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winning isn't everything
but it's so much better than losing
by michelle von euw
10.12.09
sports

It’s over. Is it over? It could be over.

It’s been almost decade. Quite a decade. Six titles between 2002 and 2009, and suddenly, the world has changed. Not just for me, who began it as a consummate obsessive Boston sports fan, and is ending it as exactly that, describing myself with the same basic terms. But it’s different. It means something completely different. For me, for my hometown, for the fans of Boston teams, and, perhaps most drastically, for those of you outside Boston, looking in it is totally, 100% different.

We’ll start with the easiest: me. For one, right now as I write this, it is just minutes after my beloved team executed an eighth and ninth inning collapse that allowed the Angels to celebrate a playoff series sweep on Fenway’s hallowed ground. All that had come before today, all those hard fought wins and comebacks and great moments from the 2009 season, now mean nothing, or as close to nothing as possible for a playoff team that couldn’t manage to squeak out even one win over a team that’d we’d previously dominated this time of year.

When faced with moments like this is the past, it was hard not to think of 1988, 1990, 1995, seemingly promising Red Sox seasons that ended with pathetic postseason sweeps. I was a different fan then; one who was always hopeful, but yet, always too mindful of the fact that my team, my city was shockingly snakebit in these types of situations.

Now, as I watch the Angels dance all over one of my favorite places on earth, I think 2005. Sure, we may have been swept out of the first round by Chicago that year, but did the world end? No, it did not. Did we win another World Series two years later? Yes, we did. And that’s the main difference between me in 2001 and me in 2009: I no longer put the type of pressure on every year, every season, because next year could always be another 2007 for the Red Sox, or 2005 for the Patriots, or even 2008 for the Celtics.

That’s what these years have given me. Not just the titles – though, don’t get me wrong, the titles are really nice to have – but a whole different outlook on the game, on what it means to be a sports fan.

I used to firmly believe in tradition, in patterns, in the fact that certain things could always be identifiable and held sacred to my fandom. The winning my teams have done this decade, as well as the losing, has taught me otherwise.

The Oakland A's and the Cleveland Indians always beat the Red Sox in the post season. The Patriots have never lost an AFC Championship game. The Lakers don’t blow big leads against the Celtics at home. Peyton Manning never beats the Patriots when it matters. A team that goes into the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record will not lose it in the last five minutes. Miracle comebacks won’t be wasted. The Yankees will always own the Red Sox.

All of these things I once believed. All of them, during the last decade, have been proven wrong.

I used to know what it felt like to have my heart broken by sports. Over and over and over again. My formative years as a sports fan were racked with heartache and pain and unfulfilled promise, and then I grew up. I got married. I turned thirty. I watched my teams win. I learned that all that losing could not necessarily be forgotten, but the pain can sure be dulled.

I feel grateful for this. And, slightly defensive of this newfound attitude. Time passes quickly, so quickly, and the next ten years could be completely different. Boston might return to the days where no one wins, no one even makes it to the postseason, and I know that I could be writing a very different column in 2015, one a hell of a lot more like the ones I wrote in 2000.

But gratitude is a weird emotion to bring to a ball field, or a crowded bar in a city that’s not your own. And this is where my life has changed the most since the last decade.

Before, other fan bases used to look on us Bostonians kindly. The Patriots were never threatening; the Celtics of Larry Bird’s era were so far in the past; and the Red Sox hadn’t won since the decade the Titanic sank. The Titanic! Who finds that threatening?

Usually, after I identified myself as a Boston fan, the responses I’d receive were mostly positive expressions of pity (except from New Yorkers, who’d usually snarl something cute about Bill Buckner or Bucky Dent). Then, for a brief stretch in the mid-2000s, the comments I’d get would be appreciative of my teams.

Now, Maryland bartenders are quick to tell me that they hate Dustin Pedroia. I get yelled at on the streets outside my apartment by strangers reacting to my Patriots hat, screamed at by Lakers and Cleveland and Orlando fans, glared at by bus drivers, and even snapped at on Twitter.

And this summer, for the first time, I kind of started to understand it. As the Metro station outside of the DC Nationals stadium filled with ubiquitous B hats during the Red Sox visit to Washington, instead of being thrilled to welcome my fellow expatriots to my current city, I grumbled about how many of them were mindlessly blocking the left walking lane of the escalators. Inside the park, it didn't get any better. Sure, I had on my Sox tee-shirt, but I was embarrassed by boorish out-of-state masses, the insults muttered in Boston accents.

The Nats are not good, they are never good, and filling their stadium and cheering lustily against them was like cheering for Lucy to beat the crap out of Charlie Brown. It felt wrong.

The worst thing that could possibly happen to my hometown fan base, I realized that night, was in danger of occurring: we could become the New York Yankees. We could be boastful and pigheaded and self-righteous when it came to our victories. We could expect to win, and bluster on about the past when we didn't.

At that moment, I swore that I wouldn’t let that happen. I would never take my wins for granted, and I’d never forget what it was like to be on the losing side.

Ten minutes ago, when the Red Sox season ended, I was on the phone with my dad, like I was for every one of the six national championships our Boston-area teams had won since 2002. We were frustrated, but it wasn’t the end of the world, or the end of anything, really, but another good season that fell short, just like the seasons of every team, everywhere, almost always do.

Even in New York.


ABOUT MICHELLE VON EUW

Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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