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As several of my roommates are so fond of reminding me, no Philadelphia professional sports franchise has won a major championship in the past 23 years. I, and an entire generation of Philadelphians, have grown up knowing only failure. Since the last Philadelphia championship, more than 8,630 days have elapsed and Boston-based teams have won the World Series, the NBA finals (twice), and the Super Bowl (three times).
It is with no small amount of envy, then, that I regard the legions of pseudo Red Sox and Patriots fans here at Harvard. Being a Philadelphia fan has never been particularly easy but in a rival city that has enjoyed, and from the looks of it will continue to enjoy, remarkable success, it is downright torturous.
Like all human beings, I base my perceptions on my previous experiences, and I grew up in Philadelphia—a town that has a dangerous obsession with sports generally, and the Eagles in particular. Its Eagles obsession is dangerous both in the sense that real mayhem and destruction often accompany home games, and in the sense that the team hasn’t won an NFL championship since 1960.
Any lingering doubts I had over the true quality and strength of Eagles loyalty were dispelled this past winter break when, while out to dinner with my parents, we happened to bump into my godfather—a very successful private lawyer in Philadelphia. His first words to us were not “Merry Christmas,” but “Go Birds!” He then proceeded to elaborate how he was mandating that Christmas dinner would be served on the sole condition that the game—the Eagles played Dallas that evening—would be watched in its entirety.
Judging from my three-plus years around Boston, the odds of this encounter being repeated here—or ever hearing the words “Go Pats!” outside of the postseason—are probably somewhere between the odds that Iraqis will spontaneously gather in the middle of Baghdad and start singing “We are the World” and the odds that this winter’s spate of warm weather isn’t related to global warming.
However, the most frustrating thing for me is not Boston’s native fandom. As we all learned in Moral Reasoning 22: “Justice,” the place of one’s birth is completely beyond one’s control. No, the most frustrating thing is the legions of Harvard students who, seemingly on cue, sprout Tom Brady jerseys and Red Sox hats and start yelling “Yankees Suck.” As one case in point, if one were to judge by student attendance at the wild rally after the Red Sox World Series victory, one would guess that something like 99.9 per cent of Harvard students hail from New England and, more than that, actually care about baseball.
Now perhaps my senses are more attuned to this sort of thing because I had to endure the very public crushing of my dreams during the winter of my sophomore year. The mental scarring that resulted from the Patriots' 24-21 victory over the Eagles, and the public rejoicing over that victory, has still not fully healed. Or, perhaps, I’m just over-excitable.
Either way, while I’m sure that this sort of loyalty switching happens, to one extent or another, in every college town in America, I’m certain that it’s exaggerated here. The first reason is Boston’s undeniable, and hopefully short-lived, run of success. The second is the fact that many Harvard students tend to have quite troubled relationships with their hometowns. It’s no secret that almost everyone here worked extremely hard in high school, and that many weren’t exactly the sports type. Instead, there’s an all too common urge to “reinvent” or “start over” either because high school wasn’t fun or just for the simple fact that it feels liberating. Boston, and more specifically its readily available sports teams, then becomes a handy new identity that everyone can adopt, risk-free.
What ties me to home? Certainly not championships, though there is always hope, but rather fond memories of being weaned on 610 WIP—“Talking sports on the all-sports station!”—as well as the knowledge that if I ever returned home raving about Brady, Bruschi, Belichick or “my Pats,” I would have some pretty serious issues to address with my friends, not to mention my parents.
Some, of course will angrily protest, and ask if I really think that professional sports loyalties are the most perfect expressions of one’s heritage. Some will ask if I really think that swapping a Phillies, or any other team’s, cap for a Red Sox hat is a crime comparable to treason. Do I really think this way? No, of course not. But the readiness of many Harvard students to completely jettison their past identity and swap it wholesale for a Boston one speaks to issues far more serious than the lack of McNabb jerseys or renditions of “Fly Eagles Fly” in Harvard Square.
There is always a fine line between being too willing to forget the past, and spending one’s whole life in it. I think Harvard students are, as a rule, guilty of the former far more often than the latter. A healthy relationship with one’s hometown, parents, and family is, well, healthy. Even more importantly, if more Harvard students possessed such relationships, we’d see fewer Brady jerseys being dusted off for their annual appearance right about now.
Mark A. Adomanis ’07 is a government concentrator in Eliot House. His column appears regularly.
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