In case you were unaware, today is a pretty big day in the world of football. It is Conference Championship Day in the NFL, which in recent history means it’s also a big day for Boston sports. Once again, the Patriots are in the AFC Championship Game, putting them one win away from the Super Bowl and two wins away from yet another title. I don’t follow football closely enough to have takes worth pretending are insightful, so don’t worry this isn’t going to be about what the Patriots need to do on Sunday to win a football game. Score more points than the Chiefs would be my only piece of advice. No, what I’m more interested in this morning is the link between all of the Boston sports teams, specifically the Patriots and Red Sox, and what effect that has had on being a fan of a team.
Obviously, not everyone here is a Patriots fan. I would assume the majority of Red Sox fans also have at least a passing interest in the Patriots being successful, but there are plenty of Sox fans who root for other football teams and plenty of others who don’t care about football at all. That’s all well and good, but even if you stay away from all things Patriots they are still shaping what it’s like to be a Red Sox in this century whether you like it or not.
The link between all of the Boston sports teams is undeniable since, again, the overlap between fandom is obviously large. People in this area like to talk about Boston sports fandom like it’s totally unique in the country, and while that’s probably not true (Philly and New York, at the least, have wild fanbases as well) and definitely arrogant, professional sports are a big part of being from this area for a whole lot of people. Since the four professional sports teams are a massive part of the culture in the region all year long, there’s a necessary connection between the clubs all year as well. You see constant overlap between all four teams, with a recent example being Tom Brady recruiting young stars from the other three teams (including Mookie Betts) for his hype video before last weekend’s playoff game.
The thing about this strong link between the four teams is that there is also a constant conversation about who “owns” the city. That’s far too basic of a way to look at what it’s trying to portray — people can care about multiple things at once — but there’s some level of intrigue to it. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, the Patriots have set an absurd standard for which everyone else has to strive. That AFC championship game they’re playing in today is their 12th in the last 17 years and their eighth in a row. That’s....bananas. Obviously there’s no way that can be the expectation for every team in the city, but that run of success has had good and bad effects on being a Red Sox fan.
On the positive side of things, the Patriots have upped the standards for every other team in New England. As I said above, I think the idea that only one team can “win” the city is dumb, but I also think for the individual teams it can be hard to totally ignore the question. It’s human nature to want to be number one, even in a fake competition. So, for the Red Sox, they don’t want to fall out of relevance. That means long rebuilds, or really anything more than a one-year retool, aren’t an option. I think there’s an argument to be made that would be the case with or without the Patriots — they are a big market team and in a sport without a salary cap it’s hard to justify a full rebuild — but having to “compete” with one of the best dynasties in sports history gives some extra motivation. The 2014 and 2015 seasons coming back-to-back put the Red Sox far on the back burner in this city, and even that was immediately preceded by a championship. There are a lot of factors for the Red Sox needing to be something very close to an annual contender, but that the Patriots are always looming waiting to take over conversation even during their offseason is a big factor.
That’s all great, but on the flip side the expectations can be absurd. Honestly, this isn’t as big of a deal for everyone, but it can be a sort of grating experience if you’re looking for conversation about your favorite team. People see one team going on an all-time great run, and they want to see greatness from their other teams. That’s admirable, but the way it comes out can be anything but. To blame the Patriots solely for the state of mainstream sports conversation in this city would be a massive oversimplification, but it’s certainly part of it. We saw it throughout the 2018 Red Sox season, which was objectively one of the best in the history of the sport. Despite that, the driving force of conversation around the club was all of the ways it was going to go wrong and the fact that nothing matters unless they win a championship. Obviously they did and we were all happy, but even if they faltered in the playoffs it can’t completely take away from the regular season. It’s not hard to see how that viewpoint emerges after being spoiled by a dynasty like the Patriots, and far be it from me to tell someone how to watch a baseball team, but for most of us enjoying the sport is why we watch.
The Patriots run is going to end at some point, and probably pretty soon. Again, I’m no expert so I have no idea when it will actually happen (and I’m enjoying the hell out of it while it lasts) but it won’t last forever. That said, the impact this dynasty has had not only on the franchise’s history but also sports fandom on the city of Boston as a whole is undeniable. There are certainly some negatives here, and you can turn on one of the sports radio stations at just about any given time to get a sample of that. That said, for the most part it’s been a positive and has made winning a priority for every team in Boston and has helped turn rebuilding into a dirty word. Hopefully that’s a trend that continues for a long, long time.