Not a fair-weather fan

This dismal picture says all you need to know about the mood in New England after this weekend’s Super Bowl loss. Today in Keene, we’re weathering the second straight day of mostly on-again, sometimes off-again wintry mix; tonight, we’re supposed to get a messy brew of sleet, freezing rain, and between six and eight inches of snow. That means tomorrow, dejected Patriots fans will have to slog, slide, or four-wheel-drive through a treacherous parfait of winter precipitation: snow on top of ice on top of slush. Tasty!

Sunny citrus

This morning on my way to do this week’s errands before the slush sets in, I spotted one woman wearing what looked to be a brand-new Patriots ball-cap. Was she a newbie fan lured by this season’s spell of eighteen straight wins? Or did she buy her new hat at deep discount after Sunday’s Super Bowl loss made those eighteen straight wins a moot point? Mediocrity is easy: simply be consistent in your attempt to be so-so, and an occasional bout of brilliance won’t gild your halo too convincingly. But perfection’s a bitch. Eighteen straight wins don’t mean a thing if you can’t finish the Big One. And so this week, this season’s crop of Patriots converts are learning the hard way what longtime Boston sports fans already knew: no matter how much we love them in good times and in bad, our beloved boys have a way of breaking our hearts in the end.

fresh organic

This resigned familiarity with heartbreak, after all, is what defines a true Boston sports fan. When I first watched Still We Believe when it debuted in the spring of 2004, before the Red Sox finally broke their infamous World Series curse, I couldn’t help but wonder what people outside New England would think about the insane mood swings of the die-hard fans featured in the film, which follows the Red Sox’ heartbreaking 2003 season. Could anyone but a long-suffering Sox fan understand that the fans in the film were extreme but not exaggerated?

Yes, Boston sports fans have a hard time trusting even the biggest lead, knowing as we do how easy it is to lose it all in the ninth. Yes, Boston sports fans can and do turn on a dime, lamenting today that our team “sucks” because it lost a game and boasting tomorrow that “we’ll win the championship, baby” because we won a single game. One of my favorite “characters” in Still We Believe–a fan by the name of Angry Bill–nearly convinces himself he’s having a heart attack because of the intense conniption fits his favorite team inspires. “It’s OVAH,” he explains in a quintessential Boston accent after swearing off, again, his favorite team after a particularly painful loss. “O-V-A. Ovah!” The very essence of Boston sports fanaticism is loving your team so much, you can’t stand to look at them after they’ve dashed your hopes…again. To any other fan, these wild mood swings seem crazy: it’s only a game, after all. But to fans of New England teams, the agony of defeat always lurks right alongside the thrill of victory, and we have the mood swings and almost-ulcers to show for it.

Produce-section flowers

I think there’s a connection between the emotional roller-coaster that is Boston sports fanaticism and the mostly on-again, sometimes off-again drama of New England weather. If you live in a place that is consistently mild and mostly sunny, you can afford a certain sangfroid when the athletic going gets tough. But if spectator sports are your source of solace and distraction during a season that consistently spits sleet, slush, and snow in your face, you’ll respond with appropriately meteorologic moods when things go bad. If you don’t like the mood in New England, just wait a minute, for it will change…with the weather, with the scoreboard, or with the league standings. In a region that spends half the year wondering when winter will be over, you have to excuse the locals if we occasionally get all Seasonal Affective on you. It comes with the territory.

Valentine's Day cakes

So today, I tried to lift my slush-sagged spirits by heading to the grocery store for a spot of color, as I’ve done before. Earlier in the week, after hearing several of my students discussing the Super Bowl, I announced that there would be NO MORE TALK of this past weekend’s tragedy. “It’s OVAH!” was my official response to Brady and the Boys; still smarting from the disappointment of daring to believe an 18-0 record would culminate in a Super Bowl win, I didn’t want to hear any mentions of the game that dashed those hopes. What kind of masochist wants a play-by-play of heartache?

Today, it wasn’t too painful to see the occasional Patriots logo on the back of a Jeep or a brand-new Pats hat on the head of a female passerby, and I even smiled a bit at the cheerful innocence of freshly baked Valentine’s cakes. On Monday morning when I tossed my Patriots sweatshirt in the laundry, I vowed not to wear it again until next fall, knowing that in time my heart will soften and I’ll be ready to give Brady and the Boys a second chance after we spend a season or so apart. In the meantime, I hold out hope for the Celtics, I still love those consistently mediocre Bruins, and I am counting the days until Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to spring training. At least it will be another couple of months before the next season-ending heartbreak.