When you think about it, we didn’t have to become sports fans. Nobody put a gun to our head and forced us. Your parents didn’t threaten to take your Atari game system away unless you finished reading the American League boxscores or told you you couldn’t start your homework until you were all finished filling out your NFL betting card.
All of us could’ve taken up some other interests. We could’ve spent those uncountable hours of our lives reading classic literature, going to the symphony, appreciating art or aficionado-ing fine cuisine or something. But either we chose sports or it chose us because here we are.
And if there’s one common denominator, one unifying factor that made us all care about sports above all other things it’s this: more than in any other field of endeavor, being a sports fan gives you the chance to rip people more talented than you are. Hell, it’s to be expected. Ragging others is part of your duties and responsibilities as a fan. Players. Coaches. Refs. Umps. Talk show hosts. Sportswriters. Opposing teams. Management. Announcers. Even if you don’t like to criticize, you have to; it comes with the territory. Like Judge Smails sending boys to the electric chair, you owe it to them.
Especially if you grew up in Boston. To be blunt about it, life around here sucks. The winters are horrible. The economy is a shambles. Elin Nordregen couldn’t afford a one bedroom in the North End. The politicians come in two flavors: “Indicted” and “Soon-to-be-Indicted.” The Boston-based movies about brilliant janitors with hearts of gold lied to us but the ones about the Irish mob didn’t. In short, there’s a reason why we’re all Massholes. And taking your frustrations out by getting on the cases of ballplayers, coaches and media types is sometimes the only rational response available to a sane man.
But there’s one group in the Boston sports equation that almost never takes the heat. And that’s us. The fans. Think about it. Who’s judging us? Who’s criticizing the critics? Of course I’m not talking about the mouth-breathing troglodytes who fill the talk show lines … they catch hell every day and with good reason. I’m talking about the people in the stands. Those of us who are actually paying for the right to open their mouths. Is anybody evaluating their performance?
I don’t believe so. But hey, we’re all big boys and we can take it. Even welcome it the way Bill Belichick during the bye week assigns his staff to break down their own position players and self-scout. We owe it to ourselves during this relatively slow time in the sports calendar to do an appraisal of how well we’re doing.
But I’m not willing to half-ass this. It’s too important to be left to gut instincts or mere opinion. Sure there’s a place for that. But in the same way Theo Epstein supplements his old timey baseball staff with his hardcore Sabremetrics geeks, I want to bring some science into this.
So I’ve developed an infallible scientific formula for measuring fan performance, which I call the Thornton Fan Index, or TFI ™. Simply put, the TFI ™ judges the fans of the various Boston teams using the following criteria:
Home Field Advantage (HFA), calculated by taking the sum of:
•Attendance (A), graded on a scale of 1-10. Obviously it includes the sheer number, but takes into account is how much of a hardship the simple act of going to a game is.
•Crowd Noise (N), graded 1-10, and
•Support (S), another 1-10 scale which reflects the amount of positive, encouraging fan support as opposed to negative (for lack of a better word) “vibe.”
•Pink Hattism (Ph). This is a negative factor, which is subtracted from the overall HFA. The Ph factor is also judged from 1-10 and includes, but is not limited to, actual chicks in actual pink hats. But Ph is a broader term which encompasses any ticket buy of either sex who doesn’t know if the ball is inflated or stuffed and thinks Eddie House is a doctor on TV, but is at the game because it’s the trendy thing to do.
•The Loyalty to Reward Ratio (L/R). The L/R calculates the degree to which fans have stuck by their particular team vs. the success the franchise has enjoyed. For the sake of continuity, both are also expressed on a scale of 1-10. So for instance, a team with a maximum degree of fan loyalty (10) but a minimal amount of success to show for it (1), would give the fans a maximum rating of (10/1) = 10.
So here’s how the Thornton Fan Index ™ is calculated:
HFA (A + N + S) – Ph x L/R
And applying this formula to the fan bases of the Boston teams, here are the TFI ™ results:
1. Bruins fans
• A: 6
• N: 7
• S: 7
• Ph: 0
• L: 7
• R: 3
• TFI ™: (6 + 7 + 7) – 0 x 7/3 = 46.6.
I should be upfront and say I’m not the biggest hockey fan in the city. As Chris Rock once said “Hockey is like heroin. Nobody just dabbles in hockey.” So true. You either don’t pay attention or it’s your whole life. I’m like that vast majority of Bostonians who used to love the Bruins. But at some point most of us just got sick of the Jacobses taking that unlimited reservoir of fan loyalty and draining it. If you’ll pardon the confusing metaphor, taking the asset that was our institutional love of the Bruins and liquidating it. Whether it was by design or incompetence stopped mattering to most of us sometime back when we still had our Ataris. But not to the people who go to the Garden for every game. They’re numbers might be dwindling faster than the WWII vets at the Memorial Day parade, but those that are left bring the heat to every game. They know hockey through and through. They give the B’s support when they deserve it and a verbal kick in the hockey pants when they need it. And more than any other factor, there’s not a Pink Hatter, a Beautiful Person or a posing phony anywhere to be seen. Because going to a B’s game hasn’t been trendy since a Civil War surgeon took a rusty bone saw to Bobby Orr’s knee.
