Speaking as a sports fan, I can say that we're not always rational beings. Fan is short for fanatic, and biased emotional attachment and the abandonment of logic is part of the fun, really. But there is a double-standard among Boston sports fans that has always baffled and bothered me.
If you're considered a hardcore Red Sox fan -- not one of those Johnny-Damon-come-lately pink hats who hopped aboard when the Sox became the "Jersey Shore" of baseball -- then you must scrutinize manager Terry Francona's mishandling of the bullpen, point out all the team-building faults of native son general manager Theo Epstein, harp on the fact that principal owner John Henry is charging you for the second-most expensive seats in baseball, and repeatedly rail that for that prodigious price, money should never, ever keep the Sox from losing or acquiring a player.
The Sox cheaped out this season and it shows. They care more about the sell-out streak and making a profit than winning.
Many of those same fans pull for the Patriots, a franchise Forbes recently ranked as the fifth most-valuable in the world at $1.36 billion (the Sox came in 35th -- $870 million). The most dedicated and respected Pats fans know that you never, ever, question any coaching or personnel decision made by His Hoodiness. To do so is perfidious and blasphemous.
In Bill We Trust.
I've never heard a Patriots fan complain about ticket prices when a player gets away or the team stumbles. Yet, they too have the second-highest prices in their sport, and from the opening of Gillette Stadium in 2002 until 2008 the Patriots had the NFL's highest average ticket price. Instead, they're lauded for holding the line during contract negotiations.
They never overpay for a player. They get salary cap value, and when a player leaves the Patriots or an available one elects to sign elsewhere it's not because the team wouldn't pay top dollar. It's because the player is greedy -- no one is above the team or its salary structure.
Logan Mankins should get his butt into camp, and what's the deal with Tom Brady? He already has more money than he can ever spend, so just accept a team-friendly offer and let's get on with our season, okay, Tom?
I've gotten in arguments with my good friend Tony Mazz who says the fan bases don't have much overlap. I disagree. I remember covering a 2003 Patriots game against the Tennessee Titans and a roar going up when they showed Sox-A's playoffs highlights on the Jumbotron. It happened to coincide with a Titans' fourth-quarter touchdown.
It's the same fans, but with a different mentality.
The Sox, who have made the playoffs six of the last seven years and were one-and-done last postseason, get skewered for admitting that this season might be a "bridge year" and for claiming that the offense would be helped by "run prevention," otherwise known as pitching and defense.
Run prevention, you mean win prevention. This Sox team was never built to contend for a World Series.
The Patriots, who have made the playoffs six of the last seven years and were one-and-done playoff participants, meanwhile are projected as Super Bowl-bound with a defense that was last seen getting run over by the Ravens and is going to start a rookie or second-year player at inside linebacker, cornerback and safety. They plan, in part, to aid the young defense by running the ball more.
Makes sense, Belichick knows his best defense is a great offense.
Many hardcore Sox fans paint Epstein, who constructed teams that won two World Series in four seasons, as an Ivy League incompetent. They are upset because the third-place Sox have a $170-million payroll, a bad bullpen and, with Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury hurt most of the year, a makeshift outfield full of Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava. He overpaid for the overrated J.D. Drew and let Jason Bay get away.
Patriots fans hail Belichick, who won three Super Bowl titles in four seasons, as an infallible genius. Sure, the outside linebacking corps is shallow after Tully Banta-Cain, but the system will fix that. A third-round pick and a fifth-round pick wasn't overpaying for Burgess because he plays so much in the sub-package. That Downtown Crossing-like crater at left corner two-plus seasons after Asante Samuel left is no concern.
It's just presumed that one of the four corners the team has drafted since Samuel's departure will emerge. Even if they don't, it will be just like 2008, when Belichick tried to replace Samuel with low-cost corners Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders and Deltha O'Neal and still found a way to win 11 games -- without Brady no less.
That was unequivocally one of the finest coaching jobs in the history of Boston sports.
Yet, try to compare it to the job Francona is doing this year and you'll draw scorn and ridicule. Francona, who has only averaged 94 wins since becoming Sox manager in 2004, is holding together an injury-riddled Red Sox team that has seen six of its Opening Day starters, including the first four in the batting order, and starting pitcher Josh Beckett go to the disabled list for an extended amount of time.
So, he's costing us games because he won't take Jonathan Papelbon out of the closer's role.
To be a Sox fan is to complain about what might have been. It's how the existence of the franchise was defined for more than eight decades. To be a Patriots fan is to be eternally thankful that the woebegone outfit on Route 1 you once rooted for is now the model football franchise of the new millennium.
Would it be so bad to be a little more forgiving of the Sox and a little more critical of the Patriots?
Neither makes you any less of a dedicated fan.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.