With the next chapter of the New York–Boston rivalry set to be written on Sunday, Daniel Roberts, a Boston diehard, reflects on his time in Manhattan.
In my hometown of Boston, right now, I’ll bet scores of people are plotting how to call in sick to work Monday morning if the Patriots win this oh-so-huge Super Bowl. Or maybe it’s more important to save the excuse for the day of the parade. Regardless, there are people—the majority of people—preparing for this game in offices all over the state of Massachusetts, excited to watch it with fellow fans, debating which jersey, of the many they own, they’ll wear on Sunday. And, OK, the same is probably true in New York. (Although, to be fair, my editor here in Manhattan just got back from a two-day trip to Boston and remarked, “I never realized, but wow, people really do wear jerseys there. Everyone was wearing Patriots gear.” You just can’t say the same about New York City.) For a Boston fan living in New York, this game feels even more important. To those of us living in enemy territory, it feels like a matter of personal pride.
Transplanted to New York after growing up outside of Boston and attending college in Vermont (so, always surrounded by New England fans), I’ve had to adjust to seeing New York fans everywhere: riding the subway in their brand-new, just-purchased Yankees hats (frontrunners!), zipping and unzipping their ugly Mets windbreakers while they wait in line for a hot dog at Citi Field, or lovingly caressing their goddamn Derek Jeter bobblehead dolls. At work, it’s me and one other guy that are known around the office as the Boston fans. If there was a notable New England misfortune the night before, or a big Jets or Giants triumph, I’m going to hear about it.
Nurturing my fandom here has also been an adjustment for me because, back home, loving and watching sports was an activity I shared with my dad and my brother (the latter of which is the biggest Boston sports fan you’ll ever meet; he lives in an apartment full of memorabilia and puts my stats knowledge to shame). The two of them are good men, and great sports-watching companions. When I was growing up, we had partial season tickets to the Celtics (from when they played in the Garden through when it became the Fleet, though we let them go before it became the New Garden) and I spent most Friday nights scarfing down a hot dog next to my Dad and rooting on—fruitlessly—guys like Walter McCarty, Eric Williams, Tony Delk, Marty Conlon, Ron Mercer, and the hapless duo of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. (It took Walker leaving for Pierce to mature and become the worthy leader of a championship team.) We also went to Sox games and Patriots games all the time, lucky enough to have occasional seats in a box owned by my dad’s boss. When we didn’t go to games, we watched at home. Living in New York, where I’m not just away from my family but all of my friends are New Yorkers, makes rooting on the Pats, Sox and Celts feel a little bit lonely. Yes, there are Boston-affiliated bars in the city, but that’s not the same.
When I moved to New York in September 2009, the first thing I set up in my tiny Morningside Heights bedroom was a homemade hat-rack: 15 nails, evenly spread out in three rows of five, hammered into the wall behind the bedroom door. Of the 15 hats I hung, seven of them were marked with Boston sports logos: four Red Sox caps, two Patriots hats, and a Celtics lid. When I went out in public—whether it was to graduate school classes, dinners, or out for beers at our cherished Columbia dive bar on 110th and Amsterdam—it came naturally to wear those hats. I didn’t think twice.
The first pro sports event I attended after moving here was a September 1 pre-season Rangers game at MSG. (No, I won’t call it “The Garden,” that’s somewhere else.) It just so happened they were playing the Bruins. A college friend and giant Giants fan had invited me. I wore a green Sox hat—the green of the Green Monster, a shade that strays a bit too far into pastel territory when the hat’s brand new, but over time, once you beat it up a little, gets real pretty. Again, it didn’t occur to me not to wear a Boston hat to a Rangers home game.
