Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sporting Chaos in Boston

Complete strangers embrace and jump up and down and laugh together.  Someone clutching a pint glass sends beer showers over the roiling crowd.  Voices raise to a deafening crescendo in a unified chant.  Car horns blare persistently into the early hours of morning.  Flares glow eerily red and emit clouds of smoke among the gathered crowds, providing a dramatic background to a scene already exploding with emotion.

Protest?  Demonstration?  Nope.  Celebration.

This is Rome in 2006 when Italy won the World Cup.

This is Boston in 2011 when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup and again in 2013 when the Red Sox won the World Series.

This is any stadium or arena or café or bar or park where fans gathered to watch their favorite athletes battle against another team in some epic sporting event and those athletes WON.

In Boston, the celebrations don't end with the final buzzer or the clock hitting zero.  Imagine a pot of boiling water.  It bubbles and spits like crazy until you lower the heat, but even then the surface moves and the steam keeps rising.  The second you turn up the heat, the water instantly boils.  This is Boston, where the post-game excitement simmers until it erupts again for the Rolling Rally.

Boston celebrates championship wins by its major league sports teams with a parade through the city.  The Rolling Rally is not just any parade ... it's a DUCK BOAT parade!  Starting in 2002 when the New England Patriots won the Superbowl, the victorious teams have employed the same colorful duck boats that provide city tours to carry the players, coaches, support staff, and their families around the city so they can celebrate with their fans.  Football, basketball, baseball, AND hockey have all had their Rolling Rally hey-day in Boston.

The 2011 Rolling Rally for the Bruins' Stanley Cup victory was my first experience.  I remember walking on the streets by TD Garden before the parade started and seeing lifelong fans wearing brown-and-gold Bruins gear that must have been over 30 years old.  Small children wearing black-and-gold fuzzy wigs perched on their dads' shoulders and waved foam bear claws.  Some enterprising individuals toted homemade Stanley Cup replicas across the Commons.  The parade was on a Saturday and the crowds in the streets were tremendous.  By the time it started, thousands of people were packed in shoulder-to-shoulder waiting to get a glimpse of that elusive silver cup and to congratulate the players that earned it.  The entire city oozed joy and festivity.  This was the energetic atmosphere of a university campus on football Saturday multiplied a thousand times.

Mwenzie and I were lucky to be in the crowds outside Fenway Park when the Red Sox won the World Series in October 2013.  It was 11pm in the middle of the week, but hordes of people milled around blowing vuvuzelas, yelling, climbing street lamps, waving flags and jerseys and hugging strangers.

Those mobs were nothing compared to the Rolling Rally a few days later.  The opportunity to come together as a city in celebration was even more poignant because it was only a few months since the bombings at the Boston Marathon, which is normally an equally joyous occasion, and Bostonians were eager for any opportunity to emphasize their resilience.  The Rally paused for a moment on the marathon finish line and the players draped a Red Sox jersey with the number 617, one of Boston's area codes, across the top of the World Series trophy during a moment of silence.  Then a singer started into the words of 'God Bless America' and was promptly drowned out by the swell of voices from the thousands of spectators crammed onto Boylston Street.  It was a moment of sadness and memory in a day otherwise brimming with celebration and excitement as the duck boats progressed from Fenway through the city and into the river.

Boston sports fans are legendary for their loyalty.  The city's teams are ingrained more deeply into its culture than any other city I've experienced.  It's difficult for a non-native to fully comprehend, but when you've been absorbed into the crowds of jubilant fans waving as the duck boats roll by, you know you've had a glimpse.

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