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.

19 comments:

  1. Look, Boston sports fans suck... I won't argue that. But I was MORALLY COMPELLED to jump on the Bruins bandwagon after they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Armageddon is delayed a few days for every Canadian hockey player/fan teardrop. That's all Cthulhu REALLY wants.

    If it means I have to root for a Boston team to ward off the Dark One, so be it.

    Plus, what's funnier than photos like this?:
    http://goo.gl/4rdIz
    They bought us at least four decades.

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  2. Jealousy, sweet jealousy. Can I lick your tears?

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  3. Anonymous said...
    Jealousy, sweet jealousy. Can I lick your tears?

    And here I was worried Boston fans wouldn't prove my point.

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  4. Not that I'm a Bruins fan, but the NHL salary cap kind of negates a good part of your article. I won't speak to the financial situations for the Pats, Sox, or Celts, but the Bruins certainly didn't outspend anyone, especially the Canucks. And that the Bruins couldn't give tickets away four years ago doesn't mean much either. This can happen to any team in any league anywhere because the fact of sports is that the vast majority of fans anywhere are bandwagoners. It's just the way people are, especially for males as they leave their 20's and 30's behind and have to put much more importance on family, career, and personal finance than they could on sports when they were single and younger. Sports-as-religion is something that a majority of a population anywhere simply doesn't have the time, energy, interest and (most importantly) money to invest in over the course of a lifetime. I kind of have to put a lot of this down as just another phony American myth, courtesy of sports writers who are being paid to make a massive deal out of something that most people really only look at as a pleasant civic or regional lark to engage in every once in a while. Just my opinion, of course, and I readily admit that it's coloured by my own experiences as I no longer look at professional sports as having very much importance in my own life at all.

    I encourage you to make more fun though of the Massholes as frequently as you feel like doing though. It's funny and they deserve it as much as the mega-douches in NYC usually do. Going by the antics of the last after the game ended, however, right now might not be the best time to make fun of Boston in light of how Vancouver fans chose to behave.

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  5. Came here from Deadspin. Really like your point about boston fans convincing themselves that their bullying is a noble act, and the Monty Python analogy. Enjoyed the piece, though I do think the shots at Simmons felt a tad obvious. Then again, he is the personification of all Boston fans, so I guess it's personal preference more than anything.

    Sincerely, a jays/leafs/raptors fan

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  6. I agree with juuust about everything. But, several friends of mine from grade school in MA in the mid 90s were Bruins fans and Bruins fans alone (hated other sports/teams). So, I'm pretty happy for them. Only.

    And a funny thing about those 2007 Celtics: Ray Allen was traded for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and, eventually, Jeff Green; Garnet was traded for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, and Theo Ratliff.

    Just imagine the insufferable uproar if Boston fans were on the opposite end of these ridiculously one-sided deals? That's 10 columns and 15 podcasts right there from Mr. Grantland.

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  7. The only thing more irritating than irritating sports fans are bloggers blogging about how irritating they are.

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  8. The overlap in the venn diagram of Sports Likers and Lives in Greater Boston Area is like a trawling net for a boat that only catches actual human shit. I don't think Boston fans are shitty fans, at least not any shittier than every other aspect of their lives.

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  9. Boston's overuse of the persecution narrative is only indicative of the fact that the opposite of what is purported is true. In turn of fate, the overuse of the persecution narrative might just be what gets them persecuted, however.

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  10. Though I am a Boston fan, I won't gloat but I will ask - how can we have more fans through a longer tradition but still be hopping on a bandwagon? In the short-term, the Celtics record in 2006-7 was 24-58. If anyone was crowing about the Celtics over that they should have been committed. The team featured Tony Allen as its future star to match with Paul Pierce. The next year they improved the win total by 42 games. Probably there's a little more to be proud of with that improvement.
    They achieved this the old-fashioned way - by going from 16th in the league in payroll in '06 - '07 to 3rd in '07 - '08. I would think as a Tampa fan, you would celebrate the idea. C's ownership started spending more money, and were rewarded with more fans (and more revenue). Proof positive that if you spend it, they will come.
    However, it's not as much of a bandwagon as you make it seem. Celtics ownership wasn't that far removed from winning in the '80's, so there were plenty of fans. They just stopped caring when the team cheaped out and fielded an inferior product. The same thing happened with the Bruins in the '90's (ask a Bostonian about Harry Sinden). Boston fans allege that pressure on teams to spend more and field a winning product got through to skinflint owners. Then they rewarded those owners when they finally shelled out. Isn't that what a fanbase should truly gloat about? Having a positive influence on the team?

