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Opinion | Ken Burns

Red Sox became a symbol of transcendence

On paper the two teams were fairly evenly matched, with St. Louis probably having an edge. On paper. A betting person might be forgiven if their money was put on the Cardinals. But a good bet also requires an appreciation of the intangibles, of intuition, of gut feelings. And before this World Series even began, before the first pitch left Jon Lester’s hand, all the intangibles were with the Boston Red Sox. They had something to prove, obviously, they were the ones who needed, just had to rise from the ashes of their disastrous collapse at the end of the 2011 season and the even more humiliating and precipitous descent into the cellar of the American League East in 2012. Going from worst to first, as the endless clichés suggest, just had to take place.

Then there’s character. As their stunningly brilliant manager has said time and again, this team, each man, had character. They played with and for each other. On stage, in the eerie smoke of the post-Game 6 celebrations, Dustin Pedroia, the epitome of the gritty Red Sox ethos, summed it up best, summoning up words that seldom pass the lips of seasoned male athletes at the top of their game: he loved his teammates. Loved his teammates. Wow. And their fans, who have always loved them, knew it and loved them even more all this season and all through the glorious postseason redemption. And because of that, we shed even more the painful burden of decades of loss, exhibiting a confidence rarely shown by seasoned Red Sox supporters. It wasn’t cockiness or arrogance, but certainty and trust. As the piped-in music prompted and then dropped out, 38,000 human beings continued singing a cappella at the top of their lungs: “Don’t worry ’bout a thing. Every little thing gonna be all right.” We knew it would. And Shane Victorino (the root word of his name is “victor”) delivered, delivering all of Red Sox Nation on Wednesday night.

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They were all a scruffy lot, not the “cowboys” and “idiots” of 2004, but worse, a lesser team as even David Ortiz admitted, but better in every way. There were a few from the teams of recent years, plus a wayward, bearded set of free agents and cast-offs, a band that seemed like a throwback to the old barnstorming quasi-religious House of David teams that played in the early 20th century. But in this new millennium, they were our religion, our faith, our prophets.

Most important perhaps, the team had willingly assumed the burden of the two Marathon blasts, becoming the day-in and day-out symbol of transcendence. It did not smack this time of the treacly, false patriotism that often clings to such tragedies, but an internalized insistence to get better, to heal, as a city, as a region, and a team. And they made us better. Strong. First. Not worrying ’bout a thing.

Ken Burns’s “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” will air on PBS in 2014; he is at work on a multi-episode series about the Vietnam War.
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