We’ve got an interesting coincidence in the world of sports tonight. The feature event is the big Monday Night Football battle between New England and Carolina (8:30 PM ET, ESPN), with the Patriots looking to extend their lead in the AFC East and the Panthers hoping to keep pace with the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
But this isn’t the only area where the fan bases of Boston and Charlotte will clash–in hockey, the Bruins are playing the Hurricane. Both the football and hockey games are on Tobacco Road. All that’s left is for the Celtics to pay a visit to the Bobcats…but that won’t happen until next Monday.
With this backdrop, TheSportsNotebook is going to keep with the cross-sports theme and take a look at the race for that most coveted of honors–most successful sports fan base–and see how the 2013 race is progressing. It’s particularly relevant in this context, because it all might come down to the ultimate fate of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Every February, after the Super Bowl is complete, TheSportsNotebook picks the fan base that had the most to cheer for in the sports year that starts with the NCAA Tournament and ends with the Super Bowl. Last year, San Francisco sports was a runaway winner, with the Giants winning the World Series, and the 49ers falling just a play short of winning the Super Bowl. Those wins coupled with Stanford’s run to the Rose Bowl and a nice showing from the San Jose Sharks in the NHL.
The 2013 season has been mostly controlled by the Louisville sports market. Rick Pitino’s basketball program set the tone with a national title to become the first official champion of ’13. The Louisville baseball team made the College World Series. The two nearest NBA cities–Indiana and Memphis–each made the conference finals. The nearest baseball team is Cincinnati, and they made the playoffs.
Louisville is also the Triple-A affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals, who reached the World Series. And though it’s not officially part of the 2013 sports year, the Louisville football team beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl in early January and has only lost one game so far this season.
The sports fans of Louisville have enjoyed both depth of success, as well the ecstasy of winning a championship, thanks to Pitino’s team. They were poised to run away with this award come February, but in the aftermath of the baseball season, the city of Boston isn’t ready to give up quite so easily.
Boston can’t match Louisville’s depth, but Beantown has a World Series title thanks to the Red Sox, and have also seen the Bruins make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. As of today, they’d still have to be ranked behind Louisville, but the gap was made close enough that we can’t call it over just yet.
What if the Patriots win the Super Bowl? Then, Boston sports has two major sports titles, and a third team making the championship round. While college sports are barely relevant in Hub culture, Boston College has enjoyed a comeback season in the gridiron and got themselves bowl-eligible last week. If the Eagles could win their final two games, get to 8-4 and go to a decent bowl game, it would further strengthen the city’s case.
Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any question that New England must win the Super Bowl–not simply make it–for this to become a serious debate. No matter what happens in college football, Louisville is going to have more depth to their success than Boston, and the only way for the Hub to turn this into an argument is if they get two titles to one for the Louisville market.
The oddsmakers say it’s a 10-1 chance that Belichick and Brady hoist their fourth Lombardi Trophy this February in New York. It suggests that in the world of sports fan bases, Louisville remains the favorite for the 2013 title, but not to count out Boston sports just yet.