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  11. I called the Bruins winning after they beat my Habs but deep down I knew this is exactly what would be the result if I was right.

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  12. Thanks for the replies, guys. I've got a bunch of stuff on my plate at the moment, but I'll be sure to respond to everybody as soon as I can. One thing I want to emphasize is that I actually am a Boston sports fan, so this was a kind of self-flaggellation for me. (I also just want to cut off the "haters gonna hate" BS right here.) I know how deeply annoying watching the NFL with me in the same room has been for friends of mine, over the last couple of years, so I think I had earned a self-inflicted gut punch for (I hope) unavoidably being a pain in the ass for the people I care about.

    As for the Simmons refs in the pics, two things:

    1. Usually, thinking of a good picture and decent caption is ridiculously hard. It reminds me of all those Simpsons audio commentaries where the writers would admit that the guy who wrote the episode did it overnight, but the entire writers room would blow six hours of one day just writing the two movie-name jokes on a theater marquee in the background. It's just like pulling teeth most of the time. I tried Googling a bunch of terms and trying to find something analogous to YankeeFan.jpg, but I wasn't coming up with anything decent. I finally just gave up and used Simmons because his face came up a lot for various searches for "Boston Fan" or similar stuff.

    2. Speaking of him, that's not really a well that I want to go back to any more. I feel like I said my bit about the guy and don't really have anything new to offer. But he really is a perfect avatar for Boston fan "humblebrags," problems with being tone-deaf to their fandom and celebration, as well as the total lack of interest in the Bruins up until the moment the 2010 postseason started. It was just a really useful shorthand that instantly communicated a lot of Boston sports fan baggage to anybody just clicking through without reading.

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  13. I was really hoping the Simmons carpet-bombing would become a weekly feature, but otherwise this was pitch-perfect. Slow clap.

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  14. Btw: as if on cue, Sunday is the 25th anniversary of Len Bias's death, which will no doubt send sanctimonious assbags like Bob Ryan (to say nothing of Simmons) into paroxysms of anguish over what might have been. Only Boston fans could spend two and a half decades crying woe-is-us about a team that won five conference championships and three titles.

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  15. I'm a Boston fan too! Not as much of a Simpsons fan, though. Great post, really enjoyed it.

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  16. I have a friend who is a fellow hockey nut but has been out of the country for the past two months. This article was all I had to send her to summarize the past few weeks. Thanks!

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  17. Edmojnton Oilers Rule!

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  18. COngratulation to the Boston Bruins! Good job

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  19. Let's not forget that because of ESPN's Boston-biased propaganda, people have a very false perception that their fans are loyal. Bullshit. I went to a boarding school in Massachusetts for four years in the early 2000s. Back then, no one cared about the Celtics, and no one cared about the Bruins. No one cared about the Patriots until they got good after my first year there. I will give them credit where it's due and say that they've always cared about the Red Sox, but even then there are a fair amount of bandwagoners.

    Among other more important reasons, hockey is my favorite sport because I could take solace in the fact that their terrible fans would never taste victory. Now they have ruined the sanctity of the Stanley Cup- at least until the Devils win it next year and the cosmic balance of the world will be restored.

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Et tu, Mr. Destructo? is a politics, sports and media blog whose purpose is to tell jokes or be really right about things. All of us have real jobs and don't need the hassle that telling jokes here might occasion, which is why some contributors find it more tasteful to pretend to be dead mass murderers.