Thursday, June 16, 2011

More Riches for Dynastic Sports Paupers

The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup last night, pulling off a city's exacta of being insufferable in every major sport.

Assuming you were once fond of Boston sports fans, watching them this last decade has felt a lot like watching episodes of The Simpsons after the eighth season. A few clunkers aside, they both delivered a reliable product — one angsty heartbreak, the other comedy. You grew up with both of their charms. Then at some point, there came an inexorable process of encrappening that eventually everyone had to admit would devour the greater body, the last human and appealing bits subsumed by dickheaded metastasis.

In both cases, smart people better able to see inevitability coming at them like a thunderhead convinced themselves that this wasn't happening, that everyone else had gone Chicken Little and lost perspective. Clever people rationalized The Simpsons' having covered every practical storyline and needing to move to extremes to seem novel. Boston apologists pointed to cases of other teams with bandwagons to marginalize the odium of deep-south Pats fans, held up The Evil Empire's payroll-lusty fans as evidence of the smaller and necessary evil of Boston's funds-fueled die-hards. Conversely, a drunk could have made a far more astute observation: "These guys are assholes."

Just like those two hilarious gags in even the worst Simpsons episodes, Boston apologists have plenty of rationalizing details to cling to. No matter how egregious the Sox become, it's absurd to think they'll approach the Yankees in gross revenue. Teams can't really control their bandwagons, or at least that's what (to take a wild "for instance") every Idaho-born Steelers fan has claimed when condemning bandwagon fans without a trace of irony. But there's still plenty of behavior for which they can be held accountable.

Bullies are universal in competition. Singling out Boston would be silly with the Yankees's fans just a few miles south of them. Since I go to them, I'll note that both of their fanbases exult in fabulous displays of fuckheadedness at Rays games, with the usual spectrum of illogic:
self-congratulation for having more tradition, ignoring that they have a combined 207 more years of existence;
self-congratulation for a greater legacy of winning (see above);
self-congratulation for having more of a fanbase (see above);
self-congratulation for sometimes having more fans at Rays games, despite the above details, a market saturated with northern retirees and expats and the fact that the likely age of local a kid who was old enough to pick a favorite baseball team on the Rays' first opening day (without mom or dad dissuading him) is maybe 18;
acting like spastic dickheads over every win, forgetting about having 3-5 times another team's payroll means you should be way more emotionally consumed by losing and not in doing what you ought to mostly do by sheer probability.
Really, then, none of this is exceptional.

What has made the Boston sports fan so exceptional and objectionable is the willingness to cloak bullying in the mantle of suffering — as if the kid who pinned you to the floor in gym class and whaled on your face kept sputtering out words between tears and rained-down blows, saying, "I hit you... because I resent... your wholeness... Violence is something... I learned... from my dad."

The Red Sox had 86 years of suffering. The Patriots were routinely a punching bag, and they were humiliated in the Super Bowl by the Bears. That legacy of misery allowed fans to assert, "We deserve this. We deserve to crow." And doubtless they did, for a while. But continued success and expansion of this attitude of both deserving trophies and being Deserving Fans has created a bizarre hybrid of beatified ugliness. Yankee fans don't bother with this; they're going to show up and humiliate you. Apologizing for it only suggests that you deserve an apology. Red Sox fans try to split the difference between being owed the credit for their suffering and being able to create your own: when they push the other guy around, the act is somehow noble.

Pats fans co-opted the same rhetoric and matched it with Bill Belichick's (effective) annual horseshit about disrespect, plus a sense of online-discussion victimization, league-wide regulatory persecution and the far more insidious notion that they're doing the league a favor. The Patriots are The Model Franchise, one that has set the tone for the league in terms of rehabilitating malcontents, rejuvenating veterans and marginalizing unwanted behavior. Nevermind players like Rodney Harrison, the personal life of Brandon Meriweather and Wes Welker's making a bunch of puns at the expense of a douchebag who was caught engaging in sexual play with the woman he married. The record doesn't even matter anymore. When the team wins, fans can be assholes by alluding to previous suffering or current presitge, and if they lose, they can be assholes because you wish your franchise was run as well.

Fans co-opted that rhetorical and organizational blueprint for the 2008 Celtics: years of suffering in the wilderness, stunning play from undervalued veterans and shaped-up guys with previous attitude problems, all jelling as a team that no one really respected as a potential contender. It was an ingenuous bit of salesmanship redolent of the same line the 1996 Yankees proffered, but at least the notion that nobody believed in them had a ring of truth. Finding a Boston sports fan on a message board crowing about the Celtics before the 2008 season was like finding a Socialist mayor in the United States. Sure, there was one, but nobody was taking him seriously, and he probably didn't think he had much of a future either.

You'd think that a city with two champion sports teams couldn't possibly set a new standard of regional bandwagoning, but Boston Celtics fans managed it. Fans grew like clover on message boards and in sports bars. Much the same happened with the Bruins. In 2007, you couldn't give away free Guinness in a sports bar in exchange for someone correctly naming five Celtics bench players, and God help you if you had some kind of booze contact-allergy at the start of this hockey season and a series of Trivial Pursuit cards about the Bruins' lines. Once you eliminated a core of die-hards and people swept up by the previous postseason, nobody fucking cared.

If you could build some backstory for him as a pauper, Boston sports fans would now be exactly like Mr. Creosote, the geometrically impossibly obese character from the end of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, and that's not even addressing the low-hanging fruit of their physical health and general appearance. This is all personality and gluttony. They're obviously rich and overfed beyond measure, full to bursting on privilege and pleasure and incredibly rude about it. The Bruins' winning the Stanley Cup is like John Cleese trying to force-feed the little "wafer-thin mint." Shit, most of these people didn't even know they needed it. They weren't even interested at first. After drinking and gorging and puking — in the greatest of finery — well, all right, here's this other delicious morsel.

Boston has won the major-sport exacta, an incredible set of NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL titles in seven years. Unlike Mr. Creosote, they're not going to explode from this indulgence. But, if they did, nobody lift a finger. Nobody. For at least a decade, Boston sports fans are ineligible for sympathy.