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SPORTS GUY: YOU CAN GET THERE FROM HERE

2/27/2008

Remember the end of Shawshank, when Andy Dufresne is sanding his boat in Mexico without a care in the world? That's how every Red Sox fan spent this past winter. We're out. Life is good. Now were just waiting for our Red to show up: Cubs fans. The Cubs-Sox bond can't match Andy and Red's - a 20-year friendship highlighted by lots of chess, the expansion of a library and Andy buying a rock hammer from Red for $10 (almost as good a deal as Miami getting Shaq). But a kinship exists well beyond the twinned years of 1908 and 1918. Lumped together as lovable losers, both fan bases fell back on the same woe is us mentality, constantly rehashing past failures and worrying that their lives would pass without a championship. As we both headed for a Series showdown in 2003, unspeakable tragedy hit both of us: the Bartman Game and the Grady Little Game. We were a collective mess. So, yeah, we're connected. That's why Cubs fans can learn from us.

Lesson No.1: all the pain and heartbreak are worth it. I swear. When the Sox finally became champs, it felt like we'd lost 25 pounds, gotten rid of nagging migraines and bought a new back on eBay. The prevailing theme in the press was, "What happens to these sad sacks if they actually win?' Here's what happens. You celebrate for the entire winter. You buy all the DVDs and books, all the hats and T-shirts ... basically, you act like a tourist who just won big playing bingo on a cruise ship. You sigh in relief because your children can lead normal lives as baseball fans. It's the baseball version of a colonic: all the poison is released. Of course, you have to get there first. I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the 2004 season, wondering if there was any rhyme or reason to what happened. Remember, if the Yankees throw out Dave Roberts at second, Boston gets swept, Francona probably gets fired and I go on a three-state killing spree. But Roberts made it by a hair, sparking an eight-game winning streak where every single break went Bostons way, like a craps table catching fire. Homers hitting foul poles, broken-bat bloopers landing for singles, A-Rod karate chopping Bronson Arroyo. Now I understand what happened: after 86 agonizing years, we ran out of bad luck. I also know that someday that has to happen for Chicago, too. My best advice to Cubs fans? Start thinking of yourselves differently. Stay away from the negative TV shows and apocalyptic newspaper columns. You can follow the team just fine without being infected by that stuff. The media-driven Curse of the Bambino had gotten so out of control by last fall that Foxs pre-game playoff shows could have been called Babe Ruth: A Photo Essay. But true Sox fans never discussed The Curse. If anything, we were hopelessly romantic, always believing this would be The Year. When our hearts were broken, wed fall into a Dylan McKay-like tailspin but regroup with a curious optimism that renewed itself each winter. By last October, we carried a certain edge, personified by Schilling's Why not us? campaign and the self-proclaimed idiots who scoffed at the idea of a jinx. Seriously, why not us? If the black sheep Patriots could turn into a dynasty, anything was possible. We really believed that. Cubs fans need to believe too. Don't let the media define you. So let the Bartman grudge go, even if the rest of the world won't. Not only were 20 other fans going for that foul ball, the game was lost because Dusty didnt trust his bullpen. Don't chalk up team failures to a curse; the Sox proved that logic wrong. And when it comes, don't be afraid to give yourself to a playoff run. When last year's Yankees series started, Boston players were growing Fu Manchus and passing around a midget, Schilling was starting message-board threads, I was refusing to wash T-shirts covered in bird poop, some fans didn't shower while others didn't take off their caps - everyone did his part. When your turn comes, you need to do the same, three million people rubbing the same rabbits foot. I know it sounds crazy, but it works. You aren't the losers people want you to be. Remember, big-market teams have a huge advantage over small-market ones. (As much as I love to think the Sox were underdogs, their total payroll exceeded the average Bruckheimer budget.) If you want, pray the team trades Nomar, for karmic reasons only. Like Andy told Red: Hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies. Cubs fans, I hope this column finds you and finds you well. See you in Mexico someday.