The Red Sox revel in their Hot Stove coups, widely proclaimed (especially by themselves) “Winners of the Winter.” No matter that we’ve heard this song before, and as recently as last winter. Nor does it matter that one year ago the owners were telling us that spending a fortune on middle-aged ballplayers was dumb, and now they maintain it’s very cool as well as smart. But, then, as Emerson said: “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” We plead guilty.
It’s noteworthy that our Fenway pets are the only team in all of professional sports that can finish last three times in four years and still be regarded a perennial contender. Still, would we rather have the likes of the Padres, D’Backs, Injuns, Twinkies, et al. and ad nauseam, bearing the banner? Likely not!
Basketball – The Celtics are starting to look like they’re back after a rare, by their lofty standards, multi-year drift. Danny Ainge’s mysterious master plan –seemingly based on the interesting premise that when in doubt, do something – begins to bear fruit.
These Celtics are young, spirited, well-coached, and increasingly cocky. Does it herald a revival? People who know the NBA (and there aren’t many) say the fabled Green could emerge best in the East, which is another way of saying they’re lucky not to be in the West. Still, these Celtics alone have come closest to beating the so far indomitable Warriors, which at the moment is a powerful statement.
Hockey – The Bruins surprise us most. They were trashed all summer after flopping last spring and then they pushed through a painful re-boot performed by neophytes to the task and then got off to an awful start, making the deep pessimism that promptly swelled perfectly reasonable. Two months later they are right back in the fast lane, testy and gritty and giving us the kind of effort we’ve come to expect from the Black and Gold for the last half century. The constancy of the Bruins over these many years has been under-appreciated, it says here.
If it is too early to hand out bouquets to Don Sweeney and Cam Neely, some apology might be appropriate. Their near overnight restructuring – making the Bruins measurably younger and swifter without sacrificing precious “edge,” and done with decided daring – suddenly looks a lot smarter in December than it did in June. Their best move was in retaining Coach Claude Julien. He may have a couple of equals in this dodge, but none is better. His swift and firm settling of this team while restoring order and disdaining doubt was masterfully done.
It has been a heckuva year, with the best maybe yet to come. Our Cup continues to runneth hugely over. We are profoundly spoiled. It’s an embarrassment of riches that gets even more awkward when you recognize that too many of us feel it’s all no more than our divine right.
Highly overdone is the very concept of this “Nation” thing that has sprouted since the Millenium dawned, bringing with it this remarkable supremacy on the battlefields of sport that we’ve been so greatly enjoying. “Patriot Nation,” “Red Sox Nation,” “Whomever Nation”! Taken to extremes, such attitudes become manifest nonsense, implicit in them the ridiculous notion that the triumphs of our teams verifies something deeply special about “Us,” making everything that comes our way only what we fully deserve. But our worthiness is not intrinsic. Any suggestion to the contrary is balderdash.
The flip side of this irrational mindset is that losing becomes not only more painful but also often unjustifiable. After romping to ten straight fairly pulverizing wins, the Patriots can’t lose the next game because they played against a gallant opponent having a terrific evening. They can only lose by getting screwed by incompetent, possibly even corrupt, field officials who wantonly allow dirty foes to deliberately injure our heroes. That was roughly the conventional wisdom of the adoring Pats’ masses after the team’s first loss this season in Denver that quashed the euphoria of a blissful perfection. It was ridiculous.
But it’s unfair to pick only on the Patriots, the business in Denver being only the most recent example of this runaway mentality. It was the Red Sox, after all, who minted and raised to perfection the whole “Nation” thing based on the spurious notion of “My dear and beloved ballclub, right or wrong.” No team in any sport has a keener sense of its own righteousness than the Boston Red Sox. As public relations stunts , the conjuring and perfecting of Red Sox Nation, which promotes all that tommyrot, has been brilliant, I freely concede. But it seems to me equally cynical.
We should be thankful for our distinguished winter teams, the much less demanding Celtics and Bruins, who, being rather more sure of themselves and having apparently less of a need to be adored, have avoided the exaggerated and self-serving attitudes the Patriots and Red Sox gleefully feature. The C’s and B’s have their followings, for sure, but they’ve smartly avoided nationalizing them.
So, where do we stand? Is the hour of our ultimate sporting deliverance – that wonderfully wacky year when all four of our flagship franchises win championships in the crowning glory of the latter day New England Renaissance – just around the corner?
Does 2016 have a chance? Not likely, obviously, given that the Celtics and Bruins are not yet at the knocking-on-the-door stage. But one does like the direction of both. Meanwhile the Red Sox have loaded up again and, if we’re to believe their battalions of ardent apologists, they will be in perpetual contention, given the wisdom of their new and infallible leadership. And the Patriots will remain the Patriots as long as Bill Belichick has anything to say about it.
Does supremacy ever get boring, one vaguely wonders? The point is that it’s bound to happen some day, and when it does, we all here in this sceptered space, this New England, will likely become completely insufferable, at least in the eyes of the rest of the Republic of Sports. One can hardly wait.