Columns, Sports

McCoy ’14: Spoiled by Duck Boat celebrations

By
Sports Columnist

The tattooed, scrappy and enigmatic beardsmen of the Boston Red Sox glided through the streets of Boston aboard the city’s unique amphibious vehicles known as duck boats last Saturday, leaving in their wake a trail of confetti, popped corks and delirious fans. It’s a scene and feeling that Boston has become all too familiar with — and that those from elsewhere are all too tired of hearing about — since the turn of the millennium. After all, this was the eighth time in the past dozen years that the Hub has had a champagne bath and sent out the order to “cue the duck boats.” A run of eight championships in the four major American sports leagues in only 12 years (the Red Sox in 2004, 2007 and 2013; the Patriots in 2000, 2003 and 2004; the Celtics in 2008 and the Bruins in 2011) is downright absurd for a single city. I’ve just been lucky enough to be along for the ride.

These 12 years have overlapped with the years of my youth. Growing up in Massachusetts, I’ve been raised in a fantasy world of sports fandom that has turned into a reality. In this way, despite my parents’ best intentions, I’ve been a child and young adult who’s been spoiled silly.

Many sports fans wait years, often even a lifetime, to see their teams win it all. Some never do. My father was raised a Phillies addict. Many of his fondest childhood memories come from afternoons spent at Connie Mack Stadium. He had to wait until he was 31, watching on TV from far away in Texas, to see his Phillies lift their first World Series trophy in 1980.

To me, 31 years is an eternity. In the sports universe, 31 years is nothing.

Take Cleveland, for example. (Sorry, Cleveland.) The city has not celebrated a sports championship in 49 years, not since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964, before the the Super Bowl was created in 1970 and the NFL’s modern era began. Since then, the Indians blew a late-inning World Series Game Seven lead in 1997, the Cavaliers made only one NBA finals appearance and lost (soon thereafter losing Lebron James, as well) and those same Browns have failed to make it to the Super Bowl and had 12 losing records in their past 14 seasons.

Then there are the diehard fans of individual teams. The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 and have not made it to the series since 1945. In hockey-crazed Toronto, the Maple Leafs — a member of the NHL’s “Original Six” teams — have never lifted the Stanley Cup in the league’s 96-year history. In the NBA, 13 franchises have never won a title.

I don’t mean to rub salt in wounds or brag here. But upon reflection, I realize I in many ways have no idea what it really means to be a sports fan, to have to stick with a team through thick and thin. There was full-on panic in the streets last season when the Red Sox finished with a losing season (their first in 14 years), and the city — myself included — called for the players and manager to get the axe. But in Pittsburgh, this was the norm for the Pirates, until this season brought their first winning record and playoff appearance in two decades — roughly the span of my lifetime. The Cardinals ousted the Pirates in the NLDS, but that could do little to diminish the joy that season brought to the club’s fan base.

But I’ve been conditioned to think that anything less than a championship is a disappointment. The Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004, but since then have had winning records in every season, won their division seven times, reached the AFC championship four times and gone to the Super Bowl twice. After the Super Bowl loss in 2011, I posted (much to my regret) a melodramatic Facebook status about the demise of the Belichickian formula, how Tom Brady again came up small in a big game and how the team needed to shake things up in the off-season. The division titles, the records, the playoff runs every year didn’t mean anything. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling until 4 a.m. that night, all because the Patriots hadn’t won the game to earn their first title since 2004.

I have no idea what it’s like to root for a team that hasn’t been competitive in my lifetime. I have no idea what it was like in my own city before this era of dominance. The Red Sox famously hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. Until 2000, the Patriots hadn’t won an NFL championship or even an AFL title when they were the Boston Patriots in the 1960s. The Bruins hadn’t had their names on the Stanley Cup since 1972. Many Boston fans went their entire lives without seeing their teams win, and the city I’ve been lucky enough to be raised in would seem to them like some sort of utopian dreamland.

I like to think that I could have stuck with my teams through the down years had they had them, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be put to the test in the coming years. The Celtics have finally entered rebuilding mode and look terrible so far in the young NBA season. Tom Brady is now 36 years old and (much to my sadness) will not be able to play forever. An aging Belichick with little left to add to his resume might move along with him.

I am constantly elated by my city’s successes, by how every season I can go in believing that my team has a genuine chance to be the best. But I am cognizant of how spoiled I am. Of how this is not a normal fan experience. Of how fans from Cleveland, San Diego and Buffalo hate my guts. Of how my father didn’t have this as a child and how my children likely won’t either.

I am the kid who is given everything he wants while the child next door is not. But I’m just going to keep enjoying it while it lasts.

Ethan McCoy ’14 offers his apologies to the cities of Cleveland, Chicago and Toronto. Send him hate mail at ethan_mccoy@brown.edu.

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