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Winner takes all the envy

Beyond Hub, some resent that sports victory is ours

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / June 19, 2008

The Wheaties boxes were already being printed with Celtic forward Kevin Garnett on the cover. A Philadelphia Inquirer headline yesterday read, "Rich get richer in Boston." And now it can finally be said: Boston is America's reigning City of Champions.

But as we revel in glory and festoon the duck boats for today's championship parade, the resentment index is steadily rising in the sports bars of New York, on radio talk shows in Philadelphia, and around the streets of Chicago.

"We hate you. Everybody hates you. You can go to any part of the globe. People hate you," said Steve Trevelise, a talk-show personality on 610 WIP-AM in Philadelphia, a city that hasn't had a victory parade since 1983, the longest drought of any four-sport city.

"Any fan right now is jealous. When guys close their eyes at night, if they ain't thinking women, they're thinking Boston," he added. "Do you have to win at everything?"

Hands down, there's a feeling that Boston is on top in a way that sports hasn't seen in decades. New York in 1969-70 had an awesome run: The Jets won the Super Bowl, the Mets won the World Series, and the Knicks won the NBA championship.

In the 1980-81 season, Philadelphia teams reached the finals in all four major sports, though lost three of those championships.

But few cities have been able to sustain a string of sports success the way Boston has. The Patriots have won three of the last seven Super Bowls, the Red Sox have triumphed in two of the last four World Series, including last year's, and now the Celtics have returned to glory after more than two decades.

"I tell people all the time, 'Man, how would you like to be a Boston fan?' " said Bill DeFrance, a bartender at the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago. "How great would that be - to have that in your city? Sports people are happy when they're winning. It gives a whole uplift on your day."

"Celtics provide lesson for all of sports," was the headline in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times.

Envy appeared to be the order of the day in Connecticut. At least that was the indication from the Nutmeg State's governor, M. Jodi Rell, who sent a letter to Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck pleading with him to bring the championship trophy to Hartford.

"A rally in Hartford would be a slam dunk for the thousands of Celtics fans from Connecticut and a chance for area residents to show their admiration for the team and honor them for their championship season," Rell said. "The team has strong Connecticut ties."

But rising to Goliath status is earning scorn for the team. An ESPN columnist from Detroit was suspended after she compared rooting for the Celtics to "saying Hitler was a victim" and "like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan."

"We'll give you your kudos - Boston has been damn successful," said Jeff Riger, a talk show host on a Detroit sports talk radio station, 97.1 The Ticket. "But the city of champions? I would disagree with that. . . . The majority of fans would say we're just as good as Boston, if not better."

Some in other cities pointed out that the Bruins have not won the Stanley Cup since 1972. And meanwhile, they point out, the New England Patriots, if they were true champions, would not have destroyed an undefeated season by losing the Super Bowl and would not have needed sideline videotape to defeat the Jets.

"The lowly Jets! They've got to do that to the Jets to win?" said Bart Alexander, general manager of Mickey Mantle's Restaurant and Sports Bar in Manhattan. "There was vindication when the Giants handed it to the Pats. If it weren't for the Giants' good fortune beating the Pats, it'd be a really envious situation now."

He also pointed out that the Celtics started winning only after spending heavily on two All-Stars, Garnett and Ray Allen.

"It's like an overnight team," Alexander said. "It's not like they built the team from scratch."

Part of the cause of animus may be that, despite decades of being humble losers, Boston fans have not proved to be gracious winners. There's a chest-thumping tone that has eclipsed the downcast looks of years past, when the city couldn't seem to win.

Bar owners report that Boston fans are much more boisterous than in the past. Two months ago, a Red Sox fan buried a David Ortiz jersey in Yankee Stadium. Celtics fans, tasting victory on Tuesday night, began chanting, "You're not Jordan!" at Kobe Bryant.

"You used to think about lovable losers," Alexander said at the Mickey Mantle sports bar. "Now they're all out. They want to show off a bit. They used to come in and keep quiet. Now they're noisy."

He then made a comparison that could give gloating Bostonians cause for reflection.

"You used to talk about how bad Yankee fans were," Alexander added. "Now Boston fans are taking on that character, and it's across the board, not just baseball, but basketball and football."

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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