RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Boston is a city with a rich sports history of losing. Now commentator Frank Deford says with dominant teams in baseball, football and basketball, that history is being rewritten.
FRANK DEFORD: Isn't it the most amazing thing, what's happened to Boston? In sports, the Athens of America has become Sparta.
What a transformation. We used to look at sporting Boston as sort of a quaint, fey, idiosyncratic place, not quite American. Shoot, Boston didn't even care much for football. The Redskins left town for Washington, and nobody missed them. When the Patriots arrived a quarter-century later, they were barely tolerated as something of a distraction from the autumn foliage.
The greatest team of all time, the Celtics of the 1960s, were mostly ignored by the home folk. All that mattered in the winter was hockey, the Bruins, and all year round, baseball, the Sox. Never mind that neither the Bruins nor the Sox could win. In fact, that was the best part of being a Boston sports fan: suffering greatly, but doing so with condescension.
There are two elements, I believe, which have set Boston fans apart. First, New England is surely the most distinct area unto itself left in the United States. And Boston, The Hub, is like the capital of a little country within a country, like Scotland or the Basque region or the Kurdish part of Iraq. Not idly do they call it The Red Sox Nation.
Then, too, Bostoniana always had Quebec, beloved home of hockey and, especially, the Bruins' archrivals, the legendary Canadiens. Hemming it in on the north and on the south, New York, sanctuary city of the brutish Yankees and the crude Yankee dollar.
It was only a part of the defeatist charm of the Red Sox that they lost all those years. The pain was all the more exquisite that New York's Yankees always won. If the Knicks had only been the Yankees of basketball, then the Celtics would have mattered.
But now, look. The Sox haven't just ended their curse. No. Every day they seem more like, yes, the Yankees - organized, regal, predatory. Be careful what you wish for. The Red Sox have become a genuine national franchise, especially as all the college kids who come to Boston go back to their unwashed hinterlands as fashionable, knowing Red Sox devotees - as unbearable as displaced Yankee fans ever were.
And the Patriots, the Patriots are certified now as America's fee-fi-fo-fum. Actually, the Pats are very reminiscent of the Celtics of lore, both are admired for their cohesion and polish, each with one great leader - Bill Russell then, Tom Brady now — but with a coach - Red Auerbach then, Bill Belichick now - that opponents and opponents' fans can despise. Only while Russell's Celtics were prophets without honor, Bostoniana clasps its current heartless juggernaut to its breast.
And not only are the Celtics suddenly back on top - best record in all the NBA - but the Bruins, who finished in the cellar last year, are even quite respectable now. So it is that the new cocky, overbearing municipal lords of sport see only victory rampant everywhere there, in the Sparta of America.
MONTAGNE: Frank Deford joins us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.