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Boston A “Football Town?” Not Even Close

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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 ColdHardFootballFacts.com.

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.