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Warming up to winning

Even Thomas H. O'Connor, the eminent Boston historian, could only chuckle yesterday when he was asked to recall the last week in Boston that held as much sweet promise as this one.

The Red Sox were one win away from shedding their trademark futility. Meanwhile, more speculatively, Senator John F. Kerry seemed poised to bury the idea that being a Massachusetts liberal is poison in the world of presidential politics.

Not to be overlooked, a pro football team just down Interstate 95 hasn't lost a game in more than a year.

Forget everyone who has grumbled for two weeks about how tired they are. They don't mean it. We're not really tired, just giddy.

It's the natural outgrowth of 86 years of baseball frustration and of chafing for 16 years at the idea that being from Massachusetts could only be a fatal liability on the big stage of politics.

If Bostonians are a little lightheaded this morning, we likely are all reeling from the effects of an unfamiliar emotion: triumph.

"We lost not only the Bambino, but all the great writers went to New York," O'Connor said.

"And, for theater, Boston and New Haven were always the tryout towns; New York was the Big Apple. So for many years, consciously or unconsciously, we've sort of been Avis to Hertz."

Of these two unlikely tectonic events, the Red Sox success is the bigger surprise, if only because the baseball team has been coming up short for longer than Kerry has been alive.

Still, even after the debacle of last season, there was guarded optimism that this might at last be the year. After the historic four-game rally against the Yankees, the Red Sox even began to take on the aura of a sure thing, a team that would not bring us so far only to dump us again, brokenhearted.

The trajectory of the Kerry campaign has been nothing like that. He was thought to be dead in Iowa and then, startlingly, won. He proceeded to romp through a Democratic field that seemed more languid and lackluster by the day. He had a nice hometown convention, but sure-thing status has consistently eluded him.

Still, with the race whittled down to 11 (or fewer) battleground states, his prospects look better than at any point in this campaign. It's too close to call, but for the first time in 44 years, a Massachusetts presidential candidate enters the final weekend of the campaign with a real chance to win.

Anyone who lives anywhere near here knows this is a new problem, this dilemma of how to deal with winning. It isn't just the Red Sox who have been defined by second place, by close but not quite, by good but not great. It's also a municipal issue.

That said, I reject the idea that this is some sort of threat to the city's identity. For years, I've heard people speculate that winning would make the Red Sox just like any other team, no different from, say, the Florida Marlins.

That is rubbish. It would, however, spell the doom of a certain well-worn defeatism.

"There's always the idea in the Bostonian's mind that if something good happens, it's a fluke; it'll never happen again," O'Connor said. "Now the Patriots have won [a Super Bowl], not once but twice, and maybe a third one coming up. The Sox not only beat the Yankees; they're going to win the World Series.

"This will have long-term consequences on the psyche," he said. "Will Bostonians act on this and think in more positive terms and act on their success?"

Trust me: This is a healthy development to have to confront. Failure is far from tragedy.

But victory opens up whole new vistas. Decades of perseverance are on the verge of reward.

Truthfully, it feels a bit strange. But we could get used to it.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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