Bob Ryan

The best show in town

Deion Branch had the stage to himself after a 25-yard TD reception in the first quarter. Deion Branch had the stage to himself after a 25-yard TD reception in the first quarter. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / December 7, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Believe it or not, there were other entertainment options available last night other than the Patriots’ blowout win over the Jets.

There were movie options: “The Social Network,’’ “Unstoppable,’’ “Black Swan,’’ “Fair Game,’’ “Burlesque,’’ “Waiting For ‘Superman’,’’ “Secretariat,’’ “Love and Other Drugs,’’ “Made in Dagenham,’’ “127 Hours,’’ and, of course, “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows.’’

How about TV? There was “Modern Family,’’ “Castle,’’ “How I Met Your Mother,’’ “Two and a Half Men,’’ the “American Country Awards,’’ “The Closer,’’ ‘Men of a Certain Age,’’ and TCM’s completely fantastic “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood.’’

And movies on TV? Oh, wow: “Mrs. Doubtfire,’’ “You’ve Got Mail,’’ “Braveheart’’ (before we all became scared of Mel Gibson), “Letters from Iwo Jima,’’ “A Face In The Crowd,’’ and, perhaps best of all, Ernest Borgnine’s Oscar-winning performance in “Marty’’ (“What do you want to do?’’ “I don’t know, what do you want to do’’).

Speaking of movies, there was a wonderful treat at the always-enchanting Coolidge Corner Cinema. A showing of the 1927 French silent film classic “Sunrise’’ was accompanied by a live 11-piece ensemble supplied by the Berklee College of Music. Any ordinary night, I’d have been right there.

But as most of you know, last night was not just any ordinary night. Last night was one of those nights that enabled people blessed with the love of sport — sadly, that doesn’t include everyone — to plug into an experience that puts a little extra juice in our lives, and, for the umpteenth time, led me to ponder just what it is, if anything, that people uninterested in sports do to replicate the peculiar, enlivening buzz that only sport can provide.

This is not to say there aren’t many other exhilarating and satisfying ways to spend one’s leisure time. I likewise pity the people who aren’t moved by a great book, movie, play, work of art, or piece of music. But as someone who likes to think he does indeed appreciate those things, I am here to say that, as stimulating as these things are, none produce the physical and emotional sensation that a great ball game does. Close game, bottom of the ninth or with the clock ticking down and the outcome uncertain, and you find yourself with the heart pounding, the palms sweating, the throat a veritable Sahara . . . it is all a feeling of je ne sais quoi that is beyond the reach of a book, movie, play, painting, or concert.

Who doesn’t love a concert? But you go to see that artist in order to hear what you want to hear, what you like already, not to be surprised. We get angry if the song doesn’t sound exactly as it did on the recording. Most of all, there are no W’s and L’s.

And it all starts long before the pitch is thrown, the referee has thrown up the ball, the man kicks off, or the ref drops the puck. We have all been analyzing, probing, and evaluating the Patriots and the Jets, both independently and in the context of each other’s company, since Thanksgiving Day, when the Patriots defeated the Lions and the Jets dispatched the Bengals (and, really, is there a more pathetically underachieving outfit in the league than those guys?) to ensure each would arrive at Gillette Stadium 11 days hence with 9-2 records and visions of Super Bowls dancing in their heads.

One of the great things about sport is that we don’t even need any actual competition in order to have fun. Anticipation is often as much of an interesting stage as the game itself. And then there’s always the postmortem, which, I’m sorry to say, is the great failing of hockey, a game that simply does not lend itself to intricate postgame analysis. There are strategies, to be sure, but there are not plays; there are not junctures. There’s no bases loaded/two-out/full count, there’s no 10-2 run to put the game away and there’s no fourth-and-goal at the half yard line. On the other hand, nothing in sports equates to the unbearable tension of Stanley Cup hockey OT.

As difficult as it is at times like this for we sportaholics to comprehend, there are actually people in our midst who didn’t care who won the game, or that it was even being played. Imagine that. The only Rex they know was Oedipus, or perhaps Harrison. Bill Belichick might have been a character actor (with a couple of “Law & Order’’ bits on his résumé no doubt), for all they know. These people had zero interest in whether or not Tom Brady could solve Rex Ryan’s defense or if Mark Sanchez would rise to the occasion in the biggest regular-season test of his young career. They would have assumed “Revis Island’’ to be a soon-to-be-released movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. They would have no opinion as to whether or not Jim Leonhard’s absence would put the New England tight ends more into play.

It was really no concern of theirs at all that the winner of this game would be in control of the AFC East, while the loser could start booking hotel rooms in Kansas City, their likely destination on wild-card weekend.

I’m sure many of them are perfectly lovely people. They might be good coworkers or decent neighbors. They might be excellent husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, or cousins. They might be performing wondrous services for mankind.

But they do not know what we know. How sad.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on

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