From Athens to Sparta

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Isn't it the most amazing thing, what's happened to Boston?

In sports, the Athens of America has become Sparta.

What a transformation. We used to look at sporting Boston as sort of a quaint, fey, idiosyncratic place, not quite American. Shoot, Boston didn't even much care for football. The Redskins left town for Washington and nobody missed them. When the Patriots arrived a quarter-century later, they were barely tolerated as something of a distraction from the autumn foliage. Never mind trying to win, the Pats spent most of their time just looking for a place to play.

The greatest team of all time, the Celtics of the 1960s, were mostly ignored by the home folk. All that mattered in the winter was hockey -- the Bruins -- and all year round, baseball, the Sawx. Never mind that neither the Bruins nor the Sawx could win. In fact, that was the best part of being a Boston sports fan -- suffering greatly, but doing so with condescension.

There are two elements, I believe, which have set Boston fans apart. First, New England is surely the most distinct area unto itself left in the United States, and Boston, The Hub, is like the capital of a little country within a country -- like Scotland or the Basque region or the Kurdish part of Iraq. Not idly do they call it Red Sox Nation.

Then too, Boston always had Quebec, beloved home of hockey and, especially, the Bruins' arch rivals, the legendary Canadiens, hemming it in on the north, and, on the south, New York, sanctuary city of the brutish Yankees and the crude Yankee dollar. It was only a part of the defeatish charm of the Red Sox that they lost all those years. The pain was all the more exquisite that New York's Yankees forever won. If the Knicks had only been the Yankees of basketball, then the Celtics would have mattered.

But now, look. The Sawx haven't just ended their curse. No. Every day they seem more like, yes, the Yankees. Organized, regal, predatory. Be careful what you wish for. The Red Sox have become a genuine national franchise -- especially as all the college kids who come to Boston, go back to their unwashed hinterlands as fashionable, knowing Red Sox devotees -- as unbearable as displaced Yankee fans ever were.

And the Patriots are certified as America's fee-fi-fo-fum. Actually, the Pats are very reminiscent of the Celtics of lore -- both admired for their cohesion and polish; each with one great leader -- Bill Russell then, Tom Brady now -- but with a coach -- Red Auerbach then, Bill Belichick now -- that opponents and opponents' fans can despise. Only, while Russell's Celtics were prophets without honor, Bostonianna clasps its current heartless juggernaut to its breast.

And not only are the Celtics suddenly back on top -- best record in all the NBA -- but the Bruins, who finished in the cellar last year, are even quite respectable now. So it is that the new cocky, overbearing municipal lords of sport see only victory rampant, everywhere there in the Sparta of America.