So we've had our little run as America's new Titletown USA, and it's half over -- and will perhaps be completely over on the night of Feb. 5. If and when that happens, I don't want to hear any whining. You got that?
This past year we had it all -- if by ''all" we mean championships in the two biggest sports in the country. It would be hard for me to imagine there are many people around here who are fans of either the Bruins and/or Celtics, and only the Bruins and/or Celtics, and who were completely unmoved and uninterested with the happenings at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park. I cannot personally conceive of any such limited fandom, although I suppose we must always allow for an oddball or two.
Don't buy into the foolish conceit postulated by some overzealous sorts who think we are special in our fandom, that we actually deserve our good fortune because we are, well, Us. We are a great baseball town; no doubt about that. We used to be a great hockey town, and if we're talking about the high schools and colleges, we still are. But the Bruins have allowed their aura to diminish; theirs is nothing more than a cult following. We were never, of course, a true basketball town. We were, for a time, a Bird town, which is not the same thing.
Nor are we a true football town. We are a Patriots town, yes, and how could we not be? Not since late in the Old Celtics period (1968-69, culminating in title No. 11) have we had such a beloved group to cheer for. The problem is, for most of the population what happens in the rest of the NFL might as well be taking place on Neptune. You hear anyone talking about the Chiefs and Chargers possibly becoming the two best teams ever to miss the playoffs? I don't.
We may have a million colleges, but we're sure no college town. The lack of general interest in a Boston College basketball program that has done great things since the turn of the century proves that. They should be selling out every night.
So what are we? Sadly, we're a baseball town, and we're a lot more of a football town than we used to be, but after that we're a look-in-the-mirror town. We talk a good game, but when it comes to being a vibrant, all-around sports town, we're all hat and no cattle. A real sports town wouldn't allow radio colossus WEEI to spend 100 percent of its time discussing matters relevant only inside of 495, while ignoring the rest of the world.
That said, let's take our annual look at the State of the Teams. As always, we go in alphabetical order.
Yup, you could be Chicago.
Around here, you only have to be 37 or so to remember when your captain was skating around the rink, holding the Stanley Cup aloft. In Chicago, you have to be 47, give or take. You guys toast Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers, and Derek Sanderson. They toast Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, and Elmer ''Moose" Vasko, not to mention Eric Nesterenko.
Off the ice, it's been an interesting year. After years of Wizard of Oz-like seclusion in Buffalo, the owner came out from behind the curtain and there was a period when we couldn't shut Jerry Jacobs up. He almost had me convinced he really did know how many players were on a team. Oh, I don't mean on a roster. We all know he counts every penny. I mean, on the ice at one time. What evidence did we have all these years that he actually knew?
On the ice, we are more than a month into the post-Joe era, and those fans who still care are waiting for the 2005-06 Bruins to take shape. Trading Joe Thornton was the big move. It won't get any bigger than that. If the Bruins don't reach a higher level and stay there, it will almost certainly mean the end of both the Irish Mikes. Messrs. O'Connell and Sullivan are big boys. When and if that moment comes, they will say the right things. But they will be ex-employees, regardless, and the Bruins will be no closer to a Cup than they were one, five, or 10 years ago. And the most steadfast, loyal, and passionate core following of any Boston professional sports team will continue to suffer with not even the faintest hint of daylight at the end of a tunnel that runs from Causeway Street to Lake Erie.
I bought into it. I like Danny and I like Doc and I like Delonte and I like Al and I am impressed by Pierce's virtuosity (the man does know how to score and is a really tough rebounding guard), and I have acknowledged I was wrong about Ricky. I thought this would be a very entertaining team that would please its basic fan base and would help bring back the disgruntled, the spoiled, and anyone else coming under the general heading of Fallen Away Celtics Fan.
I was had.
The Celtics are not good. They're not horrible, but they're not good, either. If they were actually good, we would go into the new Garden on a night when they are playing an average NBA team and fully expect them to win. But we can't do that. We can't do that because this team can lose to anyone, any time, even on its home floor. This team is totally unreliable.
