Commentary

In getting knocked off its perch, the true identity of the Boston sports fan has returned

We’re finally back to being just like every other sports fan in the country. 

Mac Jones during Sunday's game against the Cowboys at Gillette Stadium. Matthew J Lee/Globe Staff

It was only three years ago that we were legitimately handicapping Boston’s chance of attaining the professional Grand Slam, the rare ability to boast simultaneous championships in Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, and NHL. 

Today, some of us are satisfied with “moral victories.” 

That’s quite the plummet. 

But there’s also a re-emerging sense of appreciation that has replaced the overwhelming entitlement that defined the New England sports fan for a generation. There’s a more compelling taste to chasing something if you don’t always have an inherent justification for it. Frankly, isn’t being part of an underdog’s quest a lot more fun? 

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In getting knocked off our collective perch came a sense of understanding that we’re finally back to being just like every other sports fan in the country. 

You can either take that as an insult or as an acknowledgment of the current landscape. No longer the ire of every other fanbase, Boston sports fans have quite easily settled into a realm of transition, one more defined by ambition rather than persistent sanctimony. 

It is at this juncture where we sit right now; in the midst of an enthralling Red Sox postseason and the early returns from a Patriots team that have delivered intrigue if not positive results. You could make the argument that these Patriots, 2-4 and only a slim chance from being considered a playoff contender, should be 5-1 and talked about amongst the best teams in the NFL. 

But wait. That’s the sort of “loser talk” we’d once mock others for conjuring when the situation got desperate enough. Isn’t it cute that everybody else desperately wants to measure up to what we have here? We hosted the dances and invited everybody else to show up, even if we always knew they weren’t good enough to attend. Now, we’re left trying to stamp our ticket at the door, desperately trying to reason with the bouncer why we should be admitted. 

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That’s a hell of a lot different than our former considerations of a season without a championship to be a disappointment. 

Maybe that’s part of the reason why Gillette Stadium seemed almost a happier place on Sunday, when the Patriots could have, should have, and didn’t beat the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys. This was a game the Patriots weren’t supposed to win, yet one they almost managed to by taking advantage of Dallas’ endless list of mistakes. It created with it the sort of theater that is the reason we follow sports in the first place; one where aspirations slowly transform into reality. 

There’s a bit of comeuppance that Boston sports fans have been fed since the Patriots last won a major title for the region nearly three years ago. But if the bottom floor of that grip with the situation manages to be a 7-9 transition season under Cam Newton, how bad did it ever really get? 

Never mind that this year’s edition is only on pace for a 6-11 season. Forget the fact that if the season ended today, the Patriots would have the seventh pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. This season has already been more fun than 2019, the last with Tom Brady at the helm. And that team only started the season by going 8-0. 

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But there was always the overwhelming sense of the wheels coming off the bus that season, the precursor to Bradys departure and the general realization that the “boogeymen” defense was really just another moniker for “hapless.” Last season was a lost campaign, unseen by anyone but staff inside the stadium, and appreciated by nobody outside of its four walls. 

So, when Patriot fans returned to a pandemic-sanitized Foxborough last month, it was certainly in question what atmosphere was going to walk back in the door. Were New England fans going to, once again, be characterized by their brash bullying, or would there be a more raucous anticipation for the next one, whatever that “one” might be. 

Not having firm expectations about any outcome is part of the reason why these Patriots are so captivating, if not maddening with their questionable decision-making. It’s the reason why the 2021 Red Sox have gripped the town back into its baseball-loving past. Few expected this team to be on the doorstep of the World Series after watching the dreadful last month-and-a-half of the regular season. Yet, here they are in baseball’s final four. 

The Patriots are too young, too inexperienced, and too behind the curve to pull off something similar in their sport. But the hope that rests on Mac Jones’ shoulders becomes all the more justified as the weeks roll on. Promise is captivating. Potential is rewarding. Which is why Gillette Stadium turned out to be a tremendously-satisfying environment on Sunday; even after years of being portrayed as bandwagon neanderthals, the faithful in attendance seemed to understand what was happening here — they were getting back to their roots.

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Getting back to the top is more fun than simply swatting away others trying to take your spot. That’s how passion is generated in the first place. That’s how our fascinations are measured with more than a foam middle finger. 

Now, we’re just like everybody else. 

Except, of course, Jets fans. Never. 

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