In the spirit of full disclosure, let me preface this by saying: I am one of the fans who booed Edgar Renteria at Fenway Park on May 23, 2005. I can rationalize how that was different from Patriots fans booing at the Miami game last week, but I guess at heart, there's not much difference. What I can say is that I cringed reading back over my justifications for booing at the time. That wouldn't be my train of thought now at all, even though it was only three years ago.
Still. While in moments of weakness I have also booed one of my own, I can't help but be incredulous about Patriots fans booing at the end of last week's game.
It wasn't till I read some of the Patriots players' postgame comments that I even realized the booing had happened. While I was actually watching the game, I was thinking more about my own reaction to the loss, to be honest, than other people's.
This is what I said at the time:
It’s pretty tough even for a Pats homer like myself to feel too terribly about this. I’m supposed to be grieving the first lost regular-season game in two years? The week after the team tied its own consecutive-regular-season-win record? Please. I’m spoiled, but I’m not that spoiled.
It seems now like some of us are.
Maybe what Patriots fans who booed were really booing was the feeling, which I shared, that this might be the end of an era. The problem with booing is that it's indiscriminate--maybe they were booing the effort and skill of the athletes on the field instead, and the thing is, there's no way for those athletes to tell. Worse, it's pretty clear how this particular group of them interpreted things on this particular occasion.
I've defended the Patriots here plenty over the last year or so, from Spygate to 18-1 to the loss of Brady. I've done plenty of sticking up for the integrity and what I feel is the genuine savvy and intelligence of many of my fellow Patriots fans. I've done my best to keep in mind that one day's ballpark audience is not representative of the wider fan base, especially in the age of the Internet where fans are spread all over, and many have never even attended a live home game.
But hearing that these fans reacted so terribly, and that it reached the players and bugged them enough that they felt the need to defend themselves - against their home crowd - it's a feeling like I had when the Spygate story first broke. I continue to believe that the booing is not representative of all Patriots fans, just as I believe that Spygate was not representative of everything the Patriots are as a franchise, but I can't defend the actions of the people who took part in them.
Why did they do it? One Armchair Psychoanalysis
The thing about my run-in with Edgar Renteria is that it occurred just before I kicked what was then a pack-a-day sports talk radio habit. It's tough for a blogger to blame "the media" for anything, but there's sometimes a distinction between Boston sports media and, well, any other kind, with the exception of New York tabloids.
When one of your more prominent sports columnists, for example, refers to anyone still willing to dismiss the Matt Walsh story on account of lack of evidence or credible testimony as "yahoos, hero worshipers and gutless suck-ups," I do think some people get a twisted idea of what it means to be a knowledgable fan.
Talk radio, and many other voices of the Boston sports press, in my experience, have nothing but contempt for these, and I quote, "pathetic, repressed" people dumb enough to just blindly support an athlete. We're all supposed to be smarter than that. It's supposed to matter what his "character" is, and moreover, we are completely qualified to judge that from our place in the stands.
The fact that almost none of us out here in radio-land in our wildest dreams could physically survive an NFL game or even play catch with a Major Leaguer is immaterial--admiring the accomplishments of gifted individuals is for know-nothing sycophants and easily-impressed losers who live in their mom's basements. Having something to scream and complain and rant about makes you look like you know more. I guess. I'm just inferring this from the venom I often hear and read leveled at players, coaches, and uncritical fans alike.
I couldn't help but think of that attitude when I heard about the booing last week. That attitude around here that says, applauding for all the recent victory rather than communicating displeasure over the single, but more recent, loss makes you a chump, some non-competitive perpetual victim of Stockholm Syndrome. Your lack of skepticism, your foolish adoration, communicate your status as a novice naif among fans.
Not everyone believes this, and not every person with a press pass in the Boston area contributes to this. But there is an element of it throughout our sports culture. There is a certain amount of peer pressure, even, to be that hardass cynic, depending on what you choose to switch on in your car or read over your morning coffee.
And so we get fans at Gillette--I cannot pretend they don't exist--who can't even be bothered to stand up and cheer on third and short when the Pats defense is on the field, this after three championships and five playoff appearances, including one AFC title, who then boo their heads off when the team loses just after matching its own record of 21 consecutive regular-season wins. Sad as it may sound, I think this is what intensity means to some of them. Others were probably just drunk.
But really, no wonder the Patriots were upset. If I'd been there, I would have been too.
It's one thing even to boo a pitcher who's just given up his third home run of an inning or a placekicker who shanked what would've been a winning field goal or someone who just literally dropped the ball. It's another thing entirely to blanket your whole team with boos, especially after they've done little this decade but set records for awesomeness. It's like having seen Roger Clemens match his own 20-strikeout game and then booing the next time he gave up a hit. It's ridiculous, it's shameful, and it made me understand in one fell swoop much better where Patriots haters are coming from.
Because yeah, that did make us all look ungrateful. It made us all look spoiled and petulant -- dare I say pathetic, repressed even? Not just to our fellow fans around the league -- to our own players.
And that's what bothers me most. Sour grapes go a long way toward explaining some of the panty-bunching coming from outside New England over the last couple of years. But for our own players to be upset and disheartened by how so many of us chose to act....
Call me a gutless suckup, but I think that's the opposite of the effect we want to have on them. Call me a yahoo hero-worshipper, but that's sort of the antithesis of what we're supposed to be there for.