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BOB RYAN

In this town, we're two-faced

Am I merely stating the obvious when I point out that we have quietly become a two-season/two-team sports town?

Winter? Who needs winter?

We were always a baseball town, and now we're becoming a football town, too. And that's all we seem to need. It's just a matter of how long a handoff we have.

In a real ''good" year, like 2002, 2004, and 2005, it's just about 10 or 12 days, the length of time between the conclusion of the Super Bowl and that celebrated day when pitchers and catchers report to signal the beginning of another baseball season. Oops, almost forgot. In Boston, the baseball season actually starts earlier than that. It starts the day the well-photographed van pulls away from Fenway Park and heads to Florida, in this case, Fort Myers. In a ''bad" year, like 2003 and 2006, the gap is a month, give or take.

It wasn't all that long ago that when the Patriots were done, they were essentially out of sight until August. The NFL Draft? That was strictly for a select few nutcases who actually cared about which offensive lineman the Patriots would pick in the fourth round. There would be somewhat heightened interest in one of the not-so infrequent years the Patriots would draft very high (No. 1, even), but it was hardly a local frenzy.

And the Patriots did have some good teams. The 1976 squad was robbed in the Oakland Coliseum, as those of us who have been around a while know (Young'uns: By the end of the season, the Patriots had become a great team, with a quarterback named Grogan who was sprightly enough to compile 12 rushing touchdowns). The 1985 team glorified itself by becoming the first team to win three consecutive playoff road games, but it just as quickly disgraced itself by first being blown out in the Super Bowl and then becoming enmeshed in a drug mess. Turning our backs on them was quite easy.

That's the way it always seemed to be with the Patriots. Their successes were invariably overshadowed, or erased, by some negative occurrence. Within two years of the good will generated by the 1976 we-wuz-robbed squad, Billy Sullivan was going mildly ballistic over Chuck Fairbanks's decision to take the Colorado job, firing him before a playoff game. By 1981 the Patriots were going 2-14.

The deterioration following the 1986 Super Bowl appearance was somewhat more gradual, but a deterioration it was, and everything bottomed out within four years. By 1990 the Patriots had a Perfect Storm of negativity: They had a reprehensible owner (Victor Kiam), an overmatched coach (Rod Rust), and a Class A public relations nightmare incident (The Lisa Olson Affair). They also had a 1-15 team. What a shock.

Modern Patriots history began Jan. 21, 1993. That's the day owner James Busch Orthwein signed Bill Parcells as his head coach. The team had approximately 18,000 season ticket-holders (a minnow-sized haul in the NFL) in 1992, a 2-14 year under Dick MacPherson. The instant Parcells was signed, the phone began to ring. The Patriots would never look back.

Parcells conferred true credibility on the Patriots franchise. His tenure would end in acrimony, but his legacy was secure. We will never know what would have happened had Orthwein hired a generic NFL assistant or some NFL retread, rather than The Tuna. Bill Parcells legitimized our participation in America's most popular sports enterprise. He got the Patriots to the Super Bowl by Year 4, and this time there was no colossal negative happening in its wake. The Pete Carroll years were largely unfulfilling, as the team went 10-6, 9-7, and 8-8, but at no point did the Patriots descend into buffoonery, as they had invariably done in eras past.

Bob Kraft's essential vision and philosophy were correct. He just needed to find the right man to implement it all. I think we can all agree he made the right choice with Carroll's successor.

Consider the enormity of the Patriots' task. The Boston American League baseball franchise has been in business since 1901. But professional baseball in Boston predates the formation of this particular outfit by more than 30 years. The Red Sox have always had the benefit of a generational carryover. Baseball has been a viable part of Boston life for more than 130 years. People talk about grandfathers taking them to games. Grandfathers? How about great-great grandfathers taking the great-grandfathers and the great-grandfathers taking the grandfathers? Tradition is a powerful thing, and the Red Sox have cleverly exploited it.

The Patriots were formed in 1960. A certain hard-core group rhapsodizes about the '60s Patriots, Bob Kraft among them. If you don't know someone who attended that first game against the Broncos at Boston University Field in 1960, you know someone who knows someone. But the man who created the Patriots, and loved the Patriots, and put his heart and soul into the Patriots was Billy Sullivan, and he was always an underfunded owner with a reverse Midas touch. He would have served them better selling the team to a quality person with true means a very long time ago, rather than holding on to the bitter end and then selling it to a truly awful man such as Kiam.

Until Bill Parcells and Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick, the horror stories surrounding the Patriots outnumbered the good stories around 10-1. In the rare good times, we were all wondering if we were worthy to be part of the hallowed NFL. Most of the time, we weren't.

Now we are. Someone else will win Super Bowl XL, but we can be certain the winner will not be favorably compared with the mighty Patriots, winners of Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX. Everyone knows the Patriots are but a healthy Rodney Harrison, plus a tinker here and a tweak there, from being in Miami next year for Super Bowl XLI. Well, everyone around these here parts knows, anyway. Let those infidels elsewhere believe what they want to believe.

See, that's the way it is now. We've always micromanaged the Red Sox in the offseason, and we probably always will. Now we micromanage the Patriots, too. We talk Red Sox and Patriots 24/7/365 now. The Celtics and Bruins have a month to impress us, but that's all. In 17 days it will be pitchers and catchers, and in April it's the NFL Draft and most of you won't need no stinkin' basketball or hockey.

That's life in a two-season/two-team sports town. That's Us.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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