2. Sox fans
• A: 10
• N: 8
• S: 9
• Ph: 8
• L: 10
• R: 7
• TFI ™: (10 + 8 + 9) – 8 x 10/7 = 30
What more can you say about Red Sox fans? For years they were slandered in countless unreadable Dan Shaughnessy columns as a ridiculous stereotype of dour, negative, Calvinistic New Englanders, waiting for their world to cave in while they sonar mapped some pond in Sudbury looking for Babe Ruth’s stupid piano. But what are they really? The most hard core fan base in the world. Paying the most larcenous prices to cram into the most antiquated ballpark, and for all that they’re about to set the all time consecutive sellout streak in the history of American sports. And no reality TV show can start filming until they’ve cast at least one thick-accented townie in a Sox hat. That’s a testament to how iconic they’ve become. So why then don’t they score higher in this ranking? Because of the Pink Hattism, which is off the charts. Fenway has become THE place to go to see and be seen. Fenway basically invented the Pink Hat phenomenon, as well as its loathsome subgroups, the Attenton Whore Celebrity, the Gladhandling Politician Who Throws Like a Girl, and The Ivy Leaguer With the Bow Tie and Cardigan Who Wishes They Had Never Won a Championship So He Could Still Compare Them to Sisyphus.
3. Celtics fans
• A: 8
• N: 7
• S: 7
• Ph: 6
• L: 8
• R: 6
• TFI ™: (8 + 7 + 7) – 6 x 8/6 = 21.3
Third place is no knock on Celtics fans. They’ve been through a hell of a lot this generation and seen more bad basketball than their fathers ever dreamed possible. But at this particular moment in time, they just don’t stand out. They’re George Harrison; talented in their own right but overshadowed. If the Boston teams were those “Sex in the City” chicks, they wouldn’t be the horse-faced one or the slutty one or the homely one. They’d just be the other one. Like the Sox, they might rate a higher score were in not for the Pink Hatters, whom in the case of the C’s, wear designer suits and sit in the leather chairs, their tickets paid for with your federal TARP money.
4. Patriots fans
• A: 10
• N: 4
• S: 4
• Ph: 2
• L: 6
• R: 9
• TFI ™: (10 + 4 + 4) – 2 x 6/9 = 10.6
During the peak years of the Belichickian Epoch, there was one thing I worried about, and now it’s become a reality. The Yankeefanification of Pats fans. The Gillette crowd got accustomed to unimaginable success, and now act like it’s owed to them. Crucial victories are a birthright. Tough losses are a personal affront. They sit on their hands until the Pats give them no choice but to cheer. Those gawdawful (but highly profitable) red seats are empty until halfway through the third quarter. Opposing teams prepare for the crowd noise in Gillette by practicing in a library. I was at the Sunday nighter against Buffalo that marked Tedy Bruschi’s first game back after his stroke. It was an emotional night and as they introduced Tedy, my brother Jack and I were like Rudy’s dad if he’d been pepper sprayed. And midway through, with the Pats defense trying to make a 3rd down stop, we started making noise. Not screaming, abusive foul-languaged noise. Just … you know … football noise. And the woman in front of us shushed us. Shushed. Asked us to please keep it down. And there are tens of thousands of more like her at every game. Listen, Pats fans deserve a lot of credit. That place is a royal pain to get to and they sell out every game and I remember how the old stadium was like deleted scenes from “Escape from New York.” But at least in the bad old days, the crowd was alive.
5. Boston College
• A: 5
• N: 4
• S: 2
• Ph: 10
• L: 2
• R: 2
• TFI ™: (5 + 4 + 2) – 10 x 2/2 = 1
I debated even putting the Superfans on this list. It’s a bit like writing about The Three Stooges and not only including Shemp, but continuing right on to Joe. It’s like putting William Henry Harrison on Mt. Rushmore. But I couldn’t help myself; Superfans just bring it out in a person. They are the ultimate example of an overinflated sense of worth. A mid-level program and a safety school whose fanbase lives under the delusion it’s a destination for top recruits and coaches. Witness the outrage when Jeff Jagodzinski actually had the temerity to look for a more prestigious job. The horror! By the reaction on the Heights you would’ve thought he’d wiped his butt with the business end of Doug Flutie’s Heisman. True story: A buddy of mine (and a BC hater) was at a game earlier this year surrounded by Double Eagles, who to a man were convinced Tom Coughlin wanted to come back to Chestnut Hill. Right. Because Ol’ Tom is so sick of New York and (more “Caddyshack”) “having fun all the time.” So now he’s dying to get away from competing for the Super Bowl every year and get back to his real love, competing for the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Well there you have it. The rankings of the fans of the four Boston pro teams, plus one. And if you don’t like the results, don’t rag on me. Blame science.