This past weekend in his Sunday Globe column, Dan Shaughnessy suggested all Patriots fans should join him in rooting for the Jets to win the Super Bowl. His theory being that if they were to win it all, it would light a fire under the collective asses of the Patriots’ organization to go out and do likewise in 2011. So by Shaughnessy’s logic (and I’m using the term in the loosest sense possible), the problem with the Pats has been that they haven’t been trying to win the Super Bowl. Or if they have, they haven’t been trying very hard or spending enough of Robert Kraft’s Bed, Bath & Beyond rent money to do so. Because the Super Bowl champions these past few years haven’t been coming from the AFC East, so the team has lacked the necessary motivation to do what it takes to win.
Amazingly, this isn’t the first time a Boston sportswriter has floated this particular kooky notion. Two years ago in the Herald, Tony Massarotti said the same thing with regard to the Yankees. That all loyal Red Sox fans should root for them to win the World Series so John Henry would finally free up the one hand Theo Epstein has tied behind his back and the Sox would finally get serious about winning another championship.
I’ll put aside for now the towering illogic of these hare-brained arguments. Because honestly, rooting for the Jets or Yankees to win championships so that the Pats and Sox would try harder to win would be like Americans in World War I saying “You know, I hope the Axis Powers are able to pull this one out so the Allies will be more motivated to win World War II.”
Instead I’ll focus on the question I’ve asked a hundred times before: How is it possible for the people who cover sports in this town to be so consistently out of touch with the people who follow it? With their target audience?
Because there are certain teams that you simply cannot ask us to root for, under any circumstances. No matter how chewy, salty and delicious your jumbo pretzel logic is. Hatred is hatred. And it doesn’t go away when you’ve been beaten; it gets stronger. I mean, the Rebel Alliance didn’t tell the Empire “Wow, you really kicked our butts on Alderaan! Good luck destroying our bases on Hoth and Endor and hope you conquer the galaxy so we try harder next time!” The motivation to destroy them was plenty strong enough already, without watching them reduce planets to rubble or take over the whole flipping universe.
It’s a ridiculous notion to think otherwise. If any Boston media figure thinks we could put aside a lifetime of animosity and a season of obnoxious, smack-talking buffoonery like we were subjected to this year and all of a sudden take the 2010 Jets to our flabby man-bosoms and root for them to win ... well they’re either delusional or doesn’t understand the fans around here one iota. And I don’t know which is worse.
I may not be the writer the others are. And for certain I don’t have the sources or the access they do. But I’ll take a back seat to no one when it comes to understanding the Boston sports fan. I know what motivates us. And in a time like this end of these NFL playoffs ... one of those rare occasions where no Boston team is playing for a championship so we don’t have a dog in the fight ... I know who we’ll root for and why as well as anyone. As Wilson Pickett once said, “No brags, just facts.”
So here is it, presented in one handy reference guide. The 10 Rooting-Interest Criteria of the Boston Sports Fan, listed from most significant to least:
1. The Rivalry Factor. Nothing will eliminate a team from consideration as the team we’ll root for faster than them being one of our traditional blood-feud rivals. Obviously here I’m talking about the big ones. The Yankees, Lakers, Canadiens and the Colts. When one of these is vying for a championship, we’re motivated by the pure joy of watching them fail. So long as they’re not facing the Al Qaeda All-Stars, we’re rooting for the opposition. It’s an absolute no-brainer.
2. The “How Will They Compare to Us if They Win?” Variable. This is crucial. We’ve been called provincial and you’re damned right we are. The Lakers once spotted the Celtics a huge lead in titles but have damn near caught up. If Pittsburgh wins the Super Bowl, they’ll have won as many in the Belichick-Brady Epoch as the Pats have. And all of them since the Pats won the last won. Even when we’re not involved, it’s always about us.
3. The Geographical Resentment Quotient. What happens when both teams left are blood rivals? It’s happened before, like when the Celtics lost to the hated 1981-82 Philadelphia 76ers. And what we did then was fall back on this criterion. The legendary “Beat! L! A!” chant was born out of an institutional hatred of West Coast basketball, with it’s soft, smiley-faced, showtimey style of play and its loathsome, phony, glamorpuss celebrity fans. The Eastern Conference’s style was brutal and punishing. All flying elbows and blood on the front of Larry Bird’s shirt. Rooting for the Sixers was an easy call because they’d earned our respect.
4. The General Insufferability Index. As I said here back in December, the Jets aren’t the Patriots’ rivals any more than the Globetrotters have a rivalry with the Washington Generals. Now that they’ve actually won a significant game, their status might change next year. But for this year, the G.I.I. is where they were impossible to pull for, Shaughnessy’s argument notwithstanding. This was as obnoxious and unlikeable as an army of orcs. If I rooted for them against anyone, I’d need a Silkwood shower afterwards.
5. The Superstar Human Interest-to-Villainy Ratio. All of the above being equal, we get down to the individual stories. As in, “Whom would you be happier to see win a ring?” Some guys are hard not to root for. A great rags-to-riches story like Kurt Warner, say. Or a goofy, charismatic fresh face like Tim Lincecum last year. The flip side of that is we always prefer to root against rapists, serial baby-daddies, creepy foot fetishists, dog killers or A-Rod. We’re funny like that.
6. The Fanbase Jackassishness Level. Sometimes it’s possible to root against an otherwise non-offensive team just because their fans are so despicable. By example, anyone who was at Super Bowl XXXIX will tell you that Philadelphia Eagles fans ran through the pleasant city of Jacksonville like Barbarians in a “What’s in your wallet?” commercial. If they were in this Super Bowl, even with the non-dog-killing Kevin Kolb at quarterback, hoping to disappoint that gang of lowlifes would be reason enough to root against them.
7. The Cinderella Element. Everyone likes a fairy tale to some degree. If by some miracle the Kansas City Royals win the American League pennant next year, we’ll all be pulling for them. We may be Massholes, but we’re still human.
8. The Franchise Tradition Consideration. This is really getting into minutiae here, but if the first seven factors haven’t given you a rooting interest, your average Bostonian will pull for an old school team every time. Which is why most puckheads were glad to see an Original Six team like the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup last year, as opposed to one of those dozen or so NHL teams who first appeared in “Slap Shot.”
9. The Success Fatigue Aspect. Simply put, this factors in how sick you are of seeing a particular team win. And it’s why everyone west of Great Barrington hates the Patriots.
10. The City Hateability Ranking. I’ve rated every professional sports city in America based on how much we as a region hate them. From New York and Los Angeles at the top to Oklahoma City at the bottom. Space doesn’t permit me to show you the whole list, but trust me, it’s incredible.
This is how Boston decides whom to root for. Maybe the process isn’t as formal and thought out as this, but essentially this is how it’s done. What we don’t do is sit there and say that we want some team and fanbase we hate to win championships just to give the local teams some “motivation” we demand of them already.
As a footnote using this formula for Super Bowl XLV, New Englanders will be leaning toward the team that isn’t a rival, won’t make the Pats look bad by winning, has a long tradition and hasn’t won in a while. And failing that, we’ll just go with the team whose quarterback doesn’t rape drunk girls in bars. Go Green Bay.
Follow Jerry on Twitter at @jerrythornton1.