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The times they are a-changing

Posted by Bob Lobel January 29, 2009 05:58 AM

I don't know how people can write a column or a story every day or every other day. I can talk a column every day, but I could never be a Tony Massarotti, Michael Felger or Howie Carr, Marjorie Eagan or Nick Cafardo. Guys like Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy amaze me. They amaze me even more as we get on in years.

Yet there are things I want to write about. They are real-life things that I donít always understand. I want to tell you something about my experiences in Boston TV. What it took to survive. And what it took not to.

One thing that has become increasingly apparent to me is that everything seems to be the opposite of what I thought it was. For instance, getting close to athletes. I thought that was a bad thing. Being their friend, I thought, was a dangerous thing. No. Getting up close and personal is now a good thing. Sucking up to them and being on a first-name basis seems to be the tactic of the day. At least if we did it, we did in private. Now itís just so open. A new form of ďman love.Ē

What I do understand is that it is all changing. Whatís changing? Well, reporting, writing, talking, explaining ó and especially watching. Maybe itís the quality of this yearís Super Bowl. Hey, it might turn out to be the greatest game ever played, but if you donít bet on it, how many of us really care? This appears to be the era of devaluing. Clearly this issue doesnít apply only to sports, but weíre dealing with sports here. Does it really matter if Jason Varitek comes back? Will it really make a difference in our lives?

Here is the point Iím trying to make: We donít care nearly as much as we used to. We got our Lionel train underneath the Christmas tree. We got that bicycle we always wanted. And if anybody really gets a new car with a bow on top, we got that, too. Weíve gotten everything weíve wanted as sports fans. And because that is true, it brings up the new and very real question: Who cares anymore?

A little perspective
We have other things to worry about now. It was superficial anyway, wasnít it? You can see that now, clearly, canít you? If youíre out of work now, you can see that it only seemed really important to be a diehard fan or at least a blowhard fan. But it doesnít seem so important now, does it?

Itís not a crime or a sin to admit you donít care as much as you once did. Why? One, because we received all the championships we need under that holiday sports tree. Two, real life has gotten in the way of the fantasy that is Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, and the TD Banknorth Garden. By the way, how is it possible that TD Banknorth made it through when Citibank and Bank of America are pairing with every available financial entity? How does TD Banknorth make it? The point is, even sports has been devalued in our present state of affairs.

There are, however, two elements that keep sports somewhat relevant. They are gambling, and the avenue of sports as an escape from reality. Both in their own way can be labeled ďoriginal sin.Ē

Gambling speaks for itself. It has always been here and always will be. There is no better betting allure than the games themselves. As far as emotional escape therapy goes, the best experience at this moment is to go to a Bruins game at home. Itís remarkable. The best part is that there are no strings attached. Unrequited love. The other three teams now carry the extra baggage of expectations. Championship expectations.

The burden of history
There was a time when we could afford to enjoy those winning expectations. But now it has become a heavy load. We pay big money to see them win. Nothing else will suffice. The Bruins are the exception. At least for the moment, we pay for the experience of sharing their excitement. Itís like the original Larry Bird Celtics. A college atmosphere at the old Boston Garden. And itís pure for now.

Maybe itís because the Red Sox didnít get Mark Teixeira. Maybe itís because the Varitek story is far more smoke than fire. And who knows? Maybe they are actually a better team now over at Fenway Park. Maybe the Patriots will franchise Matt Cassel. Maybe Tom Brady wonít be back next year or ever. Maybe Bill Belichick will remake his staff. Maybe the Celtics will have another parade. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Too many maybes. We have enough maybes driving our real lives right now.

What if all of our sports teams had invested their money with Bernie Madoff? Now, that would have been a story. Sports need to take a back seat. In many respects, they already have. Consider the stupid items weíve been reading about sports teams laying off employees. Youíve got to be kidding. We pay a fortune for parking, a fortune for tickets, a fortune for food, and yet some kids have to be laid off so these teams can demonstrate how tough life is for them. As tough as it is for us. Just trying to be regular guys. Thatís kind of ironic. Teams try to demonstrate theyíre in the real world when the real world is less and less passionate about its real sports.

Youíll see it this summer. Red Sox tickets will be easier to get. At low prices. A lot of empty seats will be in view at Patriots games. And if the Celtics donít win, who could possibly predict where thatís going to go? Frenzy over.

We have our toys. We really donít need any more. What we really need is a place where we can enjoy our sports as an experience that doesnít define our lives, but simply enriches them. We had that once. But for now, those days are over. A least for those of us who understand what sports are all about in the first place. When we were not in first place.

Veteran TV personality Bob Lobel is an OT columnist and can be reached at otfeedback@globe.com

4 comments so far...
  1. Bob,

    I thought you had lost it...but your last several columns have been nothing but amazing. You're proof that some things do get better with age! And, you give me hope as I round 50. Thanks for the insight- and the sanity. Looking forward to more writing, but not everyday!

    Posted by Malmax January 29, 09 11:29 AM
  1. Why would you, in your darkest day, ever want to be Howie Carr?

    Posted by BobL January 29, 09 12:12 PM
  1. Is this an 'old-man' griping? Nothing stays the same. I would be interested to hear what younger sports observer would say (i.e. Michael Smith or Jason Whitlock).

    Posted by KileyU January 29, 09 03:27 PM
  1. This ain't Howie Carr at all. Howie Carr is a majoritarian bully. This is called "perspective" and comes from a man who knows New England sports and fans like few others, and isn't afraid to step aside from the parade and point out that the emperor's clothes are lacking substance. I don't always agree with Lobel, but I respect and value his voice.

    Posted by JP February 1, 09 05:38 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
Tony Massarotti is a Boston Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. He is currently spotlighted as a featured columnist on Boston.com.
Tom Caron serves as studio host for NESN's Boston Red Sox coverage.
Bob Lobel was a WBZ-TV sportscaster for 29 years, anchoring more than 10,000 sports reports.
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