The Complacent Nation: The Decay of Boston Fandom

Last Wednesday, Sept. 28, people everywhere were reminded about the force of sports in our lives. It was the greatest night of baseball I have ever seen. As Scott Van Pelt put it on Sports Center after the madness had concluded, “I want to vomit, and I didn’t even have a dog in the fight.”

If you are reading this, you already know what happened that night, so I won’t rehash the details extensively. All that matters is that two teams completed monumental collapses in you-can’t-write-a-better-script-type fashions. The team I want to talk about here is the Boston Red Sox.

I honestly thought the Red Sox would win 100 games this season. The talent in the lineup, rotation and bullpen were all elite, as was the bench. Barring injuries, I thought they would run away with the division and easily represent the American League in the World Series. And you know what? I still think they should have.

I am not a Red Sox fan. In fact, I am a New Yorker who roots for the Jets, Mets, Rangers, Knicks and Syracuse collegiately. My love for the Mets and subsequent loathing of the Yankees has led me to respect and even root for the Red Sox — a strange anomaly in my hatred of all New England sports.

That being said, after what has transpired in the last month and the other night, I have lost all respect for Boston sports fans, Period.

What was once a proud, extremely knowledgeable fan base — united by a single region and team in each major sport — has become a nation that has been fattened with greed by championships and a lack of urgency for more.

We all have heard the “decade of dominance” slogan out of Boston. We know the absurd run of championships Boston teams have gone on, capped by the Bruins Stanley Cup Championship this summer. Surely the period between 2001-2011 was the most prolific sports decade a city has ever seen.

The argument, however, will be made that the collective high that the Boston sports community has had for the last decade will lead to a generation of complacency amongst New Englanders, specifically our generation of New Englanders.

The effect of such success is simple: you can fall back on past glory and use it as an excuse and justification for failure of the now.

For years, and even to this day, fans of the New York Yankees will respond to criticism and critique with the age-old “27 world championships” argument. In an argument over the best franchises in history, this argument holds weight. But when you are trying to make the argument that AJ Burnett was the worst pitching contract of the last decade — that is until John Lackey’s — and you get the championship argument in response, it is pure nonsense.

Boston fans have become Yankees fans at heart. Any time a New England team is criticized or argued against, the decade of dominance argument is used in a vein attempt to mask the imperfections of the now.

This decade of dominance mindset also manifests itself when justifying failure within the individual’s own mind. When Boston blew their lead the other night, many of the Boston fans I know were upset, certainly, but their immediate response was along the lines of “Oh well, we have the Patriots and Bruins now.” I’m sorry Red Sox Nation, but that is a pathetic argument.

When the Mets blew their division lead to the Phillies in 2007 — seven-game lead with 17 left to play — it took years for me to get over it. Hell, I’m still getting over it as are the one percent of New Yorkers who truly love the Mets. This is part of being a fan. When overwhelming tragedy strikes a beloved team, it should shape your character as a spectator and a supporter. Success is only truly great when the previous pains of failure have scarred the core of your fandom.

And now we have a young generation of Bostonians who, instead of dealing with the pain of failure, forcibly forget as they move on to the next season. Over time this will fester throughout New England as a culture of complacency; an ignorance that plagues what was once the most proud of sports community.

If New York was united in the teams they root for, as Boston is, we, and not New England, would be viewed by the country as the sports capital of fandom.

Boston has the fortune of having one team in each major sport. New York, on the other hand, has split divisions of fans in every major sport.

In football, the Jets and Giants split the population nearly in two. Hockey has two teams, the Rangers and Islanders, and even the New Jersey Devils to some extent. Basketball has the Knicks and will be even more divided with the imminent future when the Brooklyn Nets further spread the division. Finally, there is a split in baseball support where we have the Yankees Empire and a small tribal sect of crazies that root passionately for the Mets.

Imagine a united New York. Certainly we would wield our collective unity more responsibly than Boston does now. If our teams collapse we mourn and grieve. We don’t move on to the next season like the previous failure never happened. That is not how being a fan works.

There is a solid core of fans in New England who are truly deserving of the “best fan base in America” distinction. But that group is shrinking as the generation who has only known success begins to grow and become the face of the nation.

Boston, your decade of dominance is coming to an end. How will you react as fans? Your generation has no idea what adversity is and, trust me, adversity is coming. How will you handle it? Will you run and hide behind the past? Will you choose to act like the Red Sox collapse didn’t happen?

I do know one thing. The proud culture of Boston sports amongst college students is a masquerade, only celebrated when convenient. One day the decade of dominance will be a thing in the distant past. What will you hide behind then?