THE SUPER BOWL section in the Coop is deserted now. Nobody wears Patriots T-shirts anymore. "Berry the Bears" sounds stupid these days.
All of that has slipped away. New England has gone into mourning once again, as another of its professional sports teams has been lost in the muck of disappointment and moral collapse.
The Patriots thrilled us for 19 weeks this season. Two weeks ago they rode a tidal wave of hoopla into the Superdome, and emerged with the most inglorious defeat in the history of the nation's most glorious sporting event.
Still, they were heroes.
Until the next day.
The public revelation Monday of drug use by several Patriots players has cast a macabre gloom over every player, coach, manager, and fan of the Patriots. A cocaine sackcloth has been drawn over what was, only 10 short days ago, the most hyped team in the hype-filled history of Boston sports.
Drug use has never before tainted a Boston sports team. And with a tactless bungler like Pat Sullivan handling such a delicate situation, the organization may explode into a confused mess of good intentions, bad publicity, and bags of white powder.
Only time will tell if the Pats will bounce back. Drugs are serious business. And the shadow of racism in this most racist of cities has already begun to raise its ugly head.
All of the Patriots accused of drug abuse are Black. This does not bode well in a city that fields the whitest basketball team in the NBA and the whitest baseball organization in the nation.
Sadly, area fans accept all this with a steely cynicism. After all, every other time the Patriots have neared success, their odyssey has ended in disappointing, controversial, and utter defeat. A little more salt in the wound will hardly hurt at all.
THE CURRENT STATE of affairs reminds one of nothing so much as the Red Sox saga of a decade ago. In 1975, the Sox surprised the nation by fighting their way to the World Series, where Boston let slip away the most dramatic Series in the history of the game.
It was a young team--Fred Lynn and Jim Rice were both rookies that season--and so three years later an almost identical team tore up the American League, posting a 14-game lead over the hated Yankees in mid-July.
Then, inevitably, they began to fade. And fade. Only a seven-game winning streak to close the season gave the Sox a tie for the American League East crown.
The rest of the story is known by all New England sports fans, and anybody who raises a glass with them. Bucky Dent--that little New Yorker Bucky Dent, for chrissakes!--dinked a home run over the Green Monster to win the playoff game for the Yankees.
The Red Sox have never recovered. A turbulent legal squabble among team executives, together with a devastating series of bitter contract disputes, left the team in ruins.
Yet the fans remain. The unique sociological phenomenon that grips New England each sports season is a perverse yet sacred masochism. We live and die with our teams. We suffer, sacrifice, and rejoice--and inevitably, suffer again.
A large segment of the New England population derives its identity from the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics. Cheering for these teams draws all New Englanders together, from Kennebunkport to Roxbury.
But, like our Puritan forefathers, we New Englanders need to punish ourselves, and to insulate ourselves from the heathen. By banding together to affirm our allegiance to the Almighty Sox-Bruins-Celts, we share a communal misery (and occasionally a communal jubilation) that confirms our faith and purifies our sporting souls.
The Patriots nearly joined the Holy Trinity of Boston sports teams this season. Newly-converted fans worshipped the Pats with a quasi-religious devotion normally reserved for the other teams in town. Thousands made a holy pilgrimage to the Super Bowl shrine.
Then the Superdome became Golgotha, and the Pats were forsaken.
We are doing penance for the Patriots, as we New Englanders have done so many times before. Yet faith will someday save us.
Spring training begins in three weeks.