Bruins fans burst out of TD Garden, energy oozing out of them as if they — not defenseman Matt Grzelcyk — had just scored the last-minute goal to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Woooooooo,” they sing out on Causeway Street, mimicking the public address announcer cheer after every Bruins goal.
A week later, exuberant Celtics fans surround Jayson Tatum after the Celtics rally in overtime to beat the defending world champion Golden State Warriors in an NBA Finals rematch. The exhausted Tatum flashes a smile and gives two thumbs up as he leaves the parquet. Earlier, he signed a bobblehead for season ticket-holder Gavin Dumas, 12, who was bursting with joy.
“It’s pretty much a dream come true,” Dumas says.
These are heady days for both the Bruins and Celtics, and for their loyal fans. Both teams have the best records in their respective leagues.
Only once has one city (Detroit) led both leagues for a full season. The Red Wings and Pistons finished first in 2005-06 but neither team won a championship that year.
Bruins fans and Celtics fans are both passionate, but their fan bases are distinctly different.
Grzelcyk, who grew up in Charlestown, says, “It seems like they don’t really cross paths much. If you’re a hardcore Celtic fan, you don’t really go to many Bruins games, and if you’re a hardcore Bruins fan, you’re probably not going to many Celtics games.”
TD Garden officials would not provide details of season ticket-holders, but Garden workers say Bruins fans are largely blue-collar and Celtics fans tend to be more white-collar. Bruins fans play the 50-50 raffle more than Celtics fans, according to those who run it.
“The Bruins fans are very generous,” says Jean Cogan, who sells 50-50 raffle tickets.
There is also a brotherly rivalry.
The Celtics have 17 championship banners hanging in the rafters. The Bruins have won six Stanley Cup titles. Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach loved to point out that the Bruins also hang their divisional banners to fill out the space.
Some Celtics fans don’t like that the Bobby Orr statue is the only statue outside TD Garden. Celtics legend Bill Russell is tucked away in a corner of City Hall Plaza, less than a mile away.
“That’s not fair,” says A.J. White of Lowell, ducking out of the rain while waiting for the doors to open for the Celtics-Warriors rematch.
She would like to see Russell moved right next to Orr.
“It should have a more public spot,” she says.
Inside spiffy TD Garden, there are numerous other differences between the teams.
The Celtics have the most famous playing surface in the world, celebrities at courtside, pregame pyro, and a parade of dancers and cheerleaders. They use a wide variety of vocalists to sing the national anthem. The Bruins promoted everyman SportsDeck bartender Todd Angilly to belt out the anthem with Pavarotti power before each game.
“Bruins fans are more rabid than Celtics fans,” says Bruins fan Bill Maloney, a physical education teacher who grew up in Needham.
“It’s a crazier atmosphere. The Celtics are fun, but they have to be winning to have fan-based support. The Bruins are more of a cult following than basketball.”
At a Celtics game in the Club seats, Nick Nowak says he loves both teams, but notes, “I don’t know if you can afford both unless you’re a millionaire.”
Players from both teams have nothing but praise for fans of each.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart has watched the Bruins play only on TV, but he likes what he sees in the fans.
“They’re great,” says Smart. “They’re going to come, they’re going to support, and, you know, they’re going to be fanatics. That’s what you love.”
Smart credits Celtics fans for “about a third of our points. You hear that ‘Let’s go Celtics’ and you feel the energy coming. All of a sudden you get a big shot and you’re like, you know what? Let me get going. And you make that one. The next thing, you make another.
“You’re always feeding off of that crowd energy. And a lot of times when we get hot, our crowd has something to do with that.”
Bruins center Charlie Coyle, who grew up in East Weymouth, said playing in Boston is special. Period.
“The fans are so passionate and they bring it every night,” says Coyle. “You know what to expect in the Garden when we’re playing, whether it’s us or the Celtics. Those fans are always there. They’re always loud and those are the places you want to play.
“There might be some subtle differences, but it doesn’t matter what the fan base is — Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, or Bruins — they always bring it.”
Coyle disputes the folklore that all Bruins fans live north of the Mystic River Bridge.
“That’s a big myth,” he says. “We’ve got plenty on the South Shore.”
He thinks Bruins fans are mostly black-and-gold-collar and marvels at their fashion commitment to wearing Bruins jerseys, which cost $205 at the souvenir stand on the loge level.
“It’s not cheap to buy jerseys to go to a game,” Coyle says. “But that’s how passionate people are. They’ll spend an extra couple of bucks to buy a jersey to support the team. And that’s why we love playing here. It’s unbelievable.”
Several Bruins fans said they don’t like the whining and flopping in the NBA. Coyle says hockey players are raised on toughness.
“I see old-time footage of guys getting hit across the face and they’re not even wearing helmets and they’re still out there playing,” he says. “So that’s just what we’re born into here and we just follow suit. Unless you break your leg or whatever, you’re in.”
Coyle has attended only one Celtics game.
“It’s different entertainment, for sure,” he says. “They’re playing on their feet, they’re playing on a smaller court. We’re on a bigger ice surface on skates, so it’s faster. You can’t fight in basketball. You can fight here.”
Grzelcyk went to the NBA Finals last spring.
“No one knows you,” he says. “It’s kind of nice. Kind of blend in.
“Maybe basketball is just more entertaining for some people, seeing highlight-reel dunks. Hockey is a little bit grittier and you’ve got to work for every goal.”
Grzelcyk believes the labeling of Bruins fans is too simplistic.
“I feel like there’s quite a lot of white-collar people who come to our games, too,” he says. “But just because you’re white-collar doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate hard work and the mentality that we have to bring every night. And that’s not to say that the Celtics don’t bring that same mentality as well. I think it’s just shown in different ways.”
The Bruins crowd is overwhelmingly white. Ninety-five percent of NHL players are white. The Celtics crowd is more diverse. More than 80 percent of NBA players are people of color.
Lynsdale Ford, a.k.a “The Black Leprechaun” at Celtics games, loves to pump up the crowd during timeouts. He thinks the Bruins crowd is “a different culture.”
“You never see young black men at a Bruins game,” he said. “There’s a lack of exposure for a lot of black kids.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wrote in a recent “Diversity and Inclusion” report, “We are working to better understand and accelerate our engagement across all layers of diversity.”
Coyle welcomes the change.
“I think they’re trying to grow the game in those aspects, but I’m sure it’ll take a lot of time for that to catch up,” he says.
“I think it doesn’t require much to play basketball, right? A local park, a ball, and a pair of sneakers. Hockey is $400 for a stick and it goes on and on. Whatever you grow up knowing in that environment, you’re probably just going to be used to playing.”
Outside the Garden, Matt Doyle sells knockoff T-shirts. He says his customers for Bruins and Celtics games are all exactly the same.
“No one wants to pay full price,” he says with a smile. “Everyone wants to haggle.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.