I was 12 years old in 1986 when the Patriots followed up their first Super Bowl appearance with an AFC East title. It was their first since 1978, and third division title overall (the first came in 1963 as the Boston Patriots).
This was generally considered a golden age for Boston sports. Really.
Besides the Pats winning the division that year, the Red Sox had made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series and the Celtics won their 16th NBA title. We had Roger Clemens and Larry Bird. Ray Bourque and Cam Neely. Tony Eason and Irving Fryar.
What could be better?
My oldest son is now the same age. The Patriots have not won the AFC East only once in his lifetime (2008).
He’s been around for 11 division titles, more than five times what I witnessed at the same age. He’s seen the Patriots win three Super Bowls. He’s got three World Series, one Stanley Cup, and one Larry O’Brien under his young belt.
What it must be like to have experienced nothing but the true Glory Days of Boston sports, an age when winning isn’t only an ambition, it’s quite literally a birthright.
I suppose if I had been privy to a similar onslaught of success at the same age, I might have been just as obnoxious and entitled about my local pride as the New England sports fan persona seems to carry with it today.
We lived for “hat and t-shirt” games in the 80’s, that rare opportunity to rush to MVP Sports during the week and pick up the coveted “division champs” merchandise. These days, you’re more likely to pick up an AFC East-garnered memento at Job Lot once the “real” gear comes in. “Super Bowl Champs” or bust.
There is, indeed, a lack of appreciation with so much bounty in our midst, and that’s not to say we should all rush to the Patriots Pro Shop and pick up our paraphernalia for the sake of being good sports. But it’s also becoming incredibly difficult to try and relay just how unprecedented this stretch is to fans who have experienced anything but.
It’s a generational shift not unlike how Gen X’ers can never really understand the impact of Ted Williams, or the perceived heartbreak from when the Braves left town. If there was any.
Earlier this month, the WGBH Archives Twitter handle posted a minute’s worth of B-roll taken at Sullivan Stadium on Oct. 4, 1989. The grainy, standard-definition images show outside shots of the bare-boned structure, some crumbling concrete, and a few cars passing by. A couple football players are seen walking to their cars in an otherwise barren parking lot that looks more fitting for a Bradlee’s.
Tired millennial here too lazy to look it up… Who played here?
— Cam (@CamMac31) December 18, 2019
This is where Twitter user @CamMac31 chimes in.
“Tired millennial here too lazy to look it up… Who played here?”
Can you imagine?
There’s something to be said about enjoying all that has happened with Boston’s sports teams if you went through a certain segment of anguish prior. There’s no way 2004 is as special if you didn’t experience Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, and Aaron Boone. That first Patriots Super Bowl wasn’t so momentous because of Tom Brady’s emergence and for what was to come, but because of what had already transpired. The New England Patriots. Super Bowl champs. It was like reaching out toward the screen in a 3-D movie and actually taking hold of whatever was sticking out at you. Impossible.
That’s just the expectation now.
This isn’t meant to all come off as “in my day…” for, quite obviously, things are better today in the championship banner world than they ever were when I was in sixth grade. Imagine telling your son why we can’t go to a certain championship parade but it’s OK because “we’ll catch the next one,” and fully never really expecting any Cats in the Cradle regret. Because there will be another one.
No, this isn’t a lecture about a generation’s lack of appreciation as much as it is a personal acceptance of age and acknowledgment that doesn’t necessarily translate down. After all, could I pinpoint the site of Braves Field just by looking at some black-and-white footage? Why should Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium be any different?
We’re talking almost 20 years now that the place has been gone, the metal bleachers and puke-filled parking lots nothing but a memory for Patriot Place to hold. Why should millennials remember it as anything but a placeholder for current greatness?
The realist in all of us understands that this can’t go on forever. Someday, Brady will retire and the AFC East titles will be harder to come by, perhaps each one being more appreciated than the last. There will, one day, come a dry spell on the Boston sports landscape, one where we go five, maybe 10, or….God help us, 15 years without winning a title. It’s when “hat and t-shirt” games are ones to cherish.
Imagine buying someone an “AFC East Champs” shirt for Christmas. He or she might ask why you hate them so.
It’s too late for our kids. We have to accept the privilege that comes with them.
Maybe our grandkids will be different.