- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Over the years, the Boston sports fan has helped make Prozac America’s No. 1 happy pill. It’s no coincidence, either, that when I was in college in Massachusetts in the ‘70s, the drinking age was — mercifully, some would say — lowered to 18.

All that has changed, though, since the Patriots won the first of their three Super Bowls after the 2001 season. Suddenly, spectacularly, the area that gave us Heartbreak Hill — that long, lung-busting climb near the end of the Boston Marathon — is now Titletown, USA.

Think about it: The Pats just made off with another Lombardi Trophy, the Red Sox broke the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino” by winning the World Series, Boston College’s men’s basketball team is 20-0 for the first time in school history — and the Bruins, let’s not forget, haven’t lost a game since last spring.

“Years from now,” Dan Shaughnessy wrote yesterday in the Boston Globe, “it will be difficult to explain what went on in New England sports during the golden days at the beginning of the 21st century. Who will believe that Greater Boston ruled the worlds of baseball and football simultaneously?”

Yes, it’s pinch-me time in the Hub. After decades of not-always-quiet suffering, Boston fans are being swamped with success. As one longtime New Englander — OK, it was my brother — put it, “The Red Sox are three outs away from getting swept by the Yankees … and wind up winning the World Series. The Patriots go from travesty to dynasty in the space of a few years. Everybody’s head is still kind of spinning up here. But it’s a nice kind of dizziness — not the kind we’re used to having, the kind where you feel like you’re about to throw up.”

Oh, the pain these people have endured. Granted, the Celtics have hoisted a few flags to the rafters, but basketball has never been Boston’s primary preoccupation — not to the extent baseball and even hockey have. (More folks turned out for the parade after the Sox lost the ‘86 Series than showed up for the one after the Celts won the ‘84 NBA title.)

If it wasn’t Darrell Johnson taking out Jim Willoughby in the seventh game of the ‘75 Series, it was Bucky Dent hitting a pop-fly homer to put the Yankees ahead for good in the ‘78 playoff. Or the ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs. Or Roger Clemens leaving as a free agent (and winning four more Cy Youngs). Or Grady Little not taking out Pedro Martinez in the seventh game of the ‘03 ALCS. Or Len Bias and Reggie Lewis dying. Or Rick Pitino bombing. Or the lights in the Garden going out not once but twice during the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Patriots have been a particular source of misery because, well, they’ve been so darn wretched. It wasn’t so long ago (1992) they were 2-14 — a marked improvement over their 1-15 record two years earlier. This is the organization that, on the eve of the ‘78 playoffs, had its coach, Chuck Fairbanks, announce he was taking the job at the University of Colorado. (No need to elaborate, obviously, on how the playoff game went. Within a matter of moments, it seemed, the Pats’ quarterback was hurt and they were down 21-0 to the Houston Oilers.)

The Patriots played for the AFL championship in 1963 — and lost to the Chargers 51-10. They went to the Super Bowl after the 1985 season — and lost to the Bears 46-10. They went to the Super Bowl again after the 1996 season — and Brett Favre threw a 54-yard touchdown pass on the Packers’ second play from scrimmage. Then Bill Parcells bolted for the Jets, with Curtis Martin soon to follow, and the Pats went back to being the Pats.

Somehow, though, their luck changed — and with it Boston’s. The turning point, strangely enough, was when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis rattled Drew Bledsoe’s ribs in the second game of the ‘01 season. Instead of a disaster, it was the dawn of a dynasty, because Bledsoe’s injury opened the door for a young quarterback named Tom Brady. We all know what’s happened since: Brady has played so sensationally, he’s managed to weasel a few dates with Bridget Moynahan.

And now, less than four years later, the Boston fan is in the midst of an unprecedented Era of Good Feeling. On his morning-drive-time show yesterday on WEEI radio, John Dennis took great pleasure in informing a listener that “Rodney Harrison caught more passes from Donovan McNabb [Sunday] than Freddie Mitchell [two to Freddie’s one].”

It doesn’t get any better than this.

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