After Robert Redford's character wins a grueling California senate race in "The Candidate," he mutters one of the famous last lines in movie history:
"What do we do now?"
Perfect ending to a great movie. And during this 2005 Red Sox season, I found myself repeating those same five words again and again. What do we do now? What happens after a championship season that can't possibly be topped? What happens when your identity gets stripped away, when you get the chance to start from scratch? What happens after you've been released from the sports fan's version of purgatory? For the love of God, what do we do now?
This isn't just an ordinary sports hangover. Only three major professional leagues hand out trophies every year. (Note: I refuse to include the NHL anymore, not after last year's mindless lockout, and not when there's a reasonable chance that next year's playoffs could be televised exclusively on the Game Show Network or MTV2. So there.) These three leagues feature 92 teams in 38 different cities/regions, some of whom have endured title droughts of 25 years (Philly), 26 years (Seattle) and infinity years (New Orleans, Utah, San Diego, Sacramento, Buffalo). So when you're fortunate enough to witness a title season, realistically, you shouldn't complain about anything for five years (my old Five-Year Grace Period rule). When a World Series title doubles as a region-wide exorcism -- as was the case with the overdue Red Sox -- you could argue that the period doubles to 10.
At the same time, decades of heartbreak programmed Sox fans to question every decision, assume the worst and never take anything for granted the same way you could condition a dog to flinch by repeatedly whacking him in the head. Certain realities will never change. Many Sox fans assume they know more than the current manager, that they could run the front office better than the current GM. Many Sox fans will always be afraid of the Yankees, regardless of what happened last October. And many Sox fans are conditioned to devoting their summers to a star-crossed, ultimately disappointing baseball team. With that last variable suddenly removed from our lives, it feels like winning the lottery and not having to worry about money anymore. You simply lose all perspective.
Do we long for the old days? Of course not. You can't imagine how good it feels to watch a Fox broadcast of a Yankees-Sox game without the obligatory 320 Babe Ruth references, or flip through the Globe during a losing streak without reading a generic Curse column. In my office, I framed two newspapers from last October -- one from the Herald right after Game 7 of the Yankees series, one from the Globe after the World Series sweep -- and find myself glancing at them at least once a day. I'm not even kidding. Did it really happen? It happened, right? Next Tuesday, Major League Baseball releases a 12-DVD set featuring every unedited game of the 2004 ALCS and World Series; not only is mine on order from Amazon, I'm more interested in re-watching those last eight games over any live games this month.