When Betty was growing up in Portland, Maine, New England's hipness was pretty much proportional to its average temperature during football season. Fittingly, the region's scarcity of cultural cool was also reflected when the pigskins started flying. By early September, the Red Sox would invariably be done with another embarassing year and the Patriots would be donning those dorky uniforms again. Here is a reminder of that snarling and ruffley minuteman ("Patriot Pat"), easily the gayest image ever to be sanctioned by the NFL. But we didn't know this was ironic and cool in the 1980s, and so we defected en masse to other teams.
By 1993 or so, the only person I know who wore a Patriots t-shirt in public was a five-year-old named Jonny A. He was cute, and so was his devotion to the Pats, but his older brothers and I, along with many of our friends, thought we knew better, and sought a way out. Little by little, we distanced ourselves from the team we'd inherited as children of Maine. Whenever we played touch football, no one ever tried to be the Patriots. Once teams were diveded up, there was almost always a race to see who could be the first to scream "We're Cowboys!!!!". It wasn't that any of us particularly liked or related to the Dallas Cowboys and their style of play. But in the absence of a team we could take seriously, the easy-winning 'boys seemed like the next best choice.
Betty's style of football fandom will forever be marked by the failures of the Patriots in her youth; though there are some teams she will always root for (Green Bay, Chicago, New York and New England), she feels no real allegiance to any team, simply preferring a good game to enrich her Sunday crossword puzzle.
But much has changed for the Patriots since Betty was sprinting down touch football fields and Jonny A. was crashing into telephone poles on those same sloping lawns. In the late '90s, Drew Bledsoe introduced the Pats to cool by being young and attractive and leading them to a Super Bowl victory in 2001. But the real revolution came in the form of TOM BRADY - who has singlehandedly changed the aura of the Patriots beyond recognition. Suave, worldly, sexy, smart, down-to-earth but not grotesquely so, Brady represents everything we learned that the Patriots, by definition, were not supposed to be. We hear Giselle Bundchen was waiting for him after last Sunday's playoff victory against the Chargers in San Diego. Our eyes will be peeled for her, perhaps wearing a silver Pats jersey, in the coming weeks.
A similar transformation has taken place in the soul of the Boston Red Sox over the last five years. Not just good, the Sox - recently led by "caveman-chic-sexpot" Johnny Damon, and hotheads Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, are now insultated by that special shield of cool that makes it ok to root for them even if you are not from New England. This used to be the Yankees' job, or the LA Raiders', or the Cowboys'. Even David Ortiz is cruelly cool beneth the Teddy Bear veneer.
So what's happened? Has New England actually gotten cooler??? Or are these Version 2.0 Pats and Sox just new teams, bearing no relation to the losers with whom we grew up trying to avoid all association? Are the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox like Roger Moore, who offered a new take on an early model with continuity, or more like the slim and sexy Daniel Craig, a beast reborn for a new generation of fans? The Patriots' "new" logo, more than a little Cowboy-esque in its colors and spikes, implies the latter, as does the following anecdote:
I rang up my friend Magwich, a sometime contributor to this blog, after the final out of the 2004 World Series was recorded and the Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years. I had jumped ship for the Yankees very early on, and had always admired Magwich's loyalty to the Sox in the face of our undeniable superiority. Of course, this superiority was often more cultural than statistical; the Red Sox were simply not cool in the late 1980s, even though the Yankees sucked too. Anyway, when Magwich came on the line, I congratulated him on a long-overdue victory. "Huh?", he said. "What are you talking about? Did something happen on TV?" The team he had loved was long gone, and so was he.