Such is the life of a father, trying to do right by his son.I try and try to get through to him, but to no avail. He just doesn’t get it.As I write this, the Boston Red Sox just won Game 4 of the 2007 World Series to take the championship of American baseball, their second in four years.
Earlier, I watched the New England Patriots destroy the Washington Redskins, to improve their record to 7-0 this season. They are winning by an average of 25 points, and may well be on their way to their fourth Super Bowl win in seven years.
As a New England sports fan, it could hardly get any better. These are the golden years.
Flash back oh, say, maybe 32 years. The Red Sox were again in the World Series, and it was one of the most exciting ever (compared to this year’s absolute dud). It was my first foray, as a sports fan, into the world of wearing my heart on my sleeve. Every game was life-and-death, and in the end, the Sox died, helped along by an atrocious umpiring non-call on the Reds’ Ed Armbrister, who clearly interfered with Boston catcher Carlton Fisk on a bunt, causing Fisk to throw the ball away and costing the Sox the game. (But I’m not bitter).
When the Sox fell, a little bit of me died with them.
The following year, I discovered football. The New England Patriots turned around a poor 1975 season with a vengeance, going 11-3 in ’76, including being the only team to beat the NFL’s top team at the time, the Oakland Raiders. So along come the playoffs, and who do the Patriots play in the first round? Of course, the Raiders. And they beat them again. At least, everyone in New England knows they did. But instead of going on to Super Bowl glory, the Pats went home after a phantom roughing-the-passer penalty on Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton gave the Raiders a second chance after a third-down incomplete pass, and they used the bogus penalty to come back and w–, they eventually w—, they were allowed by the powers that be to wrongly advance to the next round. (But I’m not bitter.)
In 1978, the Sox again had a great team, and led their division by 14 games in July, only to see the New York Yankees storm back and take the lead with a few games left in the season. The Sox didn’t give up, and when Luis Tiant beat the Tigers on the last day of the season, and the Yankees choked to Cleveland, they were tied, leading to a one-game playoff. It should be noted the teams were tied with 99 wins apiece; no other playoff team posed any threat to stop the winner of this game from capturing the World Series. By circumstance, the Yankees had Cy Young winner Ron Guidry – having one of the best pitching seasons in baseball history – ready for the playoff game, while the Sox had Yankee castoff Mike Torrez. Improbably, Torrez held a 2-0 lead going into the seventh inning, but broke down, giving up a three-run pop-fly home run to 102-pound shortstop Bucky Dent, who’s still living off that hit today. (But I’m not bitter).
Also in ’78, the Patriots made the playoffs, but their head coach quit on the team to go lead the University of Colorado to Big 12 mediocrity, and the stunned Pats were ousted in the first round.
The next year, the Boston Bruins were one of the best two teams in hockey. The other? The Montreal Canadiens. The two squared off in the semifinals, with the sacrificial-lamb New York Rangers awaiting slaughter in the finals. After a grueling six games, the teams were tied 3-3 with the final game in Montreal. The Bruins led 3-2 in the final minutes when the referee oddly stopped play, calling a penalty on Boston for having too many men on the ice, an unforgivable mistake. Of course, Boston-killer Guy LaFleur scored on the resulting power play and the Canadiens won in overtime and went on the beat the Rangers for their 729th Stanley Cup Championship.
In 1986, There was Bill Buckner and the Red Sox meltdown. In 1990, the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup finals after a triple-overtime loss to Edmonton.
For awhile, the one shining light was the Boston Celtics. In 1974 and ‘76 they won the NBA title, the latter after a triple-overtime win vs. Phoenix. After a few down years, they bounced back behind Larry Bird, winning titles again in 1981, ’84 and ’86, with the ’86 team possibly the sport’s best ever. But then Len Bias died hours after being drafted by the Celts, and Reggie Lewis did the same a few years later, as he was becoming one of the game’s stars. Until this season, there’s been little hope for the men in green. They, and the Bruins, have become afterthoughts in Boston.
It got so bad that in 2002, I wrote a column for Ducts outlining my reasoning behind suing the Sox for turning me into a depressed cynic. I was only half kidding. It’s true, as I wrote in that column, that I couldn’t really enjoy the Patriots upset win over the Rams in Super Bowl QVC. I spent the entire game waiting for the fatal blow to come out of the blue (or, more likely, out of the officials’ back pockets).
Back to the present.
My son began his sports fandom watching the Red Sox in 2003. They lost to the Yankees in typically excruciating fashion, but that pain was lessened several months later by the Patriots winning their second Super Bowl in three years. Then, the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, and the Pats followed with a third Super Bowl win in February.
Now we have another World Series winner and another Super Bowl contender. Even the Celtics appear to be on the upswing.
This is why I worry about my son. I can’t get through to him. His whole fan experience has been positive. Champion after champion. It’s all good.
You see, he thinks this is how it will always be. He doesn’t know what it’s really like being a Boston sports fan. This isn’t us! We’re not front-runners, gloating, superior! We’re the perennial underdog, even when our team is favored.
As I tucked my son in tonight, he asked me why I didn’t wake him up to see the Red Sox win in 2004. How could I explain? How could I tell him it was because I was afraid of scarring him, certain that if I woke him up to watch, he’d end up crying after the ball rolled between the legs of Doug Mientkiewicz to allow the winning run to score? I couldn’t let that happen to him. He’s my son, dammit!
Okay, maybe I’m a little bitter. But I wonder, is it better to be bitter than to expect a lifetime of constant success? Will my son be writing about suing the Red Sox in 35 years because they imbued him with a false expectation of winning that never followed?
I hope not. I’m trying to bring him down off that cloud, but he’s so damn high I can hardly reach, as stooped as I am from being stomped on for so many years.
Even after six years of glory, I can’t feel perfectly good about being a Boston fan because fans of other teams are accusing New Englanders of being intolerable, almost Yankee-fan-like (you know, when their team’s winning; not completely silent, like they were in the late 1980s and early ‘90s). Plus, football fans now claim the Pats only won because coach Bill Belichick videotaped signals, and baseball fans say the Sox only win because they spend so much. It’s taking some of the fun out of being on top.
But not all of it. I only hope my son can teach me how to enjoy it.