Fans left out in the cold
Only the Bruins continually make us miserable the way Boston’s other teams used to. But for all the sufferers, there’s reason to take heart.
As the Boston Bruins celebrated forward Milan Lucic’s goal that gave them a 3-0 lead in Game 7 against Philadelphia last month, I turned to a co-worker and asked, “When is Game 1 against Montreal?”
He let out a small gasp. “I can’t believe you just said that. It’s only the first period.”
“They are up 3-0 at home,” I answered boldly. “There’s no way they can blow this.”
Granted, the Bruins had already let a three-games-to-none advantage in the series slip away. And entering the post-season, expectations for the team were low – again. I had vowed not to get my hopes up – again. Then they got hot in the first round, I found myself back in the TD Garden for the series clincher against Buffalo, and I started envisioning goalie Tuukka Rask hoisting the Stanley Cup high above his head. Now, up by three against the Flyers, I was confident and relaxed.
A mere two hours later, as the Bruins stood stunned as the Flyers celebrated their historic comeback in both the game and the series, I felt as if I had just been cross-checked into the boards. Not even the Red Sox (they of the epic losses in ’78, ’86, name the year) ever collapsed this way. Losing a playoff series after winning the first three games has happened only three other times in the history of major professional sports.
I’ve been a Bruins fan since the Bobby Orr glory days. That was a long time ago, and I’ve seen the Black and Gold lose games in every way you can imagine – and some you probably can’t. How could I have been so confident?
Three Super Bowl championships. Two World Series titles. One NBA crown. That’s how.
The last decade dulled the pain of some 30 years of sports futility and frustration. It was a decade of highs the likes of which I never thought possible in Boston. I had lost my pessimism, my fatalism, my certainty that (except for the Celtics) when my team is in a big game, it will find a way to torture me – and then lose. My teams were now winning the big games. I just figured it was my hockey team’s turn.
I was wrong. Thank you, Bruins. You can always depend on them to uphold the long tradition of local sports failures.
While most Boston fans have been sunning themselves in the glow of championships, we Bruins fans have remained under a cloud of doom.
There’s no pink-hats section on the bandwagon for fair-weather fans. You don’t hear the team’s fans called arrogant or spoiled.
More like abused.
But as I sat watching the lowlights of the game later that night, I realized that rooting for the Bruins is the last pure Boston sports-fan experience. My identity as a fan was formed through watching Super Bowl and World Series losses. Heartbreaking losses. The Bruins’ disaster felt very familiar. It reminded me of what it has meant to be a sports fan in this city.
In Boston, disappointment is a badge of honor. What’s so interesting about rooting for the Yankees or the Steelers or the Canadiens? They have a room full of championship banners. Try rooting for a baseball team that hasn’t won in 86 years. Or a hockey team that always finds a way to shoot itself in the skate. That takes dedication and perseverance.
The Red Sox and Patriots have become the Yankees and Steelers. They have won so often in the past 10 years that pulling for them has lost that edge of desperation. When the Patriots lost the Super Bowl in the 2007 season, I turned to my DVD collection of their three titles to soothe the pain.
There is no balm for Bruins fans. No commemorative editions of Sports Illustrated.
But there is always next year. As Red Sox and Patriots fans know, the heartbreak and agony make it that much sweeter when your team finally wins it all. After this year’s implosion, Bruins fans are way overdue to feel that sweetness. Way overdue.
I sent a text message to a cousin who follows the Bruins fervently. I was trying to cheer us both up. “I can’t believe that just happened. But they have the second pick in the draft, a great young goalie, a good young core of players. . . . They’ll be back! Enjoy your summer.”
He texted me back: “That game ruined my summer! But I can’t wait for the fall!”
Now that’s a Bruins fan.
Tim Flynn is a copy editor for the Globe. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.