Scott Brown, a little-known Republican state senator from Wrentham, Mass., last week pulled off one of the most shocking upsets in the long history of Bay State politics when he defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in a special election to fill the empty U.S. Senate seat left by the late Ted Kennedy.
It was a national shocker. Massachusetts sends a Republican to congress about as often as the Cubs win the World Series, and Brown trailed by as many as 30 percentage points in early polling.
But Brown gained momentum through the holidays and got his final boost when Coakley stated in an interview that Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan.
That's right, boys and girls. She said that Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan. And that closed the curtain on her bid for the U.S. Senate.
Welcome to Massachusetts, where it's always about sports, politics and revenge.
Coakley tried to recover from her gaffe, later saying that she was joking. Nobody was buying. The comment was a clear sign that she was out of touch with the rank and file. Anybody who lives in greater Boston simply has to know that Schilling is the embodiment of Boston's long-awaited conquest of the Yankees in 2004.
Schilling a Yankee fan? That's like calling Kobayashi a vegetarian.
It's like calling Keith Olbermann a right winger. It's like calling Bill Belichick a comedian.
When Schilling was acquired by the Sox in November 2003, his first remark was: "I guess I hate the Yankees now.'' He pledged to end the Curse of the Bambino and then went out and did it in his first Fenway season, famously bleeding into his sock when he won Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS at Yankee Stadium. Trying to win a Massachusetts election after calling Schilling a Yankee fan is like driving a Toyota while you're running for governor. You've got no chance.
The Schilling blurb was not Coakley's only sports-related blunder. Scott Brown made friends on New Year's Day by standing outside Fenway Park and shaking hands with the hearty souls who had scored tickets to the Bruins-Flyers Winter Classic. When Coakley was chided for being too passive late in her campaign, she snapped, "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park. In the cold? Shaking hands?''
Big mistake. In our town sports and politics are intertwined like strands on a double helix. You rarely see one without the other.
Boston mayor John Fitzgerald, a.k.a. "Honey Fitz", threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the first game ever played at Fenway in April 1912. Fitz's daughter, Rose, was on hand for the occasion and she would later become Rose Kennedy, mother of JFK and Senators Bobby and Ted. FDR held a rally at Fenway days before the 1944 presidential election and Eugene McCarthy made a stop at the Boston ballpark during his run in 1968.
An ailing Ted Kennedy threw out the first pitch at the Sox home opener last April.
When Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis lost his bid for re-election in 1978, he blamed the collapse on the Red Sox. That was the summer the Sox blew a 14-game lead and lost the one-game playoff to Bucky Dent and the Yankees, and Dukakis believed he was beaten because the entire region was depressed.
Most recently Schilling has mixed sports and politics in Boston. A dedicated Republican, never shy about giving his opinion, the big Blowhard actually considered running for Kennedy's seat in the early weeks after the congressional lion passed away. Ever the glory hound, he announced he wasn't running on HBO's Joe Buck Live.
Celtics owner Steve Pagliacu did run for Kennedy's seat, and poured millions of dollars of his own money into the race, but was soundly defeated by Coakley in the Democratic primary. Back in the old days, the Celtics had some bad luck when they were owned by John Y. Brown, who became governor of Kentucky. Red Auerbach almost left the Green because of John Y. Brown.
Longtime Massachusetts state auditor Joe DeNucci was a world-ranked boxer before he entered the political arena. Former Boston mayor Ray Flynn was a basketball star at Providence and was drafted by the Celtics in 1963. Doug Flutie, Steve DeOssie, Fred Smerles and Schilling were among those who actively campaigned for Scott Brown and it would not be surprising if any of them ran for office on their own someday. Think Larry Bird would have gotten any votes if he ran for governor of Massachusetts sometime in the early 1990s? Ray Allen already looks like a politician.
Oh, and then there's this fellow named Tom Brady.
Brady has it all. He's got the looks, the charisma, the fame and he's remained politically neutral on just about everything. He got into a little hot water when he accepted an invitation to one of George Bush's State of the Union addresses, but has otherwise steered clear of polarizing issues.
Tom Brady for President. Someday.
He'd never say that Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan.