In the sports universe, Boston earns its nickname as 'The Hub'

The city's dominance in football, baseball, and basketball has fans in a rare feel-good mood.

Winslow Townson
Scott Wallace - staff

At first glance, Boston looks as it always has. There's still a lot of middle-aged guys walking around in duck shoes and there's still no way anyone could call the building formerly known as FleetCenter attractive.

But Boston's teams are enjoying a level of success that is unprecedented not only here but anywhere else.

The Red Sox won the World Series for the second time in four seasons, the New England Patriots are on their way to yet another Super Bowl, and the suddenly star-studded Celtics have the best record in the league.

As painful as it is for New Yorkers to ponder, Boston has become the world's best professional sports town, a city full of winners, not whiners. And perhaps the most amazing thing about this transformation is that only a few years ago, Boston was a city of slumped shoulders, a city whose sports fans would readily and almost proudly tick off their agonizing sports moments – the Babe Ruth trade, the Bucky Dent home run, the Bill Buckner error – until you wanted to scream, "OK, enough already! Go tell it to Oprah."

The guys in duck shoes have some swagger now. And so do the guys in Patriots starter jackets. Even the most veteran Boston sports observers can't help but be impressed.

"Has anyone in any city ever lived through anything like this?" asks Bob Ryan, a longtime sports columnist for The Boston Globe. "This is new territory we're exploring. It's beyond fair, it's beyond right, it's not what a fan existence in any city should be. I say to the fans, if you're not enjoying this, it's on you."

Except for some Patriots fans who aren't exactly famous for their restraint, many New Englanders seem to be enjoying their newfound success in a cautious, almost philosophical way.

Lee Hemenway, an architect, says the first phrase he learned watching Boston sports as a kid was, "Wait until next year."

"Now," Mr. Hemenway says, "who really wants it to be next year?"

Certainly not the businesses around the Garden, which are enjoying the sudden surge in interest in the Celtics. The Celtics recently announced that merchandise sales at the Garden have increased by 93 percent over 2006. The team also expects to sell out all 41 regular-season games, compared with only nine sellouts last season.

Who wants to wait for next year? Certainly not Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, who, after years of watching the accomplishments of Bill Belichick and Terry Francona, now can feel for himself what it's like to have a little success in Boston. "It's just neat to be around winning," Mr. Rivers says.

Rivers likens the current excitement in the town to what it was like in New York in 1994 when the Rangers and Knicks were playing in the NHL and NBA Finals on alternating nights. "The big difference being that the Rangers won but we didn't," says Rivers, who was a guard on that Knicks team.

Waiting for next year certainly is not in the cards for Garnett and Ray Allen, who after years of coming up short in Minnesota and Seattle believe that they finally have a chance to be part of something really special this season.

Garnett, who received a standing ovation after he threw out the first pitch before a Red-Sox Orioles game the day after he was traded to Boston, has become a fan of all Boston sports. He even made the trip to Foxboro to throw a ball with Randy Moss.

"Management here appreciates talent," Garnett says. "In Boston that's what it is."

Most Boston fans realize the rarity of their situation, Celtics announcer Mike Gorman says. They know they are more likely to see Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the sideline in a tuxedo than a stretch of winning by three teams like this again. "You go anywhere in this city and it's just electric," Mr. Gorman says. "I think the fans understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Even one native New Yorker couldn't help but be impressed by the way sports have unified the town, how everything seems to stand still on Sunday afternoons in Boston when the Patriots are on television.

"As a New Yorker, I envy what they have," says Matt Weinberg, a Smithtown native who is a senior at Tufts University. "Whenever Tom Brady connects to Randy Moss, you can hear it on my campus."

Still, old habits are hard to break. And WEEI, a sports-talk radio station with a potty-humor bent, still gets plenty of calls to its infamous whiners line.

These days, whines have very little to do with the home teams. Instead, whines focus on Jets Coach Eric Mangini, Roger Clemens's steroid use (this, predictably, is a particularly popular subject in Boston), and the personal hygiene of a particular radio host.

Suffice it to say, few fans in Boston have any sympathy for the drought New York fans are experiencing. There were no words of encouragement for Yankees and Mets fans, who endured very Boston-like disappointments in 2007. And no tears are being shed for the hapless Knicks.

Instead, Boston fans are focusing on themselves, looking inward at how to adjust to their newfound good fortune, replacing their trademark whine with, dare we say, a bit of gloat.

"I've never experienced winning of this kind," says Hemenway. "Actually, it's pretty easy to adjust to."

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