The Hangover Part IV: The Patriots’ Super Bowl Run Leaves a Bleary Sports Burnout

Patriots fans face a tough adjustment to focusing on the Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox.
Patriots fans face a tough adjustment to focusing on the Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox. –AP

A 6-2 score indicates that the Bruins took down the Blackhawks Sunday in what was at least a rousing hockey game. That’s all I have to go on, though, because I didn’t watch it. I just couldn’t.

I went to the Beanpot a few weeks ago at the Garden and saw BU edge Harvard in a double-overtime thriller. I had a fine time, but I couldn’t help noticing that it was one of the quieter Beanpot crowds of my experience. Forty eight hours after Super Bowl XLIX, even college kids were drained of their customary passion.

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Since that night I’ve gone as close to cold turkey on American sports as I have in decades. I haven’t watched an NBA game, and only a few minutes of random college basketball games. I haven’t watched the Bruins or any other NHL team. I can’t bring myself to read the first stories from Fort Myers as the Red Sox drift into that town for spring training. The only exception to my ennui was to watch Tottenham Hotspur, my team in the English Premier League, last Saturday morning. And after all, that’s a sport called football, too.

Judging from a randomly selected homepage for Boston.com recently, many New Englanders feel the same way I do. The story attracting the most reader interest at 8 a.m. was on Deflategate, that silliest of faux controversies. There was a story that Wes Welker is considering retirement, one season and at least one concussion too late. The NFL season has been over for over a couple of weeks, and people can’t let it go. I fear we may see unprecedented interest in the scouting combine.

Much local interest in sports, including my own, has been diverted to the struggle against snow and ice. But weather is an insufficient explanation as to why so many of us aren’t finding enough diversion from the NFL-less wide world of sports. Last week in Seattle, it was almost 60 degrees. Three of the five most read stories on the website of the Seattle Times newspaper concerned the Seahawks. Mariners spring training was not generating much buzz.

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To an extent, there’s a sense of letdown after every Super Bowl. It is part of the marketing genius of the NFL that its championship game occurs right at the start of the slowest month on the calendar for both college and professional sports, the part of the hockey and basketball seasons even players find dreary, before baseball is more than men standing in warm locations playing catch.

But the letdown is different in both degree and kind this February. Sports fans in Boston (and Seattle) can’t let go of the thrilling, recent past. Until they do, their cities’ other sports teams will be forced to do the impossible – generate thrills in a vacuum. Small wonder the Bruins brought Rob Gronkowski out to spike the puck before the Islanders game last Saturday night. They were hoping to borrow a little vicarious excitement.

Vicarious excitement is what everybody wants from watching sports. But after Super Bowl XLIX, fans in two regions are coping with the aftermath of much too much of a good thing, make that a great thing.

If the Super Bowl was the first pro football game you ever watched, take a tip from a man who’s watched them for over 50 years. Feel free to stop. What you saw may be equaled in time, but never topped. The game left this neutral fan breathless with excitement and admiration. Devout fans of either the winner or loser had to be wrung limp by successive waves of elation and despair. They experienced the catharsis the ancient Greeks said was the object of all drama.

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Catharsis is very tiring. Nobody could live with it on a daily basis. My lack of interest in sports these days and the desire of New England fans to keep rehashing the Pats’ season are both survival mechanisms, ways to wind down from an unsustainable adrenaline rush.

That’s OK, but reliving past glories is also unsustainable. For one thing, it gets boring. Who’d want to spend time talking basketball with a Lakers fan in 2015? For another, it robs fans of the chance for more vicarious excitement in the here and now.

I grant you the here and now may not be quite yet here. The Bruins probably won’t provide such excitement until the playoffs, assuming they make them. The Celtics? Well, maybe by 2017. Spring training is designed to be soothing, not stimulating.

Sooner or later, though, the Super Bowl haze will lift and Bostonians will focus their passion on other sports. The Patriots will be a healthy happy memory rather than an obsession. If the Red Sox get off to a 10-2 start in April, that might do the trick.

Boston being Boston, a 2-10 start for the Sox would do it for sure.

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