Boston A “Football Town?” Not Even Close


Whenever I read something about football that sounds like it was written in a barroom by someone as sloshed as Rance Preibus at the RNC, it invariable comes from

The latest beer-soaked rant comes from Kerry J. Byrne on August 26: “There is this mythology in certain circles that says Boston is a so-called baseball town. We looked into the myth of the ‘beloved 1967 Impossible Dream’ Red Sox years to debunk this ridiculous notion. The ‘Boston as a baseball town’ fabrication has been peddled for years by media outlets with a vested interest in the success of the city’s major league baseball team.”

“The New York Times Co., for example, which owns the Boston Globe, also had an ownership in the Boston Red Sox for many years, (which it sold off earlier this year).”

Byrne’s theory is that the Globe “would often talk up Boston as a baseball town merely in own self interests. Plus, it seems its longtime staffers there simply preferred baseball to football themselves and projected upon the wider region long before the internet skewered its power.”

Byrne is a blow-hard who cherry picks facts — no, actually not facts, just some loosely held notions — and rejects what doesn’t fit and then presents it as fact. For instance, in support of his thesis, he quotes a local Boston area radio guy, Michael Holley: “The Patriots own the town right now. Part of that is the popularity of football not just in New England but nationwide.”

At its source, this is ludicrous. Right now the Patriots are still making Super Bowl appearances while the Red Sox are in turmoil. When was anyone in New England a Patriots fanatic before they started going to the Super Bowl? When, in fact, was the entire New England area ever regarded as anything but a football backwater?

Byrne cites the fanaticism of New England fans over Boston College’s success during the Doug Flutie years. But who besides a couple of hundred-thousand Irish Catholics even gave a damn — even then? And who are the major college powers New England has produced since then? Compared to the real areas of football fanaticism, New England is minor league.

To “debunk” the hysteria of New England fans during the 1967 pennant run, he cites attendance: “The Red Sox averaged just 21, 331 people per game on a ballpark, Fenway, that held 33,524.” Byrne is apparently unaware that the big boom in baseball attendance began in 1976 — that was what Sports Illustrated proclaimed on its cover:”The Baseball Boom” — when a combination of free agency, more savvy promotion and a rising middle class began the flood into ballparks. Before then, baseball attendance wasn’t particularly high in any era, nor did anyone think it unusual when even contending teams played important games in ballparks that were only half filled. People just didn’t have the money back then to go to a great many sporting events.

Baseball fanaticism was at its peak in New York with Willie Mays and the Giants in 1954, and yet sportswriter Arnold Hano wrote a book about walking in on the first day of the World Series, buying a ticket and seeing Willie make his famous catch.

Byrne also seems unaware that back in the 1960s baseball was losing attendance because many fans moved to the suburbs – they called it “white flight” – and more and more white people were simply afraid to go into the inner cities. Baseball teams didn’t learn to adjust until they lobbied cities to provide better public transportation and build better parking facilities. This had nothing to do with lack of fan interest.

Byrne doesn’t know because he wasn’t there — I was. In 1967, the Boston Red Sox had the entire New England area in a state of rapt attention. He also slants his argument unfairly by even mentioning the nuttiness New England went through when New England won their 2004 and 2007 World Series — does he honestly think that the vast majority of New England fans wouldn’t give all four of the Patriots Super Bowl trophies back just to keep those two World Series wins?

In 2008 I did a story on whether fans in NFL and MLB cities would rather have a World Series or Super Bowl victory. Byrne, of course, would simply dismiss the results. Because, of course, writers and editors of major newspapers are not as prejudiced against football (why, exactly?) as the Boston Globe people. Anyway, here’s what I found:

Boston Globe: “Our surveys have indicated they’d rather see the Red Sox win the World Series over the Patriots winning the Super bowl by about four to one.”

New York Daily News: “You kidding? Everyone loves the Giants to win, but it doesn’t get the city juiced like the Yankees or Mets winning the World Series.”

Philadelphia Inquirer: “You’ve got a lot of sports fanaticism here, but when the Phillies win, it would top the Eagles winning the Super Bowl and the Sixers winning the NBA, and maybe even the Flyers wining the Stanley Cup combined.”

Chicago Tribune: “Its really hard to say because most baseball fans here follow the Cubs, and the Cubs never win anything. And the White Sox are inconsistent, thought there is a real charge of electricity in the air when they win. It’s also hard to say because you have to throw basketball into the equation, and the Michael Jordan Bulls were supreme in their time. But is you’re asking about a Cubs-Bears-Bulls faceoff, and which one would excite our fans most, I’d have to say, definitely, the Cubs.”

So there you have it – four of the biggest cities in the country have a fan base that would prefer to see their major league baseball team win — and our second largest city, Los Angeles, gets along quite well without even having a pro football team. The area’s relationship with pro football is pretty much the same as fans in the rest of the country: it’s a TV thing. They never see their favorite team in person, regardless of where they play.

“The reality,” writes Byrne, “is that every city in America is a football town, including Boston.” Right, except when their baseball team is winning.