Boston's 'moment,' on gridiron and beyond

From football to Kerry to a convention and a labyrinth of tunnels, it's a renaissance for a city of Brahmins and beans.

Despite a spectacular victory, the most unusual message from Sunday's Super Bowl came from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who urged the people of Boston not to pull the city apart during postgame celebrations.

He was only partially successful: Thousands of fans took the streets, causing mayhem that was responsible for at least one death.

For many it may have seemed an unusual image: Boston residents rioting down rabbit- warren streets, sullying the stoops of their brownstones, seems more suited to 1776 than 2004. Indeed, Boston is perceived as the cerebral neighbor of New York, a city that rolls up its cobblestones by 10 p.m. and probably has as many Unitarians as U2 acolytes.

Yet Bostonians may be forgiven if they are shedding their button-down reserve for a little revelry, at least of the civil kind. This is, after all, something of a "moment" for the city.

On top of the Patriots' triumph, Democrats may be poised to anoint a local son, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, as one of two men eligible to lead the free world for the next four years. This July, Boston will host its first ever major party convention. It will also have a chance to display the fruits of one of the largest construction projects since mankind first put mallet to stone, the Big Dig, a large part of which Bostonians, somehow, got the rest of the country to pay for.

All that's missing from the trophy case at the moment may be that one thing New Englanders, in all their self-flagellating Calvinism, may not be able to cope with yet anyway - a World Series title. "In a way, life in cities goes in cycles, and I think Boston is having a resurgence right now," says Thomas O'Connor, a historian at Boston College.

Boston, of course, has never been a complete footnote. Consider the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a high-profile tea party, and Paul Revere's ride. The city's dynasties - Adamses, Emersons, and Holmes - defined the nation's political and intellectual character for almost a century.

But the dawn of the Machine Age and the rise of immigrant city bosses swept power away from Boston's Brahmin class and put it into the hands of industrialists like Carnegie and politicians like Boss Tweed. If Boston still was home to the nation's natural aristocracy, by the early 20th century cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York had become the center of most everything else.

Contemporary Boston still plays host to America's royal family, the Kennedys, and remains the recognized center of East Coast intellectualism. Its biotech industry is the strongest in the world, and medicine and financial services continue to center here. Combined with Larry Bird's Celtic dynasty and the storied - if not completely successful - play of the Boston Red Sox, the city remains a vital engine of culture and economics.

"The convention in July is a once-in-a-lifetime platform to showcase the new Boston to the whole world," Mayor Thomas Menino said in his recent State of the City speech. "Everyone knows about the revolution that began here over 200 years ago. Now the world will hear about today's revolutions, in high tech and life sciences, in education and medicine."

For many residents here, the flurry of successes highlighting Boston comes as a nice validation. "It's times like these that Boston doesn't seem to be the parochial city it usually is," says John Strand, a sales manager for The Boston Globe. "It's getting the national attention it deserves."

After the Patriots' 32-29 victory, football people are starting to bandy about the term "dynasty." Quarterback Tom Brady has won two Super Bowl MVP awards and is on his way to becoming New England's version of Joe Montana. Coach Bill Belichick's intelligence is lauded so consistently by the media, he has come off looking like Stephen Hawking with a headset.

Like the Patriots, Kerry has been underestimated much of his career, but race after race he has found a way to win. In some ways, Kerry's ascent within the Democratic Party is a vindication of the old Boston: its privilege, aloof dignity, and spirit of achievement.

And as host of the Democratic convention, the city essentially gains titular recognition of a leadership role in party politics it hasn't had since Joe Kennedy declared he was a Democrat. The convention, say experts, will remind the nation of Boston's political roots, from city bosses like James Michael Curley, to imperious statesmen like Tip O'Neill.

Boston will show off the grandest parts of the city during the convention, including Fenway Park. But it will be the $14.6 billion Big Dig that could win Boston some big-city respect - and residents and leaders know it.

Says former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis: "There's no question that the combination of the harbor cleanup, the dig, our historical buildings, and new architecture work very well together."

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