Sox comparison is hardly off base
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Strange how things evolve. The New England Patriots are in the midst of one of the great runs in NFL history. They are on the brink of dynasty status and have totally spoiled loyal fans who expect nothing less than another Super Bowl victory.
There's only one ingredient missing in the sensational Patriots saga and that is that they represent a region that puts baseball first. The Patriots operate in the long, sometimes dark shadow of the Red Sox and no amount of Super Bowl success can change 105 years of history and hyperbole regarding the local nine. Nobody's fault. The Sox are simply bigger in Boston.
Now the Patriots have a chance to win their third Super Bowl in four seasons and they find themselves face to face with . . . the Football Red Sox.
It's hard to look at the 2004-05 Philadelphia Eagles and not be reminded of the 2004 Red Sox. The Eagles play in a town where pro football is undisputed king. They carry a championship drought that goes all the way back to 1960. They had lost three consecutive championship games. They have fans who fill the stadium and rant on the airwaves.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is best suited to comment on this topic. He was born in Boston, earned degrees from Clark, Boston University, and Brandeis. He camped out overnight at the Garden to score Bruins playoff tickets during the Bobby Orr era. He was Mr. General Cinema of Chestnut Hill. He went to every Fenway game of the 1986 World Series and he was in New York screaming his head off when the Sox finally overthrew the Evil Empire last October.
And now he lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two children and he owns the Football Red Sox.
"When I bought the Eagles I quickly realized it was like buying the Red Sox in Philadelphia," said Lurie. "It's an amazing football city where they live and die for their football -- very comparable to Boston fans and the Red Sox. You've got two franchises that haven't won a lot of championships, but fan bases who deserve it. The fans follow every detail of the organization. Everything. It's just a love for the sport that those fans in each city have. Baseball in Boston and football in Philly."
The Eagles are to Philly what the Sox are to Boston. Eagle talk dominates sports radio. They are never out of season. And they have a history of coming close, then coming up short.
Chuck Bednarik is Mr. Eagle. Think of him as Johnny Pesky, without the sunny disposition. Ron Jaworski is their Carl Yastrzemski. Joe Kuharich was their Don Zimmer. Rich Kotite was Butch Hobson.
Eagles coach Andy Reid in his practice shorts makes you envision Terry Francona wearing his oil-changing sweatshirt. The Football Red Sox even have their own idiots -- Freddie Mitchell and Terrell Owens for starters.
Eagles fans, like Sox watchers, take it hard when they lose and can be brutal on the home team.
"You hear all these stories all the time about the Eagles fans, booing Santa Claus and how tough they can be," said Tom Brady, who knows a thing or two about baseball and the Red Sox. "I remember they booed Donovan [McNabb] when he got drafted.
"And up until this year, the Red Sox fans, they had it hard for a long, long time. They say misery loves company. Before this year it was for the Red Sox and how tough it was for the fans. When you are so close like the Red Sox were so many times, it's so hard to keep coming up short. The Philly fans, I'm sure they've been wanting a winner for a long time. It's been a while since they've had something like this."
Brady will be trying to keep the chant of "1960" (Philadelphia's version of "1918") alive. If the Patriots succeed, our town becomes the second to sandwich Super Bowl titles around a World Series win: the 1979 Pirates won the World Series in between the Steelers' Super Bowl wins of 1979 and `80.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who would have liked to have bought the Red Sox, nodded when it was pointed out that the Eagles might be the Football Red Sox, but elected to praise Philadelphia's accomplishments.
"The Eagles have done something we haven't done," said Kraft. "They've got to four straight [conference] championship games. And they were in this game 24 years ago."
True, but they lost their only Super Bowl and lost three straight championship games before beating Atlanta last month. Very Sox-like.
"Yeah," said Kraft. "It's like `67, `75, and `86."
Kraft threw out the first ball for the Red Sox' home opener in 2004 and coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of Boston's other big team.
"They showed a lot of grit and determination and toughness when they were down," said The Genius. "We have tremendous respect for what they did. Curt Schilling, Johnny Damon. It was an awesome performance by their team. In August everybody was counting them out, not even knowing if they were going to be in the playoffs. And all they did was keep on truckin' and then finally they played well when they had to play the best in the playoffs and came back from that deficit and went all the way. Our hats are off to them, we recognize their accomplishments and are happy for them."
And now the Patriots are on the threshold of history, trying to beat a like-minded team. The Philadelphia Eagles. The Football Red Sox.
"I certainly thought of it when the Red Sox won," admitted Lurie. "It occurred to me after the World Series that there was a team that got over the hump and finally was able to beat the Yankees in an ALCS. They just sort of let loose, played great, and played wonderfully in the World Series. If that can be a model for how we play on Sunday, so be it."
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.