How did this happen? Was there a specific date, a single event that erased the burden of history and allowed the weight of municipal inferiority to be lifted from the shoulders of every fan in New England who has been witness to decades of humiliation delivered by New York teams?
Think about it.
Saturday, the Patriots play the Giants at exit 16W. They arrive as undefeated favorites, with three Super Bowl championships in four years, the symbol of how a model NFL franchise is run. A dynasty.
The born-again Celtics humiliated the Knicks and Nets each time they met this fall. Of course, the Little Sisters of the Poor could beat the pathetic Knicks, coached by a delusional paranoid and owned by James (Thanks, Dad) Dolan, a soft, spoiled rich guy who inherited wealth, not wisdom.
That brings us to the main event: Red Sox-Yankees. The Yanks have spent billions but they still wear rings tarnished with age while the Olde Towne Team has two championships in the last four years, ‘04 and ‘07, turning Back Bay into Hardball Heaven. A minidynasty.
It’s a mind warp.
Manhattan was where Boston’s dreams went to die after being fatally wounded in the Bronx. Time turned the Hub into a pitiable afterthought as commerce moved from New England to New York in the 19th century. And sports turned our teams – fans, too – into one-liner fodder for anyone from The Rockaways to New Rochelle.
You used to be able to identify Sox fans in Yankee Stadium. They sat, slump-shouldered, with the same panicked expectation nervous motorists have looking in the rearview mirror at the 16-wheeler behind them on Interstate 95 near New Haven.
The inevitability of collapse was genetic. Disappointment was delivered with an October postmark by fringe figures named Bucky (Effen) Dent, Mookie Wilson and Aaron Boone.
Then, something happened in October 2004 in the “House of Historical Horrors” called Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox came back from three games down to beat the Bronx Bombers, leading the Daily News to hit the streets with one of the greatest front-page headlines ever: “The Choke’s On Us!”
That was IT, the single moment that pushed the gravedigger into retirement. It took the loser label off the forehead of every Boston fan.
Now, in a bizarre way, we have supplanted New York as the place where champions reside and the home team is hated by others. The Patriots are loathed as much as the old Yankees. The Red Sox are fan favorites who attract big crowds in every town, annoying local ownership. The Celtics are dominating the way they used to when they were despised in the old Boston Garden. We’ll skip hockey because the NHL was ruined because of a long strike and ludicrous expansion.
Ironically, we have seen the enemy (the Yankees from DiMaggio to Jeter and Rivera, the once-glamorous Giants of Gifford, Tittle, Huff, Simms and Parcells, the Knicks with Reed, Bradley and DeBusschere, the Jets with Namath) and, incredibly, we have become them.
We have money, swagger, attitude and standing. We’ve consistently won in baseball and football, and we hit the new year with the best basketball record in the NBA. And, given the short national attention span, nobody cares what happened in the 20th century. Life and sports are about the moment.
Oddly, there are thousands of young people from Waterville, Maine, to Waterbury, Conn., who have no institutional memory of a sporting life once filled with apprehension, even fear, who have never endured the depression that accompanied defeat datelined New York City.
But that was then and this is now: Saturday, the victory parade continues and the dominance of area code 212 is diminished, if not dead.
So, how come I’m still up late at night, worrying the Yankees might sign Johan Santana or the Giants might luck out and beat the Patriots by a field goal with less than a minute left in a game where Tom Brady breaks his leg? Maybe it’s because I’m from Boston and haven’t quite gotten used to living with something called success. But I’m getting there.