(If you prefer, you can find the podcast version of this post here. The podcast is similar, but I go into a bit more depth about the Patriots cheating scandals. I talk about some facts of each scandal which affect the credibility of Patriots haters and lovers everywhere.)
Lately … like for the past 18 years … my favorite sports teams have been winning at a ridiculous pace. The worst we Boston fans have had it since 2001 was a stretch from 2012-2015 when our local baseball team, the Red Sox, finished in last place three out of the 4 years. However, they won the World Series Championship in 2013, which kind of took the sting out of the other 3 years. In all, the Red Sox have won 4 World Series since 2004. That’s a lot.
The New England Patriots, our local American football team, has been even better. The last time the Patriots had a losing record was the 2000-2001 season. We could fill an entire blog post with their accomplishments between 2001 and 2019. They’ve played for 9 Super Bowl Championships during that time winning 6. As New Englanders would say, “That’s a wicked lot!” To bring some perspective, the most disappointment Patriots fans have had to endure throughout this span was the 2007 Superbowl. They entered the game undefeated with a record of 18-0 but lost and finished the season with 18 wins and 1 loss. Patriots fans were devastated. Everyone else in the football world was elated. Most didn’t really care who won the Super Bowl that year as long as it wasn’t the Patriots. Given a season with only one loss is the low point, you can understand it has been good to be a New England Patriots fan since 2001.
(Eagle-eyed grammar nazis like myself likely noted I misspelled Super Bowl…or is it Superbowl? Turns out I’m not alone.)
Even the local basketball team, The Boston Celtics managed to win a championship in 2008. It had been 22 years since the Celtics last won a championship, but they’ve now done it 17 times in team history. Again, that’s a wicked lot. And just so they weren’t left out the local hockey team, the Boston Bruins got into the championship act winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. All in all, Boston has played for 19 championships and celebrated 12 victories in 17 years. It feels like more.
But here’s the thing… I don’t always like who I am when it comes to being a fan.
My problems started around the same time the Patriots’ winning began. I had this friend named Nick. When I look back on my life I remember Nick as being one of the best people to walk the planet. The guy got a 4-year degree and then went and got a job as a trash collector so he could remain a man of the people. He probably also needed to pay bills, but there are other ways to do that.
Nick is one of those guys you look at and think “football player”. While I can’t speak to his build today, back in college he was solid. If you bumped into Nick there is a chance you’d injure yourself and he’d simply wonder who touched him. My brother can speak from experience. He once collided with Nick head first during a flag football game. Nick acted like he was hurt, but I think he was being nice. My brother was walking around telling people Vijay Singh was his doctor. Problem is, Singh is a professional golfer, not a doctor. Nick is a big ol’ teddy bear, unless you run into him full-force.
Nick was also a passionate Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He was always wearing Steelers gear and talking with me about upcoming games. The Steelers were good too, and the only thing standing between them and the Super Bowl was the Patriots. When the Patriots and Steelers met in the playoffs, the Patriots would win. Because it was apparently my job as a fan was to make sure everybody knew how good the Patriots were, I’d remind Nick often. In fact, the Pats and Steelers didn’t even have to be playing each other for me to restate the obvious dominance of the Patriots over the Steelers. I did it as a matter of routine.
After a while I noticed Nick wasn’t talking to me as much as he usually did. He stopped greeting me with a smile, instead opting for a quick head nod as he rushed by. He was clearly avoiding me. I finally asked him what was going on and, after some prodding he told me he was tired of me ragging on him about the Steelers. I was a bit dumbfounded.
“I’m just messing with you though,” I protested.
“I know you are, but I’m just tired of it. Every. Single…time I see you you have to say something about the Steelers.” He said.
It bothers me when I upset people. I immediately apologized. He accepted the apology, but I could tell there were still some lingering feelings there. I toned it down from then on. At least I hope I did.
When teams are dominant for years, fans of other teams begin to get resentful and jealous. I know from personal experience from my days as a fan prior to 2001. We look for any reason we can find to point out flaws in the dominant team. As a Patriots fan I hated the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s. They were so good and my favorite team was so bad. I literally thought my high school team could beat the Patriots. As I recall, some players the Cowboys back then had a penchant for snorting cocaine. I pounced on that fact. If I discovered someone was a fan of the Cowboys I’d say, “Yeah but they’re a bunch of drug addicts! At least my team isn’t a bunch of drug addicts!”
