Three Lombardi trophies, two World Series titles, an NBA Championship, and two additional championship appearances. Pretty impressive résumé. But, let’s ignore all that. Forget about the Championships over the last decade. Ten years of success for a city hardly equates it to being a great sports town -- even if that city is running out of fingers for the rings.
When the debate comes up as to which is the Greatest Sports City in America, I’m just like any other fan from my hometown; eager to crown Boston as the most passionate and sports-crazed of all. The above is a go-to argument for many Bostonians (especially my generation), but it doesn’t do it for me. Don't get me wrong, I dig the rings. Dig them wicked haaahhd. But, you have to dig deeper than that, because it's easy to be a fan of winning. So, I’ve rolled up my sleeves and picked up my shovel…
What really sets a city apart from all others as the Greatest Sports City? I won’t try to compare every measurable statistic or cover every possible characteristic one could use to reach a decision – be it Championships won, or consecutive sell outs, or the disgruntled vibe around the “waddahbubblah” following a big loss.
I'm from Boston, I can't help but be biased just as anyone from Chicago or New York can't help but be biased to their city. But, I’m aware of that bias, so I also try very hard to be fair in my assessment. And, being that I’m from such a great sports city, I can also offer a firsthand account of what makes that city unique. Let’s face it, a lot of cities have passionate fans, sell out games, win a few championships, etc. So, what makes the city of Boston and its fans so special?
If you ask me, rivalries are built as much by the fans (if not moreso) as they are by the players on the field... or court... or ice... whatever. The blood boils over a fan-lit flame. That's not to say that what happens in the game or series between two teams isn't a huge factor. Of course, it is. But, the strength of a rivalry grows on the fervent support of its spectators. Fans are homegrown, and participate in rivalries for decades and across generations, while athletes are rarely fortunate enough to play for the teams they grew up supporting, and their careers are relatively short-lived -- more often than not spread over multiple teams. With this in mind, I go around the horn to show that the city of Boston, sport-for-sport, plays a part in the most intense and bitter rivalries.
Between the hash marks…
While the New England Patriots have been very successful in recent years, and developed torrid rivalries with the Indianapolis Colts, the New York Jets, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the life of these rivalries remains to be determined. Admittedly, it cannot sincerely be argued that they are involved in the deepest rivalry in the NFL's history. The fact is, when it comes to rivalries, Boston’s biggest beefs don’t play out endzone-to-endzone.
Fire on ice…
The NHL may not necessarily have itself an absolute, clear-cut representative for its most tense and vibrant rivalry, but the feud between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens is as fiery as any. The number of times that these two teams have met in the playoffs is more than any other two teams in the NHL. The same is true of their regular season matchups. While Boston hasn't fared as well in this war -- with the Canadiens taking 23 of the 32 postseason battles – the credit can be split evenly between the two cities for bringing the passion to the stands every time the players take the ice.
To the parquet…
The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers participate in the biggest rivalry in NBA history. Thirty-three banners between them -- that's more than half of all NBA Championships -- including 12 meetings in the NBA Finals (Boston leads the head-to-head with a record of 9-3). You really can’t make a case for any other NBA rivalry being as heated. These two teams have shed more blood, sweat and tears on the grandest stage the sport has to offer.
On the diamond…
Boston Red Sox. New York Yankees. It's the biggest rivalry in all of American team sports, and this of course makes it the biggest rivalry in Major League Baseball. It simply has no equal. And, it's not nearly as lopsided as is often perceived. In their post season series history, the Yankees lead the Red Sox, 11-8. In all-time regular season meetings, New York is 1,124–938–14 for a (.545) winning percentage. The success of the Yankees overall -- along with the “Curse of the Bambino” and Boston’s 86 year Championship drought -- is what creates the misconception of their dominance in the head-to-head matchups, with New York winning 27 World Series banners and 40 American League pennants to Boston's seven rings and 12 AL nods.
By my assessment, Boston is unquestionably involved in at least two of the four major sports’ biggest rivalries. I’ll acknowledge room for discussion in the NHL and the NFL, but the greatest rivalries in baseball and basketball are well defined, and Boston’s involved in both.
Give a few extra points to the city for being involved in the biggest rivalry in all of sports between the Sox and Yankees (if you're keeping score, yes, you may also give points to New York City for participating in that same rivalry. Let's play fair).
I also believe that the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry is fit for top billing in the NHL, but would be willing to entertain a debate on that. That being said, no other city can claim the same strength of rivalries that Boston can, across the board. And as I stated, the credit for this can be attributed in great extent to the city’s passion for sports overall.
Let's move on...
Transcontinentiality of Fanbase.
This next topic speaks volumes for the city of Boston and its fans in the debate of Greatest Sports City. For this particular claim, the statistics may not be as available as they are for other factors, but the thought process and concept are both relevant and credible.
The Boston sports fans are pretty rabid -- this is not debatable -- but the same can be said about fans from New York, Detroit, and Philadelphia, to name a few. But consider this: Do the fans from any other city bring their colors with them as well as Boston fans? When a Boston team visits another city, the stands are often more packed than they are for the majority of that team's games, with fans painting the stands with visitors’ jerseys. Boston is a big draw, even on the road.
I would be curious to see if there are numbers to support this, in terms of overall attendance. That being said, major market teams often sell out games regardless of who is in town, so attendance simply could not increase. It would likely require a look at the attendance of some of the smaller market teams to see what sort of increase is reflected when teams like Boston and New York come to visit.
Another reflection of the Boston fanbase, and perhaps my favorite argument for The Hub in this debate, is its sports bars. And I'm not talking about the sports bars in Boston. I'm talking about the Boston-themed sports bars in New York, and Los Angeles. And San Diego. And Chicago. Denver. Florida. San Francisco. Honolulu? Even Alaska? You bet.
The fans of Boston teams make it a point to set up shop in other cities (even the cities of our biggest rivals) so that we can all get together and enjoy our teams when life's twists and turns take us away from our hometown. I'm certain that their are Chicago bars and St. Louis bars in other cities throughout the country, but not to the extent of those featuring Boston. And you will have a hell of a time trying to find a bar in Boston that favors your fans, no matter where you are from. I don't know of any that exist.
And, so what if I did make up the word transcontinentiality?
Winning might be the greatest measure of a team’s success, but it’s the fans in and of Boston that make it the Greatest Sports City in America, and I’ve offered a couple of the reasons that I believe are highly supportive of this claim. They are reasons that I believe are unique, in that they stray from the usual suspects, and they cannot be just as easily said of other great sports cities, too. Now, listen -- I love sports. I am intrigued not only by surface level factors such as the entertainment of competition and talent, but also by the cultural and social effects that sports has on the general population. So, I'm genuinely curious to hear what other people think of Boston as a sports city, or why they believe this city or that city can go toe-to-toe with Boston for the title of Greatest Sports City in America.
If a person think it’s Chicago -- and their argument doesn’t begin with "one word: DITKA" -- then I’m all ears. If one likes New York, give it to me straight. I can hear that one out, too, if it’s well presented; notice, I don't argue that Boston is better than New York because "YANKEES SUCK! YANKEES SUCK!" They don't. I checked the numbers (see above). I’ve admitted to being biased, but, I can’t help it when I’ve got a horse in the race. But again, being a local also gives me that inside perspective of what makes my hometown unique and deserving of the Greatest Sports City crown.
Alright -- your turn to shovel. That’s my Big Dig…