By Mary Paoletti
Following a sports team is like being in a relationship.
Some people just want to have fun. They're your Bandwagoners. Hop on while the thing is speeding toward Title Town and safely tuck and roll right before it crashes. These "fans" are thrill seekers, Good Time Guys (and Girls). They're the first ones to pop the cork on the champagne and start the chants. They also spook at the smallest threat of emotional attachment.
On the second tier sit the Day-by-Day, good-natured grinders. These fans watch at least 70 percent of games. They're invested but maintain some independence and outside interests. You will never hear a DBDer say "I could marry her" after two weeks of dating, nor would a DBDer freak out and say the entire Red Sox season is a wash after going 2-10 over the first 12. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen; it'll work out eventually. Fans this rational and mellow are considered mythical beings on par with centaurs and puck-moving defensemen.
Then there are those who believe in "till death do us part." These are diehard fans, or, masochists. They used to have six empty seats to each side during Celtics games and reveled in the exclusivity. They not only hated the post-2004 Red Sox popularity boon, but still fantasize about hunting down pink hats during the playoffs. They would never make fun of Tom Brady for anything, ever, because He raised Us up to Greatness. They're locked in to the Bruins for better or for worse, from preseason to offseason.
They're the ones hitting the ceiling of hell right now.
The Bruins are in the Eastern Conference finals (tied 2-2 with Tampa Bay) for the first time since 1992. It is, all at once, the most glorious and excruciating sports circumstance of the last two decades. The highs are astronomical: Tyler Seguin's two-goal, four-point accession in a 6-5 win. The lows feel irrecoverable: The surrender of a 3-0 lead -- mounted in the first period -- on five unanswered Tampa Bay goals.
"They'll only break your heart," they say.
I heard a lot of this grumbling on Saturday. When the Lightning evened the series at two, younger fans were angry but probably believed more in humanity's Rapture than Boston's.
The others were comfortably disgruntled.
How to cope? As in any relationship: Defense mechanisms.
They claim they never got their hopes up. They remember Ray Bourque and the ugly way he hit the wall in Boston. The guy -- one they loved -- dedicated his life to them for two decades just to realize he could only achieve ultimate happiness somewhere else. It was heartbreaking. Bourque returned to Boston with the Cup. He wanted to remind Bruins fans they had his heart; they showed up to reassure Bourque they still treasured it and the effort he gave. A bittersweet moment. Borrowed joy.
Someone Else's Cup would never be cheered again.
No matter how devoted, a person will grow impatient waiting for things to "work out". I get that. I know a girl who thinks, at 25, she's past due for an engagement ring and she doesn't even have a boyfriend. If I told her to imagine waiting 39 years, her head would explode.
It doesn't mean the oldest Bruins fan you know is too hardened to believe in Boston; he does. He's biting back so hard on hope he tastes blood.
He just won't gush about it.
There's too much to lose. If the Bruins blow the series, Bandwagoners will hop off and be no worse for wear. The Dailies will be disappointed but slide over to baseball for a bounce back. Diehards? Most will scoff and say they expected the worst all along. They'll cover the hurt with bitter bluster.
On the other hand, a series win -- a trip to the Stanley Cup finals -- will lift them up one cloud from Heaven.
Makes sense. The toughest relationships always seem to have the sweetest payoffs.