As a Celtics fan I’d take potshots at the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant for his marital “fidelity” challenges. (To call them challenges is an understatement…) Or I’d point out that historically speaking the Celtics organization was far superior to the Lakers. Go figure. This is the exact thing I’d get so mad at fans of the New York Yankees for doing! They were always reminding us Red Sox fans that the Yankees had 27 World Series Championships. So we did what any mature group of people does. We started chants of “Yankees Suck! Yankees Suck!” any time we could. If there is a group of Bostonians gathered anywhere, there’s a fair chance you’ll hear the chant. In my defense, I can’t remember ever saying it. It was pretty clear the Yankees didn’t suck. Prior to 2004 the Yankees beat the Red Sox every time it mattered. That’s what sucked- that our favorite team couldn’t ever seem to beat them. Things changed in 2004 when the Red Sox dispatched the Yankees in the best way possible. I’m not exagerating when I say it could not have been scripted any better than how it played out in real life. Suddenly the Yankee fans’ bite no longer drew blood.
I suppose being a fan of professional teams which dominate their league comes with a certain amount of hate thrown thrown in the direction of the fans. Patriots fans have learned to expect it, and even know it will come even when allegations are overblown, misunderstood, or flat out false. Take a gander at the image below.
Here’s where I really get upset with myself. When I see pictures of my friends and their kids on social media wearing apparel in support of their favorite team, my first reaction is to get all snobby. Like, why would someone raise their children to root for …not the Patriots? Do they want their kids to live a life of disappointment and failure?
Good lord. I actually have those thoughts.
I don’t like being a person who is happy when small children are sad. Granted, only one team can win a contest, and some child somewhere is going to be sad either way. That’s part of sports. But I don’t have to take delight in compounding the sadness for others- for kids or otherwise. You know, I’m not sure I think this is limited to sports…or me.
Strikes me that American society today seems to thrive on zingers and the misery of others. Twitter seems to be a platform for snarky one-liners proving just how witty we are. I’ve been lured to tweet out ill-thought and unnecessary tweets a time or two myself. I haven’t even mentioned politics and how we all rage at each other and pontificate through social media. Yesterday I saw Facebook posts from both sides of the aisle concerned that the other side was demonic. That is, the political positions and the people who hold them are being controlled or influenced by demons.
They might be right, but if so I can’t help but wonder if both sides are controlled by the same demon.
As a Christian my perspective is guided by wisdom I find in our sacred text, the Bible. I end up going right back to the first four books of the New Testament to ask how Jesus would have handled something. Jesus was a Jew whose worldview was directly influenced by his sacred scriptures. A lot of this came directly from what I grew up to understand as the “Old Testament”. The guiding principle for Jesus was a concept known as shalom. Shalom is a word which means peace. But it doesn’t just mean peace like holding up two fingers and telling someone to have a nice day. It means wishing good stuff for others. More than that… It means living in a way which helps good stuff happens for others. It’s peace between people, between tribes, between communities, between nations, and ultimately, between man and God.
This concept is pretty simple. Jesus didn’t even make up something profound to address how we should be treating others. He just restated the golden rule as other rabbis had before him. Treat others as I want to be treated. Christ was so dedicated to the principle he chose to die as opposed to force his ideology on people. It seems like an oxymoron, but it’s not. It’s just living in the way you say you believe . It was Christ’s way. Its was Christ’s truth. It was his life. And as a disciple of Christ, it should also be mine.
But you know what? I’m not good at it. Sports fandom has made me worse at it. Not better. Remember how I upset my friend Nick? That brought less peace to our relationship, not more. And qualifying my ongoing comments regarding the Steelers/Patriots with “I was just kidding…” didn’t make it ok.
Further- and I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole here- but I also wonder if my desire to show or prove my other allegiances in life, like, say, my citizenship, or worldview, or politics, or faith is to make me feel better about myself than it is to really bring positive change to the world. Like if I double-down on defending my belief system it will somehow bring additional validity. But I digress…back to sports…
As a Patriots fan, I throw out these little jabs and passive-aggressive jokes that gratify our desire to show how superior we are to others. Here’s the crazy thing- when it comes to sports the VAST MAJORITY of sports fans have absolutely no individual impact on the outcome of a game. The extent to which we pay to watch our team (NFL Network anyone?) defines the extent to which we participate with them. Oh, and we use the word “we” when talking about the team. Like “WE DID IT!” or, “man, we suck.” No, you didn’t. And yes, you were suckered into paying to participate. (I have made this entire paragraph a link to a video you MUST go watch after you’re done reading this. Thanks to my bro for sharing it with me.)
OK, OK. Maybe I’m going a bit overboard about the paying to participate thing. There are other benefits to being part of a tribe whose members think alike and occupy their minds with something frivolous and fun. I believe life was meant to be deeply meaningful and yes, fun. So, no, I’m not going to stop being a Patriots fan. I’ve waited for years for my son to be as interested in my favorite teams as I am, and I’m not going to give it up now that he’s all in with me. But I am going to make a conscious effort to readjust the way I participate with professional sports.
I probably could have saved myself a lot of time by just posting this video. Well said, Mr. Brady. Well said.