The game was pretty boring; neither team looked very good. But in the end, the Bruins won 2-1. The fans in our area (the cheap seats) were not pleased, and most were shitfaced. As we hustled, in one big mob, down the endless flights of concrete stairs to exit, the chanting began. “Boston sucks! Boston sucks!” some drunk guy yelled. The cheer was echoed by everyone until someone added, “Naw, naw, dude: Tom Brady sucks!” “Yeah!” people responded. “Brady sucks! Brady sucks!” Then, another new iteration: “Tom Brady is fuckin’ gay!” and, inevitably: “Boston’s gay! Boston’s gay!” A couple of the guys yelling it sounded downright furious. One of them yelled, “Man, fuck everyone from fucking Boston!” They sounded like if Tom Brady were in the stairwell with them, they’d break some ribs. At this moment I subtly, slowly, reached up and took off my hat, balling it up in a fist.
Whether or not that was actually a close call and I would have had some shit to deal with if someone had noticed me, I didn’t know, but only a few months later I got my answer about whether New Yorkers would really bring violence on a Boston fan. November 4: the Yanks beat the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series. It was Matsui’s night. I watched the game with my roommate, a Fieldston grad and lifelong New Yorker. When he went to bed, happy to get some sleep before another day at his Goldman Sachs job, I wandered out to get a slice of pizza. I walked aimlessly down Columbus Avenue for a while until I hit 104th and ran into maybe 30 people outside, setting off firecrackers, drinking beers, and arguing with two cops. The air was smoky and everyone was chanting and snapping cell-phone pictures. It was as though in the past 30 minutes since leaving the house, I had wiped out the memory of what I had seen on TV, and forgotten the Yankees had just won the World Series. At that moment I realized I was wearing sweatpants, a hoodie, and what else, an iconic red-and-navy Sox hat. I felt just a second of “Oh, you stupid asshole,” but nothing happened. I even spoke to some of the guys and they all saw me, saw my hat, said nothing. And these people were in Yankees gear. Thus, I reached my answer, based on experience, to the age-old debate over which town’s fans are more vicious to enemies in their territory: Boston’s gotta be the riskier place for a Yankees fan, not vice-versa.
And this brings us to the Super Bowl. The grudge match I’ve been daring to wish for since the Giants first squeaked into the playoffs. The last time these two teams faced each other in the Super Bowl, I was studying abroad in Dublin and had managed to turn all my Irish friends into Pats fans. We watched the Pats beat the Jags, then the Chargers, and so, when the Super Bowl came around, one of my friends even had a party. The guy’s flat was in Temple Bar, the touristy area whose cobbled streets, locals like to joke, are bathed in the vomit of American college kids. That night would prove no different; it ended for me in sickness of both an alcohol-driven and emotional variety. I had even lent the guys Patriots and Red Sox gear to wear. The game was going well, until … you know.
Now I’m ready for the revenge, and I hope to God Tom Brady is ready, too. In fact, I care more about the revenge than is emotionally healthy. And I do think there’s more pressure on the Pats to win than the Giants, and that our fans are more nervous. After all, if the Giants lose, they still have that “18-1” chant. This wasn’t a stellar season for them anyway, up until the great playoff run (though, OK, they did have the tougher schedule than we did). The people of Boston, however, need this.
In September, 2008, GQ ran a little column entitled, “Hey Boston, Shut the Fuck Up!” The writer seethed: “Boston… Enough. We get it. You rule the universe. Yes, it’s quite an impressive run you’re on here. But remember, fifteen years ago, your teams sucked donkey balls.”
When I first read that, as a senior in college, I remember feeling so high on my city’s utter domination (The Big Three! Two Sox titles! Tom Brady y’all!) that I concluded this writer was another bitter New York asshole, representative of New York’s total sour grapes. It felt good. But now, just as he knew would happen, we aren’t at the top of the sports world. We haven’t had a Sox, Celtics, or Pats title in a handful of years. Yeah, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, but who cares about the NHL? (Apologies to the eight people I just offended.) The Celtics suck this season. The Red Sox ended last season in complete humiliation. But Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski (please be healthy) can bring us back.
I can’t be sure we’ll win this game, but I’ll tell you this: it feels like the reason I moved to this city was to watch the Giants fans ride a playoff rush right into a brick wall of disappointment.
I’ve been waiting for Sunday since that nauseous day in Ireland in 2008.
—Photo Aoife city womanchile/Flickr