Sports Fans in Boston

Dedication to local teams keeps the city united.

Boston's international trademark is its brainiacs, top-flight universities and cutting-edge medical research institutions. But true Boston rests with its sports fans.

Boston fans are more rabid, more intense than fans from anywhere else in the country. Baseball fans aren't devoted to baseball; they're devoted to the Red Sox. The Red Sox have their own nation. New England fans don't need to see every Monday night football game, but they never miss a Patriots game. When a game's on, divisions in this balkanized city — WASP versus Irish, men versus women, white collar versus blue collar, MIT versus Harvard, Brazilian versus Italian — melt away.

Bostonians are united in one thing: They'll do anything for a ticket to a Red Sox-Yankees game or a Patriots ticket or a courtside seat for the Celtics. They will, however, disagree about their teams, as bitterly as if it were a family dispute. Should the Red Sox have kept homerun hitter Manny Ramirez? Is one bad decision grounds enough to fire Terry Francona, who reversed the "curse" and got World Series wins for the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007? Will Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ever be the same after his knee injury?

Generations of Loyal Fans

What makes Boston sports fans different from fans elsewhere is that they were both long-suffering and die-hard. When the Tampa Bay Rays weren't winning, the seats in Tropicana Field sat empty. Fenway Park's sell-out record — 469 regular season games and still counting. Boston fans packed the stands for 86 losing seasons in the aftermath of their 1918 World Series showing.

"There is an experience and emotion that's associated with being a Red Sox fan, and it goes back to connections of family and community," says Red Sox spokeswoman Susan Goodenow.

Jim Amore's father and grandfather began taking him to Red Sox games at Fenway at age 8. And he, in turn, took his teenage son. "It's in my blood," he explained, as he and co-workers caulked the granite stairway of a swank downtown office building. "You're raised here in Boston, and that's who you cheer for," said Amore, who was raised in the Boston suburb of Methuen and still lives there.

Cheering for the Underdogs

Maybe it's family legacy. Maybe it's the city's sense of history. Maybe it's the parochialism. But fan intensity extends to all Boston's teams. Until their Stanley Cup win in 2011, the Bruins' core fan base hung on for a team that hadn't taken home the trophy since the 1970s. At a fall fan-fest outside TD Banknorth Garden, they lined up around the block to get in. When the Celtics won an NBA Championship in 1986, Larry Bird was a young man. In the Celtics' dark days to follow, a core group of season ticket-holders shelled out money for seats. When the Celtics recruited Kevin Garnett, fans' enthusiasm returned with a vengeance and Garnett pushed the team to a championship title in 2008.

Amore's co-worker, Jeff Gallant, went to Celtics games regularly during the 1980s, and, despite years of frustration and losing seasons, he kept going. "We are more loyal," he said.

And the Patriots? The nation once pitied the team. They were "a laughing stock" with one of the worst records in the National Football League. Yet a hard-core fan base kept coming to the games. Finally, a young quarterback — Brady — subbed for an injured teammate and made NFL history. The Patriots are the only team to capture three Super Bowl wins in a four-year period.

Decades of suffering by obdurate fans is paying off big. Their teams are in the midst of an era of almost unprecedented dominance. Since 2004, the Sox, Patriots and Celtics together have won a combined total of six world championships. Could a Bruins championship be waiting in the wings?

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