Not great times, these, for fans of the Red Sox and Patriots. It’s been a long time since things were this bleak, and for anyone like me who thought times like these were permanently in the old rear-view, it’s been an unfortunate wake-up call. The party is over. The 20-year rager has finally wound down, and this is the hangover.
It’s bad. It’s real bad. I’m taking everything I can to ease the pain, but nothing works. Those of us who root for both teams — I specify this because there are some variant Matts (Ed. note: Not me) and Bens and whatnot around these parts who don’t support the Pats, the traitors — and especially those of us old enough to remember the original Before Times, the Boston sports landscape before 2000, have grown used to a standard of living that was never sustainable but nonetheless sustained for 20 damn years. Party that hard and there are gonna be consequences.
These are the consequences: Feeling totally unmoored as your two favorite teams embarrass themselves and, beyond that, are further humiliated by events that they set in motion. For the Sox, it’s watching Mookie Betts take home a World Series title with the Dodgers the very same year they traded him away to settle the bill for their overdue library books. For the Pats, it’s watching Tom Brady march toward his 10th Super Bowl appearance with the Bucs while Cam Newton & co. sputter through a season that’s already lost.
These are depths to which I’d long assumed we’d return, based on regression, but the teams managed to avoid it for so long I finally let down my guard and just accepted it as normal. To be sure, this is mostly about the Patriots, who have been the constant over these two decades while the Sox bottomed out and retooled in the middle of them, but for as long as the Pats were the Pats I always considered them to work in tandem on my emotions. You couldn’t get upset if the righteous Sox guitar soloing petered out when that merely kicked it back to the Pats’s perfect drumbeat.
Now the music is gone, and we’re left with silence. (I will note here that the Celtics do not similarly play on my emotions, though I am fond of them. They just haven’t been perennial dominant title contenders since 1986, no matter how many Twitter accounts tell you otherwise or how often Bill Simmons speaks. The Bruins are their own thing of which we are all fond, too, but my big Bruins take is they need to bring back the bear sweaters.) This silence is deafening, and if we’re hoping for the clanging of pans around the Hot Stove to start a tune to which we can dance, we are likely preparing to be disappointed.
Put simply: Two seasons removed from titles, the Sox and Pats have become anonymous teams of middling skills muddling to get by. They’ve become, at long last, just like everyone else. In a region that plays on exceptionalism (see, again, the reverence for a long-gone Celtics gravitas), this is especially hard to swallow. But swallow we must. We need to regather our strength.
Perhaps that’s why I drove up to the Commonwealth on Tuesday from suburban New York for no reason other than to charge the batteries. That and foliage and greenery and such, but when I got there, to Great Barrington, I didn’t go to a boutique lunch stop or anything but instead to a Price Chopper, where I got a premade turkey sandwich, some loony flavors of Polar and a copy of the Boston Globe to ride shotgun, and headed right back. It felt like 20 years ago all over again. It was, temporarily, thrilling. The only difference is that now I know the best is behind us, not ahead, and there’s no real going back, even if we will try forever.