Nobody’s buying it. Such is the absurd bounty of championships, division titles, and playoff appearances the city has accrued that Boston can no longer credibly claim to be the Little Sports Metropolis That Couldn’t. Boston’s baseball, football, basketball, and hockey franchises have each made multiple trips to the finals in the 21st century, and they have each come home with at least one championship. The Patriots alone have five, and are likely to contend again this year, despite having a quarterback who is 113 years old and has bones made out of quinoa and overripe avocado.
Read: How the Yankees became baseball’s most improbable underdogs
Red Sox aside, that success isn’t just recent. A few years ago, crunching some numbers for his Upshot column in The New York Times, David Leonhardt calculated that Boston has been the most successful sports city in America over the past half century, as measured by the percentage of possible championships its teams has won. (Pittsburgh and Los Angeles are second and third, respectively.) Measured across the full sweep of modern sports history, Boston is second in total number of championships won, behind only New York; Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia all trail, by a lot. For its part, Wallet Hub, a credit-reporting site, recently produced a ranking of 420 American sports cities using a range of metrics (wins and losses for the major teams, along with revenue from ticket and merchandise sales, among other measures). Boston finished first, beating out New York and, once again, L.A., Pittsburgh, Chicago, and 415 other cities.
So what explains Boston sports fans’ persistence in seeing themselves, with ever-declining plausibility, as plucky underdogs or lovable losers? Living in the political shadow of Washington; the celluloid shadow of L.A.; the historical shadow of Philadelphia; and the cultural, financial, and pretty much every other kind of shadow of New York, Bostonians carry a chip on their shoulder about their city’s slightly inferior relative standing among America’s major cities. That those other cities are mostly arriviste newcomers when compared to Boston only compounds the insecurity.
Second, the city’s teams and their fans have repeatedly turned to sports for a sense of redemption. At its most venal, that impulse has been addressed to self-inflicted wounds, as when the Patriots converted the depredations of repeated cheating scandals—the team was accused of spying in 2007 and of deflating balls in 2015—into concentrated rage that propelled them to Super Bowls. But Boston fans have also found solace in sports at genuinely trying moments. After 9/11, what outcome could be more triumphantly American than for the Super Bowl to be won, a few months later, by a team of Patriots? After the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, the Red Sox put the city—“our f—cking city,” as David Ortiz memorably put it—on their backs, and carried it to the World Series.