Thursday, December 15, 2011

Who's the most Boston?

The subtitle here could be "Has success ruined the Boston sports brand?"

People outside of New England make unfair assumptions about New Englanders; that since we're more liberal and cultured, having the best colleges and museums, etc, that this isn't a working class area.  Nothing could be further from the truth and the truth is reflected in what we appreciate about our sports teams.
Boston is currently the most successful major sports town in the country, with all four major teams having won championships in the last 10 years, a total of seven championships in all.  But if I were to ask you, New England sports fan, which teams do you identify with most from 1 to 4, how would you answer?  I would posit that the polling would show the Bruins #1 and maybe the Red Sox #4, and I'll explain myself shortly.  If you had asked this question five years ago, the order would be completely different, with either the Red Sox or Patriots on top.  And don't confuse this question with a strict popularity question because, even in New England now, football is #1 with the Red Sox close on their heels.
But do we really emotionally connect with the make-up of these two franchises like we used to, when the Red Sox,  the "Idiots," had just won the '04 World Series with a great comeback against the Yankees and a team that, while it had its superstars, won because of its grinders or the Patriots, who were winning their third Super Bowl with much the same tenacity?  We loved Tom Brady then and still do but I submit what we loved most about the Patriot teams of that time were the grinders and the emphasis on defense.  Even though we won some high-scoring Super Bowls, the team was originally built defense first.  But after winning those high-scoring Super Bowls and especially after getting a taste of Brady to Randy Moss, the system with the Patriots has changed.  We've now become the Dan Fouts Chargers or the, gulp, Peyton Manning Colts.  We're fun to watch and we have great regular seasons but we fall way short in the playoffs.  I know I'm not the only one that wishes our team was more like the Steelers or Ravens or Bruins.
The Red Sox fall as far as #4 on this list because by and large we don't relate to these current players.  Sure, Youk and Pedroia are our kinda guys, but even big, loveable Papi has worn on us.  Granted, if this current team had just won the World Series, we wouldn't be seeing these warts the same way as we are given that they collapsed in a monumental way instead.  But the culture has changed because we won and because ownership upped the ante in terms of paying for big free agents instead of building from within.  It started with the embarrassing "Manny being Manny" nonsense and has seeped throughout the team's culture, hopefully ending with chicken and beer in the clubhouse.  I would rather watch the Bruins.
In a pure popularity contest the Celtics would finish 4th; yes, the team with more championships than the other three combined.  That's because this is not really a basketball town.  It becomes one only when the team is winning AND the brand is relatable -- Larry Bird, Dave Cowens, et al.  And while the current Big 3 are superstar players individually, they play as a team and their head coach's philosophy is to play as a team and defense first.  These guys play hard and we generally like them as people.  You can make the argument that the Celtics are currently the #2 team when it comes to which teams play a style that we appreciate.
Look at the four current managers/coaches, excepting Valentine, who just got here and hasn't coached the Red Sox yet; but I can certainly say that Tito Francona was the one who didn't really fit.  If I give you Francona, Belichick, Julien and Rivers, three of them are very much alike in their no-excuses attitude toward winning and one is not.  So there's a trend there with the coaches matching the style of play we appreciate.
I know the Bruins are the team who's won the most recent championship but I submit they're #1 on this list much more because this is a hockey town and this is the kind of team New England sports fans, especially hockey fans, truly appreciate and adore.  This is a lunch pail team -- defense and goal tending first, depth and tenacity and teamwork; a team that plays by "the code," which while maybe is more important in hockey than the other sports, it's still very damn important to us when we view all our teams.  No prima donas need apply.  
Here's hoping that this current team that's beloved because of Chara and Lucic, The Brat and Timmy and Thornton (said with a Southie accent) doesn't in a few years become a team more like the Canucks than the Big Bad Bruins of Orr.

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