Sunday, June 22, 2008

Apologizing for happy endings

One of the things that I like to do on the weekends is watch rented DVDs with my kids. The eldest tends to drive the itinerary, and since she's eight years old and female, she's into horses. Today's was a DreamWorks production ("Dreamer"), in which Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell manage a broken down horse into a Breeder's Cup win. It's not bad, as these things go, and while I was taking care of the laundry, I fired up the director's commentary. In it, the guy more or less apologized for giving the film its by the numbers happy ending, like a kids movie about a horse isn't going to end with a win.

And it made me think, on some level, that this must be what it's like to be a thoughtful Boston fan.

We will likely never see a single city win as much and as often as Boston has in this decade. To start with, there's only a handful of cities with the ability to not only win the major sports leagues, but with the kind of owners that are actually willing to try for it. So that cuts the list down to maybe a dozen areas, and then you balance that against the dozen to two dozen to one odds for each league. There is, of course, no real synergy in a city when a team wins; we only think there is because every time it happens, we as sports fan notice.

In the Philadelphia of my youth, there was a similar run, though not nearly as potent. The Phillies broke through in 1980 for the franchise's lone championship, and then the Eagles rode the crest of the Vermeil Era wave to a Super Bowl appearance. The Sixers, who had been knocking on the door since they bought Julius Erving in 1976, eventually broke through against the Lakers. The USFL Stars, a team that meant much to me, were also champions, and the city more or less claimed the Villanova miracle team as their own. Add in the region's eternal taste for Penn State football, and I grew up more or less convinced that Philadelphia, of all places, was a town of champions.

The Eagles faded first, with Vermeil burning out. The Phiillies were old when they won, and got even older for the 1983 team that snuck their way into a World Series where the Orioles handled them with ease for Cal Ripken's only championship. The Sixers hit the wall when Moses Malone stopped being the best player in the game, and soon imploded with bad deals and the crippling Andrew Toney injury. And while the franchises have aligned at times in the 2000s to all be competitive, and indeed, even all be playoff-level, none have won a championship since. It takes a lot to get one, even if it doesn't seem that way when one city gets six and counting.

Which Boston franchise will fall first? Well, you can make the argument that the Patriots are already on the downside, with the argument that Spygate and 18 and One Very Big One means that they are primed for further disasters now. It also doesn't speak much for Tom Brady that the last three quarterbacks to beat him in a playoff game are Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer. But if you had the ability to change your franchise for theirs on personnel and coaching, I'm not sure there's a fanbase in the NFL that wouldn't make the switch. You've still got no worse than top 5 talent at the skill positions, a high draft pick from the Niners, and a front office that finds players even in bad draft positions. They're not going away, especially in a division that's as bad as the AFC East currently is.

The Red Sox may be the best long-term bet for Boston Fan moving forward. The stacked deck nature of MLB+ means that they really won't have as much competition for that crown as you might think, and their tactical advantage over many other organizations -- starting with the willing embrace of sabermetrics and continuing through vastly superior medical practices, including the benchmarking and hoarding of pitching -- is almost as great. Look at what happens when Boston has an injury; for the most part, they bring up a player who is above the league median, and they gain valuable experience, for both future use and trade value. Meanwhile, other teams bring up retreads and try to patch. The Sox play in a murderous division in a game where success and failure is pretty close, but if I had to choose one team to win in MLB just about every year, it's them.

Which leaves us, finally and most fitfully, to the Celtics. This may be just my blind hatred talking here, but I can not see this team creating a new era of championship banners in the new Garden rafters. The first thing that happens to championship teams is that they don't try as hard again the next year, especially on defense. This Celtics team won, of course, on that defense. The Big Three of Garnett, Allen and Pierce are all on the downside of their career, with Allen especially looking like he wasn't a top tier player until late in the playoff season. With another 80+ games in front of them, he's not going to be getting any better.

They have, of course, a quality bench, and if and when Rajon Rondo can master his road fears and shoot free throws, he's got a chance to be a top 10 point guard in the Association. Garnett could teach Kendrick Perkins more of an offensive game, too. But the rest of the East will get better in the offseason (look for Chicago to bounce a long way back with a high pick, Orlando to get a year better and meaner with Dwight Howard, the Sixers to start making some trouble with a developing Thaddeus Young, and even the Knicks to make life difficult, by no longer being an auto-win). In the West, Laker Fan dreams of a triumphant return from Andrew Bynum, which would allow for the even more triumphant departure of Vladimir Radmanovic; if the West thought that the Lakers were a tough matchup with Gasol and Odom and 5 and 4, they're an absolute nightmare at 4 and 3. The Spurs will be back to their odd year championship pattern, with a presumably healthy Manu Ginobili bringing more to the table. If you were handicapping the 2008-09 NBA winner right now, Boston is probably not the favorite. It's the way of these things.

And, of course, there is always the possibility that the Boston luck will just run out, as it did in Philadelphia 25 years ago. It doesn't really take much -- a coach ejection, an ownership shake-up, a dead draft pick -- to put you back into the wilderness.

Because, in the end, you should always bet on entropy and decay and unhappy endings, regardless of what the audience expects, or even demands. (Just don't expect someone else's unhappy ending to be your happy one. I was, after all, born and raised as a Philly Fan...)


Tracer Bullet said...

Long-term, you're probably right. In short-term, my money is on the Patriots. The linebackers are ancient and the Lemur never tires of telling us that Belichick's defense is too difficult for most young LBs to pick up quickly, the OL has shown it can be whipped and that secondary has a chance to be just plain awful.

DMtShooter said...

Valid points, though I suspect they go for a CB in the draft with the Niner pick.

I'm still wondering how their OL looked so bad in the SB after giving Brady easy pickings for most of the year, and big holes for Maroney in the earlier playoff games. Let's start a fix rumor to upset Boston Fan.

Brian P. Foley said...


DMtShooter said...

What, the consolation list for Boston Haters didn't tip you off earlier?

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