The reminders are there, just off to my right. They’re on each level of the bookshelf. Red Sox Century. Patriot Reign. Now I Can Die In Peace. Faithful. Hell, even John Adams.
I am not where I belong.
The books are taunting me, like a child on a playground. What did I watch today? I watched the Jets play the Titans. The Jets.
Flying start aside, watching the Jets, for a Patriots fan, is like the varsity football team for the much smaller school across town. New York may dominate Boston in size, but the Patriots dwarf the Jets in stature. The Patriots resonate across six states, even in the lean years. The Jets can’t even make it out of the Giants Stadium parking lot.
I was walking around this morning when I considered sidling up to a bar to watch the Pats, but it’s just not the same. The three hours, drinking piss beer under cover of darkness, cheering against everybody who’s cheering for every other team? That’s not Patriots football. For me, Patriots football is the slow anticipation of gameday on my hometown soil of West Tisbury, confident that, whatever happens, it will be dissected six ways to next Sunday in the hours and days following the final snap. Of course, it only matters if they won. When the Patriots lose, I don’t want recaps — I want a re-do. All is not right in the world, and there’s no way to fix it. Either way, the only way to catch it is on my own TV, with the real or virtual accompaniment of good buddies. That is, and always has been, Patriots football.
I know how people root for other teams, but I don’t get it. I feel the Patriots in my bones in a way I don’t even feel the Red Sox. The Sox, with their connection to the soul of New England, represent something different entirely. The Patriots make me think of walking out to the car, seeing my breath in the second week of December, bundled up against a blue slate sky and the frost that radiates from the ground up.
As far as I can tell, being a football fan in this city means something different. But then again, being any type of fan in this city is different. The first question you ask isn’t, “Did you see the game?” but “What team do you like?” The fact is, the New York region is either underserved or overserved on teams, but it’s far from on the nose. The popular teams like the Yankees and Giants are so popular that you could halve their fanbase and get one to rival that of the Mets and Jets. From the beginning you’re either a bully or burning with resentment, and in the common case that your allegiances cross those lines, a mess of contradictions.
That’s not the New England way, but it’s a way I’ve come to embrace if only to survive in this sports wilderness. It’s a bit of “water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” — there will be football on all day, every Sunday, and more baseball than I can handle, but not the right football, or the right baseball. When the Pats do grace my screen, it’s a gift that I know will be gone too soon, and I’m not able to totally enjoy it.
The promise of the 21st century was that you could follow your teams wherever you lived, whether you were in New York, Newark or Nairobi. The reality is that you might just remember how far you are from home.