Now they can be good, which is not the same as saying they are good. They have some good components, and on those rare occasions when most of the components are in play on the same evening, they look like a nice basketball team. With 47 minutes 59.2 seconds played against the Pistons, they had 'em beat. It was legit. I saw it. But .8 is .8 and Rip Hamilton is Rip Hamilton and it didn't work out. Of course, that was 57 days ago, and I'm not sure they've played a game that good since.
People are always on me about Doc and I try to hold them off because I am human and there are few people who have come into the league in the past quarter-century I like more than Doc Rivers. Believe me, this is a man you want representing your team and your city. I know he knows the game. But -- yup, here it comes -- I see little evidence his team is buying what he's selling. We are well into the season and they are not getting any better. They have wasted a favorable home schedule in November and December, and what reason is there to think it's going to turn around?
If I'm missing something, please tell me.
Will they defend? Bruschi or no Bruschi, probably not. But they could, and given where they were not too long ago, that's an amazing thought.
Think about where they have come from. Not all that long ago, they were little better than the NFL version of the Clippers. It was as if that 1986 Super Bowl appearance had never happened. Then came Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe and another Super Bowl and after that came Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli and Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri and Gillette Stadium and three championships and now the New England Patriots are America's team de tutti teams, the very personification of all that is pure and selfless and, yes, efficient in the frivolity we know as Sport.
They're back in the discussion, all right. They may not be the favorites, but they are universally regarded as the ultimate tough out, the team you don't want to mess with in the playoffs. That's because everyone knows they will be awesomely prepared by the coach and that no one will have to motivate them. With the Patriots, it's Been There, Done That, and Let's Do It Again.
And if they do pull it off . . . Coach Bill might not stop with the Mona Lisa hint of a grin. He might go for the complete ear-to-ear beam.
His fans are dazed, confused, and more than a little annoyed that the front office seems to be under some sort of Bronx-cast spell. They see a team adrift, and they are very unhappy.
If the Master Plan calls for treading water in '06 while awaiting the next wave in '07, then have someone come out and say so. I don't know if that's necessarily true, but if it is, say so. The intelligent fans will accept it, and you can't worry about the rest of them. But show them someone is in charge. Don't have press conferences at which Uncle Larry is flanked by nephews Ben and Jed. Just don't. It looks bad. Hey, and if Theo really is coming back, then get him back. But if he really is coming back, the whole thing makes even less sense now than it did seven weeks ago.
Now then. You can't trade Manny. I don't care what he says. What's he going to do? Stay home and watch Oprah? You keep him. He'll get his 40-130 and everything will be fine.
Look, we all know it will come down to pitching. If Schilling can win 15, if Beckett can win 18-20, if Wakefield continues along as the next Charlie Hough (the next Niekro is a bit of a reach), if Papelbon, no matter how he's used (I'd start him), is as good as he appears to be, and if Craig Hansen can close, they'll win their share, against the Yankees or anyone else.
But get somebody -- not Larry Lucchino -- out front. The fans aren't buying the Ben Cherington/Jed Hoyer thing. It makes them nervous. So, John Henry, stop with the Fantasy League prep for five minutes and take care of business here.
So where are they, one decade into their existence? Good question. Professional soccer in this country is only marginally bigger than it was 10 years ago. It is not yet a water cooler or talk-show topic. It remains an acquired taste. I'd love to know how many people have just read Taylor Twellman's name for the first time. The Krafts would be appalled.
Quick! Who's the coach?
Lord knows the Krafts have lavished time and money and lots and lots of love on their baby. If interest and bankroll were all it took, the Revolution would be filling the joint. But soccer is soccer in this country. It's been the Next Big Thing for 40 years.
In case you're interested, five Revolution players have been invited to try out for the national team that will play in the 2006 World Cup. They run a very good operation in Foxborough. It's probably better than we deserve.
P.S. The coach is Steve Nicol. And he's good.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.