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E.J. Dionne Jr.

Underdogs, Overjoyed

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, October 29, 2004; Page A23

Here's the deal: We never liked losing. We were not psychologically dependent on the rewards of existential anxiety and all that other gobbledygook people would throw in our faces. We didn't treasure our history of being beaten down and disappointed. Always, always, we wanted to win.

And finally we did.

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The Intensity Gap (The Washington Post, Oct 26, 2004)
Behind Bush's Rhetoric (The Washington Post, Oct 22, 2004)
Faith Without Fealty (The Washington Post, Oct 19, 2004)
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If you think that Boston Red Sox fans will go through an identity crisis because, after 86 years, we won it all, you don't understand us. It may not be your fault. You have probably read too many of those writers who will have to find new work now that they can no longer exploit our suffering.

They won't be able to peddle those books about the alleged curse. They will have to stop putting us on the couch. We won't have to deal with condescension that was disguised as sympathy. We will no longer be regarded as victims.

We will be able to welcome a new crop of writers who will produce books with great titles like "The Red Sox Century," "The Red Sox Dynasty" and "Why the Scruffy Guys Won." Oh, yes, and the obligatory self-help book: "Playing Theoball: What Every Business Person Can Learn From the Red Sox GM." (Theo, please call my agent.)

True, this should be a time for graciousness. So I will admit the truth of one aspect of the conventional narrative: We loved rooting for the underdog. RedSoxism breeds into you a dislike of arrogance and a mistrust of front-runners who shift sides to be with a winner. It demands a sense of loyalty that is often tested. It thus reminds you of your own weaknesses. Yes, I'll acknowledge that in a couple of really bad years, I flirted with the Orioles. Look, they had Cal Ripken and were against the Yankees, too. But being unfaithful to the Sox felt sinful. I put the temptation behind me.

And you have to love this particular Sox crew for being so un-corporate and untidy. They look like the kind of people who routinely get thrown out of President Bush's rallies.

Speaking of which, I can imagine there are readers out there who wonder why, just a few days before The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes, someone with rather pronounced views on the subject would devote all these words to a sports team. Shouldn't I leave sports to the really smart guys like Boswell and Kornheiser?

I will not engage in the standard dodge: that I am writing about sociology or the political meaning of the Red Sox triumph. (How bad would that be? "Democratic insiders said the Red Sox victory shifted 3.5 percent to Kerry in Wisconsin and Iowa, guaranteeing him the election." Or: "The last time the Red Sox won the series, the incumbent party suffered a disastrous loss in the next presidential election.")

No, I am writing this simply because I've been waiting a long time to do it and in tribute to my son. (You knew it would come back to some grandfather-to-father-to-son thing, didn't you? Hey, some cliches are true.) James grew up in the Red Sox Diaspora, hundreds of miles from Fenway. He was tempted, oh so tempted, by his Yankee-rooting uncles and cousins. One uncle had the nerve to take him on a tour of Yankee Stadium at a very impressionable age. My son likes Joe Torre, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams.

But in the end, James saw no value in rooting for a team that always bought its way into the playoffs and whose owner always seems on the verge of firing Torre. The Red Sox were much more interesting and, my son was convinced, on their way up.

Having raised the kid to what others said was a lifetime of torment, I had to keep my promise to bring him to Fenway for the first time. People laughed when I said that "this feels like The Year" and that I would kick myself -- and, more to the point, my son would have reason to kick me -- if I didn't keep my word. We went to a game during the last regular-season series against the Yankees. We lost that one, but my son kept the faith.

So I believe from the bottom of my heart that with his visit to Fenway, James broke the curse. If there ever was a curse, which is, of course, a ridiculous invention.

I am so looking forward to the rest of this century -- especially if the voters don't let The Most Important Moment in Sports History distract them entirely from The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes.

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