Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Guess I Am a True Patriot

According to a recent poll conducted by a blog site whose credentials are likely suspect but anecdotally ring true enough, the New England Patriots — playing in their fifth Super Bowl in 11 years — are the most hated NFL team in America. In fact, of the top dozen disliked sports team — both professional and collegiate — three of them are Boston teams — the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics. The Boston Bruins didn’t make the list, probably because too few people watch hockey these days to affect a survey. All four comprise my favorite pro teams. It is an inherited trait, because I grew up in New Hampshire with my mother’s French-Canadian family. They brooked no discussion on which teams to follow. Besides, our snowy black-and-white television only picked up Manchester and Boston channels, and only a couple of them at that.

Technically the New England Patriots are no longer a Boston team since building a stadium in Foxborough, about 30 miles south. But that’s close enough, especially for an old-timer like me. I have been a Patriots fan since pre-Super Bowl days, when they were genuinely a Boston team playing at Fenway Park. I was a tyke devouring the sports pages of the tabloid Boston Record-American and the Concord Monitor. My godparents’ son, a fellow named Burton Nault, was the Patriots’ team physician. He occasionally provided autographed photos of the team stars — folks such as running back Jim Nance, quarterback Babe Parilli, and my favorite, wide receiver and kicker Gino Cappelletti. (I think I just liked saying his name.) The team had limited success before the merger of the American Football League with the NFL and the creation of the Super Bowl, appearing in just one league championship and getting whacked, 51-10 by the Chargers.

In fact, for the nearly 13 years I spent in New Hampshire, the only Boston team with consistent success was the Celtics, with its cigar-smoking Coach Red Auerbach on the bench, and legendary stars such as Bill Russell and Johnny Havlicek on the court. The team won seven NBA championships in the 1960s. I remember lying in bed with my transistor radio at age 9 during Game 7 against the hated Philadelphia 76ers, listening to the gravelly voice of Johnny Most screaming hoarsely, “Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over... It's all-l-l-l over!" Johnny Most could make a cribbage game sound exciting over the radio, but this truly was an electric moment.

But the Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much. Both teams only started winning championships after the turn of this century, though both occasionally got to the title game. Even the once-mighty Celtics went 22 years before winning a championship four years ago. The Bruins skated and traded punches for nearly 40 years before winning the Stanley Cup last year. Generations of Red Sox fans, including my kinfolks, went to their graves unfulfilled as the team went 86 years before winning a World Series. The Patriots bumbled from birth for 42 years before winning a Super Bowl.

Now Boston pro teams have seven championships among them in the past decade, so envy likely explains their high rankings in the “most hated” category. No longer are Boston teams the lovable losers of the past, underdogs always, whose team slogans were invariably, “Wait until next year.” Unsubstantiated rumor indicates that epitaph graces a few tombstones of diehard Boston fans, which is too good a story to ruin by actual research. But now Boston fans are considered a bunch of whiners when we bemoan the embarrassing collapse, for example, of the Red Sox at the end of last season. Of course, the report of millionaire pitchers eating fried chicken and drinking brewskis in the locker room while the game was underway is hardly geared to elicit sympathy.

Which brings us back to the Patriots seeking revenge Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. This massive sporting event is one of the few places one finds Roman numerals being used. I can decipher Roman numerals just fine, but this seems to be a vanishing, admittedly rather useless, talent. The last time the Patriots were in a title game, the team had won all its regular season games as well as two playoff games and headed into the Super Bowl with an unprecedented 18-0 record. And they lost to the Giants, those spoilsports, to the delight of Patriots haters everywhere. This is one of those rare times when I actually was depressed over the results of a sporting match.

I will be watching Sunday but have no intention of allowing this game to affect my mental health, though there will be some cheering and talking to the television involved. I will wear the Patriots sweatshirt my mom gave me after the first SB win. It is well-worn and soft. She forgot that she had bought it for me and bought another a month later, so I have two identical sweatshirts. This allows me to always wear one in the winter once home from work. I had to explain to my Beautiful Mystery Companion that I owned two identical sweatshirts and wasn’t wearing the same clothing article for months on end.

She has no intention of watching the Super Bowl. But if I’m nice I’ll bet she’ll make some nachos.


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