These two weeks can be the darkest of the year. The holidays are behind us, but for the bills. The sky is often the color of a dirty sheet. Sports fans know pitchers and catchers won’t report until Valentine’s Day or so, and the Celtics and Bruins are grinding through the middle of their schedules, the playoffs as distant as beach-worthy weather.
Yet for the seventh time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, New England’s NFL team will be playing into February, gunning for their fifth Super Bowl win in the new millennium.
To appease the forces of karma it seems wise to occasionally note how fortunate we are. How much we appreciate this charmed era of Boston sports fandom, with nine championship trophies to our name since 2000. How we would never take it for granted.
But do we?
When candidate Donald Trump said, “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning. . . . ”
Could he have been talking about us?
“I think the early victories had a larger emotional pop because they were unique and novel,” said Adam H. Naylor, a Boston University professor of sports psychology, speaking of the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win after the 2001 season and the curse-busting World Series of 2004.
Now, “it’s not the same. . . because it’s what is supposed to happen,” he said, referring to all the winning that goes on around here. “All of our kids know what it’s like to win. I think the historians of the sports don’t take it for granted, but we’ve been on such a run,” Naylor said.
It’s reasonable there would be “a little” taking-for-granted going on. “My gut wishes not,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine any lack of appreciation among longtime Patriots fans who withstood the extended loseapalooza before Robert Kraft bought the team in 1994, those who remember wishing Rod Rust would bench Marc Wilson for Tommy Hodson at old Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro stadium, the venue with the architectural charm of a Soviet prison camp, but fewer amenities. Back then, when they referred to the cheap seats as “the nosebleeds” it was because you might get punched. The fandom was in a foul mood.
Everything has changed.
Since 2000, the Patriots have earned, now, seven Super Bowl berths, and won four; the Red Sox have won the three World Series in which they appeared, in 2004, 2007, 2013; the Celtics have played in two NBA Finals, winning in 2008; and the Bruins made two Stanley Cup Finals, winning in 2011.
It has meant job security for duck boat drivers, but so much more.
For fans, “there becomes an identification with a team’s progression that really taps into this sense of progress and mobility for all of us,” said Dr. Ericka Bohnel, a psychologist and Patriots fan. “In times when people are feeling taxed and fearful of what is next, there is emboldenment that happens by aligning ourselves with a sports team. There’s a hum that’s happening around you, as opposed to a lot of the disparate Internet connection that we have. You can see it, feel it with your senses.”
Mickey Burke, 69, a South Boston resident in a Bruins winter hat out walking on Monday, put it a little less technically.
“We all like winners,” Burke said. “You identify with them all, regardless of the team.”
Among the region’s pro teams, the Patriots’ consistency is unmatched. They just appeared in their sixth consecutive conference championship. It is possible, Burke said, to occasionally take these high accomplishments for granted. “Sometimes there’s a piece of that,” he admitted.
At Eddie C’s bar in East Boston on Monday, nobody thought they were taking anything for granted, but their casual sports conversation would have seemed like alternate-universe, LSD-dropping, tire-iron-to-the-head crazy talk 16 years ago.
Geraldine Ahern, 55, a 30-year bartender, said she is looking forward to Brady winning “one for the thumb,” a fifth Super Bowl ring. And she imagines him flashing all five, doing the royal wave to all who doubted him. (As if many do.)
It may be we are so used to winning around here, we forget how losing can warp the psyche of an entire community. Not long ago we were all pessimists, down on our sports selves, believers of curses. A little like Cincinnati, which has not sniffed a championship since the Reds won the World Series in 1990.
Here’s an experiment. Do one Google search and make one phone call to one random Cincy sports bar. Let’s say — oh, I don’t know — how about O’Malley’s in the Alley? It’s at 25 Ogden Place, wherever that is. Ask to speak to the nearest local sport fan and they’ll probably hand the phone to somebody like Fritz Whaley, a 28-year-old bartender.
Tell him you’re looking for the sports opposite of Boston.
“That’s definitely us,” Whaley confirmed instantly. No pride-infused pushback whatsoever. “Five straight years of playoffs and not one win. Pretty embarrassing.”
Whaley was so happy the last time his city won a championship, he spit out his pacifier. Actually, he doesn’t remember anything about it. He was 2.
“I do remember when we went to the one-game playoff against the Mets in . And that sucked. And I’ve been through the seasons where we’ve had great teams and never were able to piece it together. The Bengals? We can’t win a playoff game to save our lives. And with the Reds, we finally get to the playoffs and we choke.” This NFL season, “Everyone gave up early. Definitely a pretty big amount of fair-weather fans in this city, unfortunately. Because we’re all used to disappointment.”
Does he not sound like a Bostonian, circa 2000?
While Boston fans are clinking glasses of Super Bowl punch, the locals at O’Malley’s will be downing domestic beer with a shot of Jameson. It’s called the “Harambe,” after the gorilla gunned down at the Cincinnati Zoo. It’s what they have to work with at the moment.
Like a lot of fans around the country, Whaley finds the Patriots infuriating.
“It’s just — I’m tired of seeing them win,” he said. “Why can’t we have Belichick? Can’t we have somebody who finds random players, sticks them together, and takes them to the playoffs and Super Bowls?”
For New England fans who know nothing but winning, Whaley says this: “You guys are lucky. Come to Cincinnati and feel my pain for a little while, where we have so much high hopes for the season, and then when you see what happens, it’s so deflating.”
“No pun intended. Ha ha ha.”