In court of public opinion, neither age nor era matters

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Keith O'Brien
Globe Staff / June 20, 2008

The last time they stood on this street corner together they were 18 years old, just teens in tube socks, looking for beer and willing to take chances. To get a better view of the Boston Celtics' last victory parade on June 10, 1986, Tom Leahy, Brian Purcell, and Mike Bishop climbed atop a pedestrian traffic signal near City Hall. The Celtics were champions and, the three young men from Dorchester thought, they would be back atop the traffic signal to celebrate again soon.

But 22 years passed between victory parades. And yesterday, when Leahy and Purcell returned to their trusty traffic signal at the corner of Tremont and Court streets, it was hardly the same as that warm, clear day in 1986.

First off, they were down a man - Bishop had to work, Leahy said - and the other two were fathers now with five children in tow. Second, where there was once beer, there were now sippy cups and juice boxes. Purcell toted a stroller. And there was no way - none - that the men, or their children, were scampering up that 10-foot traffic signal to watch this parade.

"No, Paige," Purcell told his oldest daughter, as the 9-year-old muscled herself halfway up the pole. "I don't think so."

This is exactly how long it has been since the Celtics won - long enough for carefree teenagers to get mortgages and tufts of gray hair; long enough for them to marry and produce carefree children of their own; and long enough for those children, as their fathers did, to believe that winning is a Boston birthright.

In many respects, the gulf between Old Celtics Fan and Celtics Fan 2.0 is about as wide as Kevin Garnett's wingspan. The older fans, having waited 22 years for a title, had come to expect defeat in recent seasons, while the young fans, raised in an era when curses do not exist, treated yesterday's parade like the Fourth of July. It comes every year.

But in truth, the newest generation of Celtics fans are not much different than the ones who watched the Cs win eight titles in a row from 1959 and 1966. They are confident, they believe, and with yesterday's parade, they are already making plans for another next year.

"The whole time I was growing up, Boston teams were losers," said Kevin Doherty, 28, a middle school music teacher in Quincy who stood on Boylston Street yesterday.

"I loved them, but they didn't win anything. And now we're going to be known as winners for a long time. Hopefully, the Celtics will be a dynasty."

Older fans, like 75-year-old S. Maxwell Beal, remember the previous 16 championship banners, not just this one. They were around when playing the Lakers on the road meant traveling to Minneapolis, not Los Angeles. They were there when the Celtics' nemesis was named Wilt - not Kobe - and they were around in recent years when it seemed like the local green would never win again.

"Many of us," said Beal, "were fearful we wouldn't see this again."

And so, Beal, a Hingham resident, came dressed for the occasion yesterday. In his olive suit and green-checkered tie, he walked the streets of the Back Bay, a green flower nestled into his lapel, remembering Jo Jo White and Bob Cousy, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird, amid children of the iPod era who think that Bird was, like, OK.

"I've seen him a little bit," said Michael Pasqualini, a 9-year-old Chestnut Hill boy, talking about the man known as Larry Legend. "He's pretty good."

In Pasqualini's world, there is a victory parade for some Boston team just about every year and every reason to believe that there will be another celebration this fall, or next winter, or next June.

"I love being in Boston," said Pasqualini, who skipped his last day of third grade to attend the rally yesterday with his mother.

"There are rolling rallies, like, twice a year. I mean, it's crazy. All I have to say is, it's crazy," Pasqualini said.

He had Michael Jackson queued up on his iPod, a Garnett jersey on his back, and a Celtics cap on his head, flipped around backwards. About the only thing that he and Beal had in common was that both struggled to stay awake for the Celtics-Lakers games, which often ended nearly at midnight.

But as confetti began to fill the sky and the duck boats began to roll, ferrying the latest Celtics champions and their newly acquired hardware through the city, local fans, young and old, screamed out together. Suddenly, neither age nor era mattered. Old Garden versus New Garden - who cares? Those who had forgotten that the Celtics were winners remembered it all over again, and those who believed that Boston teams always win, well, they knew what to do.

There was Alan Gaughran, 46, and his son Pierce, 10, hollering and pointing amid a crush of green humanity near City Hall. There was Vivian Kelley and her 79-year-old mother, Mary Wood, - big fans of Bill Russell - watching near Boston Common.

And then, there was Leahy and his childhood friend, Purcell, both now 40, standing at the foot of the traffic signal they had once climbed, this time with their feet on the ground and their children on their shoulders.

"No beers today," Purcell confided.

But beer wasn't necessary. Leahy, a Boston police detective, and Purcell, a corrections officer, had everything they needed: a championship, a friend to share it with, and family gathered around them.

"Could be another 22 years and you won't see a parade," Leahy announced to the children as the duck boats came and went.

The NBA season was officially over and Leahy, an old-timer at 40, believed what he was saying. He was speaking with wisdom that only age can provide.

But the children, being young, hardly listened.

"No," 8-year-old Kalyn told her father, shaking her head. "It could be next year."

Keith O'Brien can be reached at

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