Michael Holley is right: Boston is a football town

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 26, 2012



By Kerry J. Byrne                                                                                                                  Cold, Hard Football Facts chowdah-fest champion

There's this mythology in certain circles that says Boston is a so-called "baseball town." We looked into the myth of the "beloved" 1967 "Impossible Dream" Red Sox years ago to debunk this ridiculous notion.

1967 Red Sox

More on the Cold, Hard Baseball Facts below.

The Boston as a "baseball town" fabrication has been peddled for years by media outlets with a vested interest in the success of the city's Major League Baseball team.

The New York Times Co., for example, which owns the Boston Globe, also had an ownership in the Boston Red Sox for many years (which it sold off earlier this year).

My theory is that the Globe would often talk up Boston as a baseball town merely in its own self interest. Plus, it seems its long-time staffers there simply preferred baseball to football themselves, and projected upon the wider region long before the internet skewered its power. 

Whatever the reason, Michael Holley apparently agrees that football is No. 1 in Boston. He's the co-host of "The Big Show" on WEEI in Boston and the author of a number of books about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

He talked about Patriots vs. Red Sox quite a bit today in our Sports-Casters podcasts at Football Nation.

"The Patriots own the town right now," said Holley. "Part of that is the popularity of football, not just in New England, but nationwide."

(The Sports-Casters are great, by the way: each week they interview leading voices in the football media, from Peter King to the guys behind the scenes of "Hard Knocks" on HBO. Check it out.)

The reality is that few people in Boston give a rip about baseball beyond the Red Sox, and even with the Red Sox the fair-weather fandom is immense, as lack of interest and attendance in 2012 has proven.

Otherwise, Bostonians simply don't care a bit about baseball, not at any level you'd expect from a "baseball town." They don't pack local watering holes to watch the Padres play the Mets. But they will pack barrooms to watch the Chargers play the Jets.

Hell, last year, when national-title contenders LSU and Alabama met in their regular-season battle, the barrooms of the Fenway neighborhood were MOBBED with people trying to watch what was a major national sporting event. We watched the game at Jerry Remy's, a massive Fenway sports bar. It was packed shoulder to shoulder. There had to be 200 people in line across the street trying to get into the multi-level Baseball Tavern for kickoff.

And this was for a college game between two distant SEC powers, in a town where college ball is a distant second to the NFL, and at two baseball-themed bars, no less (Jerry Remy is a former Red Sox player and the team's popular color commentator).

The reality is that every city in America is a football town, including Boston. Measured by ratings, fan interest, or any other tangible piece of evidence, football reigns supreme in Boston, as it does everywhere else.

We are a Football Nation first and foremost. Boston may be a cultural outcast compared to the rest of the country, but not when it comes to sports.

Football is No. 1 in Boston at all levels.

Hell, you could argue that the biggest sports day in Massachusetts is Thanksgiving. That's when every high school football team in the state faces its biggest rival. It's an awesome tradition dating back to the 1870s in some towns. Hell, we'd argue it's America's greatest sports tradition, period. Amateur football was born and bred in Boston, before it took off anywhere else. It's still alive and well today.

The Turkey Day game, as it's often called, is the biggest of the year for every school and thousands of people come out in every town for a high school football appetizer at 10 a.m.

Massachusetts doesn't have a real high school playoff tournament like most otheThanksgiving Day 2011r states. Instead, we have a massive state-wide festival of high school football on Thanksgiving morning.

My gang throws a huge tailgate party that starts at 6 a.m. every Thanksgiving. We've been doing it every year since we graduated. We see all our old pals and tear it up before kickoff. Thousands of others do the same thing all over the state.

In many towns, the local bars open early to accomodate pre-game revelers.

So in Boston, football fans already have an entire day of football festivities under their belts on Thanksgiving, before the NFL even kicks off.

High school football still matters in communities from one end of the state to the other, especially on Turkey Day.

If baseball is so big in Boston, why don't fans pack every local high school diamond for the big 130-year-old Memorial Day rivalry baseball tradition?

Oh, that's right. Because it doesn't exist. Nobody cares.

Like we said, football is No. 1 at all levels.

Boston College has given New Englanders only brief glimpses into football hysteria at that level. When the Eagles beat Tennessee in the 1941 Sugar Bowl, more than 100,000 fans jammed South Station to greet the team when it returned to town by train three days after the game. Every newspaper and sports fan in Boston was gripped by college football fever.

1941 Sugar BowlAt the end of 1984, during the height of Flutie-Mania, 25,000 Bostonians flew down to Dallas to watch Boston College play the Houston Cougars in the Cotton Bowl. They called it Boston's biggest airlift since World War II.

Hell, Bostonians jammed the airport when the BC team returned that season from beating Miami in the famous Hail Mary game.

The city went nuts when giant-killer Tom Coughlin's Boston College team took down No. 1 Notre Dame in 1993, in one of the great football games, period.

We don't recall the Boston College baseball team inspiring similar outbreaks of passion among the residents of The Hub.

Finally, there's this myth of the "beloved" 1967 Red Sox that shatters any illusion of Boston as a "baseball town."

Anyone my age, who grew up before the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, has heard old-time baseball people drone on endlessly about the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox of 1967.

The 1966 team finished in last place but then claimed the 1967 American League crown in an epic pennant race (back when they actually had a pennant race).

The revisionist history fed to all Bostonians was this: everybody was glued to the radio and TV all summer long, sitting at the beaches of Martha's Vineyard or the porch of their Maine vacation home, hanging breathlessly on every pitch in a once-in-a-lifetime season that captured the baseball-loving hearts of the six-state New England region.

But you know what? It's all total BS.

One day, just for kicks and giggles, I went and looked at the Red Sox attendance figures from 1967 at Baseball Reference.com. The Red Sox averaged just 21,331 people per game at Fenway that year. The arena held 33,524 people in 1967.

In other words, the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox, the team that Bostonians were told their whole lives was the most beloved in franchise history, played before 12,193 empty seats every night.

If every New Englander was so enraptured by the 1967 Red Sox, why didn't they go to the friggin' games? Why was better than 1 in 3 seats empty each night, for what was supposed to be the franchise's greatest season from 1920 to 2004?

By the way, the 1975 American League champion Red Sox fared little better: they played beforee an average of just 21,587 each night (cap tip @deeepthreat). Some baseball town, huh?

Seems to us the Cold, Hard Baseball Facts stand in sharp contrast to the BS Bostonians have been fed their whole lives about the city being a so-called "baseball town."


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