No shot was fired.
Nor, to my knowledge, was there so much as a water balloon tossed or a disparaging remark uttered concerning someone’s mother.
There were no attacks on any local police headquarters. No one assumed control of a TV or radio station. No one declared martial law.
The New England Patriots simply awoke on the morning of Aug. 26 and the town was officially theirs. There had been a completely bloodless coup.
Some might argue that they already had the town, and have had it for some time. At the very least, it’s a legitimately debatable topic, except now it’s irrelevant. Now there is no dispute. That trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers was a de facto surrender. The Red Sox laid down their arms, put up their hands, and walked away. The Battle of Boston was now over. The New England Patriots have won. The Patriots rule. The Bruins, Celtics, and, yes, the Red Sox obey.
This is monumental. There is nothing comparable in American sport. Boston has been a certified Baseball Town since at least 1871, and perhaps even longer than that. The first serious attempt at putting together a big-time baseball league was the National Association, which lasted from 1871-75. The league folded, in part, because the Boston entry had made a mockery of the competition, winning the final four titles and peaking with a surreal 71-8-3 record in 1875.
Boston was a charter member of the National League, which was formed in 1876. The Boston Beaneaters waged a decade-long battle for National League supremacy with the Baltimore Orioles during the 1890s. But that allegiance was transferred immediately to the new American League team that came into existence in 1901 and immediately began outdrawing the National League team, a circumstance that persisted until the then-Braves gave up and fled to Milwaukee in 1953. This left the town to the Red Sox, and for the next 50-some years, they had firm control of its subjects, occasionally allowing the people to lavish some wintertime attention on the local hockey and basketball clubs.
But, come on, the van leaving Fenway for Florida was a high holy day, and that was that.
By worshipping baseball at the expense of football, Boston had positioned itself as the oddball of American cities. As recently as 1993, football was a clear fourth in local sporting affections. There was a loyal subsection of fans who had loved the AFL Patriots, but this was a city, and region, of vast NFL ennui, at least compared with the fierce passion for the sport in evidence almost everywhere else. But then something happened, and that something was the hiring of the larger-than-life Bill Parcells by owner James Busch Chatsworth Osborne Orthwein.
It was a borderline Sally Fields moment. Bill Parcells wants to come here? Really? We’re not a football town. Gol-ly. Are we worthy of Bill Parcells? Do we just call him “Mr. Parcells”? “Your Highness”? What’s that? “Tuna”? Oh, no, that’s too disrespectful.
Well, he did come, and you can trace everything that’s going on today, from the presence of Bill Belichick, a Parcells acolyte, to the good fortune of having Tom Brady as the quarterback, to the very existence of Gillette Stadium itself, back to the hiring of Bill Parcells. That man brought a measure of true respectability to a franchise that, in the NFL portion of its existence, was far better known for its missteps and follies than for its occasional successes.
There was never a stated goal of taking down the Red Sox, with whom the Patriots have had quite cordial relations. But no one had to say anything. Sports organizations are, by nature, competitive, and Bob Kraft & Co. had to feel slightly unfulfilled when, two championships into a run of brilliance that extends to this very day, they were a bit upstaged when the Red Sox ended 86 years of futility by winning the 2004 World Series.
The Patriots found themselves living in that geographic anomaly wherein the World Series still meant more than the Super Bowl. The rest of the country had moved on, but not Boston. For a franchise that was being hailed nationwide as the ultimate example of a model organization, the idea of having to share so much of the glory locally with the Red Sox had to fall somewhere between annoying and galling.
The Patriots won again in 2005. But so did the Red Sox in 2007, and so, too, did the Celtics in 2008 and the Bruins in 2011. Even a 16-0 season ended in complete frustration.
The problem for the Patriots, such as it was, wasn’t the Celtics or even the revived Bruins. It was the Red Sox, and the sport of baseball, which has had its hold in the town for 140-plus years. Now, it turns out, the Patriots didn’t have to do anything but stand around and watch the Red Sox implode.
The Patriots didn’t have to do anything. The Red Sox began self-destructing with the debacle that was September 2011, and the carnage continues with the ongoing disaster that is 2012. Choose your frame of reference. You can cite Lord Acton and his famed “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” idea, or perhaps you simply favor Murphy’s Law as an explanation. But something profound has been going on. In terms of sound judgment, intelligent planning, and just plain luck, the Red Sox have become the anti-Patriots.
So we are now in step with the rest of the country. We, Boston, care more about the football team that takes the field Sunday afternoon in Nashville than we do about anything else. If any of us dwell on the reality that it is a semi-barbaric game that wrecks bodies, has the capacity to cause major brain injury, and speaks to our basest instincts, we do so only briefly, rationalizing negative thoughts away with the idea that, “Hey, these guys know the risks, and they are very happy to take them.”
You know how they love to make fun of us out there in the Great Beyond. We’re the weirdos who voted for McGovern, and who gave you Dukakis and Kerry (Mitt, we borrowed). Well, now we’re voting for football. That should make us legit.
By the way, it’s a 13-3 schedule, with only one of the on-paper tough games (Baltimore) on the road.