“Are you a real Celtics fan,” a fellow wrapped in a Brazilian flag asked J as we made our way to our seats at Sunday night’s exhibition game, or “friendly,” between the New England Revolution and the Brazilian soccer team Cruziero. When J nodded that yes, we’re real Celtics fans, the man in the flag asked the obvious question. “So what are you doing here?”
Sunday night was Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, and with the series tied at 2-2, Game 5 was a crucial game. If we were “real” Celtics fans, we would have spent Sunday night at home glued to our TVs, or we would have paid an arm and a leg to buy tickets to see the game live. Instead, we were at Gillette Stadium rooting for the Revs.
Sunday night’s friendly between the Revs and Cruziero doesn’t officially count toward either team’s season record, and judging from the 4-0 loss the Revs suffered in last month’s friendly against the Portuguese soccer club Benfica, we suspected we were in for another drubbing. As much as we love the Revs, we know they aren’t a world-class team. Watching the Revs play Benfica or Cruziero is like watching a college baseball team take on the Red Sox, as happens every year during spring training. The experience is awe-inspiring for the college kids, who get to take the field with their heroes, and it provides some good practice for the pros as they prepare for another long season. But no one expects the college kids to actually beat the pros.
And so it’s been with the various friendlies we’ve attended. We love the huge crowds of colorfully dressed fans who show up for these matches, and we love the chance to see teams with an international (rather than merely local) fan-base. But we knew going into Sunday night’s match that the Revs would probably lose…and we were okay with that, knowing the role of any friendly is to give fans a good show and players a chance to stay in shape during mid-season hiatuses.
So while we did our part to cheer on the New England Revolution simply by showing up, we left our Revs hats, jerseys, and soccer scarves at home and came to the game dressed in Celtics green. Knowing that the Revs would probably lose to Cruziero, we put our sartorial eggs in a whole other basket. With a crucial championship game on the line, we wore our lucky green Celtics shirts and discovered that basketball is one thing that both Brazilian and American fans can agree on.
“Did you see that game where Ray Allen was on fire,” the guy in the Brazilian flag asked once he’d determined our status as real Celtics fans, “and then the next game, where he couldn’t make a shot?” After spending a few moments trading Celtics stories with the flag-wrapped fan, we later encountered a pair of Brazilian women looking for someone to take their picture. “Look,” I overhead one remark to the other. “The lady in the Celtics hat…ask her!” Perhaps because Celtics green and white is a bit reminiscent of Brazilian green and yellow, Sunday night’s Cruziero fans seemed much friendlier to us than they probably would have been if we’d been decked out in Revolution red, white, and blue. Because we were advertising our allegiance to a world-class basketball team, we didn’t look like rivals, just crazy fans who’d wandered into the wrong sports venue.
During the half, we discovered we weren’t the only real Celtics fans in attendance. Wandering over to the Gillette Stadium footbridge, where you can see the billboard-sized television screen outside CBS Scene restaurant, we encountered a throng of fans watching the opening tip-off to Game 5 from afar. As we walked back to our seats, we met a pair of diehard Cruziero fans who were gesticulating at our green shirts. “Let’s go, Celtics!” one woman shouted, and I countered with a one-woman version of the classic “Beat LA” chant.
It was nice, in other words, to let our Celtics pride shine while we got friendly with soccer hooligans. After watching Cruziero score two goals against our beloved Revs, we left the match ten minutes early, before Cruziero scored a third and final time, so we could listen to the Celtics game on the drive home. As luck would have it, we got home in time to watch the second half, and the Celtics won. Tonight, we’ll be glued to our TV for Game 6, like any real fan. It’s fine and good for Cruziero to beat the Revolution, but tonight is all about the Celtics winning their 18th championship banner by beating LA. There’s nothing friendly about that.
Click here for a photo-set from Sunday night’s friendly between the Revs and Cruziero…and go Celtics!