“It’s a way of life here.”
Tim Peterson, the Senior Editorial Analyst and Producer at New England Sports Network (NESN) believes, “fandom is handed down, father to son, mother to daughter. The longer period of time that goes on, the more entrenched it gets, the more passion it gets. I think that is the main difference between a fan of Boston, and a fan of another city.”
In February of 2002, the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl title in franchise history led by a young quarterback named Tom Brady. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox ended an 86 year World Series championship drought, known by New Englanders as the ‘Curse of the Bambino.’ In 2008, the Boston Celtics won their 17th title, their first since 1986. And in 2011, the Boston Bruins defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
New England teams have won 11 championships since 2001. Five from the Patriots, four from the Red Sox, and one from both the Celtics, and the Bruins. The fans of these teams are witnessing arguably the greatest two decades in the history of New England sports. How have New England fan’s attitudes changed towards their favorite teams? How will they change in the future? Are New England fans different than fans of other cities? Why do New Englander’s don the jerseys of their favorite players all year?
A region of six states, New England has a professional team in each of the four major leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL). Additionally the New England Revolution in the MLS and minor league affiliates.
Winning draws the attention of old and new fans alike, and when New England teams are consistently winning championships, all fans are impassioned. With a plethora of successful teams to watch, fandom is ingrained year-round throughout all of the Northeast. However, there is not just one type of fan tuning in.
“You have three types of fans. You have the blue blood fan, who has been a fan since they landed at Plymouth Rock. They will always be a fan and will continue to root for their team no matter how good or bad they are. Then, you have the fair-weather fan who pops on when they’re really good. They will come and go. Then, there is the third fan, the pink-hat as they’re so labeled. They’re the ones who are even more fair-weather than the fair-weather fan,” says Peterson, who grew up a fan of New England sports in Maine, and has worked at NESN since its founding in 1984.
The 2018 Boston Red Sox won the World Series after having their greatest season in franchise history. As Peterson describes it, the blue blood fans are the ones who followed the team closely in the offseason, and would have ambitious hopes of a championship before the season started. The fair weather fans tuned in around June or early July when they realized the Red Sox were in the midst of something special and were no longer just having early season success. The pink-hat fans tuned in sometime during the playoffs when it seemed everyone around them was talking about it, and so they joined in too.
“I use the saying: as long as they’re under the umbrella, who cares how they get there?” says Dale Arnold, a NESN broadcaster, who is the only person to have called play-by-play for all five New England professional sports teams. He believes that no matter what the fan’s dedication, they’re still a fan and their support is welcomed.
One of the driving forces of fandom, has been the ability for fans to watch games consistently. Peterson explains that the 24 hour sports network, NESN, has allowed fans to watch every Red Sox and Bruins game, minus a few national tv exceptions, and get constant coverage of their favorite teams. A luxury many other cities have yet to be afforded.
Arnold, a Maine native and New England sports fan himself, whose career in tv and radio broadcasting is approaching 40 years, describes the biggest difference between fans of New England teams and other cities as the intense passion they have for their sports.
New England fans are notoriously passionate, loyal, and unforgiving. From the Royal Rooters club, a infamous Boston Americans (changed to Red Sox in 1908) fan club in the early 1900’s that is now known as Red Sox Nation, to the national holiday feel that comes with each time the Patriots play.
Historically, New England fans are pessimistic. They hope for the best but they expect the worst. Prior to these most recent two decades of success, fans maintained an attitude that however good the team was, they would find a way to not win the most important game of the year, the one that would give New Englander’s a championship to celebrate.
“Ten to fifteen years ago, the typical New England fan’s attitude would be, ‘oh we’re a real good team, but how are we going to screw it up’… now there’s more of a confidence that the team will figure it out,” says Don Maynard, an Exercise, Physiology, and Wellness teacher at Oyster River High School and lifelong Boston sports fan.
There is a well documented history prior to these past two decades, where New England fans, even when their team’s were doing well, thought that failure was inevitable and unavoidable. Not because they always wanted to be constant downers, but because their teams weren’t having anywhere near the success they are today. Too many times, New England fans had their championship aspirations crushed by failure, and misfortune.
To back up Maynard’s view of today’s New England fan, ORHS student Max Lewis (‘19), who has been a fan of New England sports for his whole life, adds, “[even when they’re bad] they always seem to be bouncing back and winning titles.”
Having won eleven titles in the past seventeen years, winning seems second nature to New Englanders. “We now expect winning,” says Peterson.
When your favorite teams win so consistently, at times it may seem less special. Some would say that there is no longer the same excitement from fans after big wins, or even a championship. Maynard disagrees however. “If you’re a true fan, it never gets old,” he adds.
Success is sustainable, but not forever. There are different opinions on how fans will react when any one of the New England teams inevitably go through another championship drought.
“If there is another drought, then we’ll just be like any other city,” says Arnold, who believes more seasoned fans will chalk it up to history, while for kids born in the 2000’s the ‘waiting for next year’ mentality will be much harder to cope with. “An eighteen year old kid, a kid your age, winning is all you’ve ever known.”
In a drought, Peterson believes that the type of fan will determine the interest they keep. “I think if there is a drought, you will lose the pink hats. The fair weather fans will drop out, but if there is another New England team doing well, they’ll hop in there…Having four teams, it keeps the fair weather fan engaged with sports at all times.”
Peterson spoke of the immense New England fan support: “as long as all four teams don’t go under and suffer at the same time…this can go on forever.”
There have been decades where one or even two of the major-four New England teams have been extremely successful. The Red Sox won 4 titles from 1912-1918, and the Celtics won a championship every year from 1957-1969, excluding 1958 and 1967. There have been spatterings of great years throughout the history of these franchises, but nothing compares to the widespread success of New England teams since 2001.
Going on two decades of maintained success from our beloved teams, fans continue to live and die with every win, and every loss that is endured. There will be triumphs and heartache, but the loyalty and passion for our sports will always be there. It’s a way of life.