On Super Bowl Sunday, Why Will New York City’s Political Leaders Be Rooting for the Patriots?
That includes the mayor, the City Council speaker, and, yes, the President.
The oppressive reality of yet another New England Patriots appearance in the Super Bowl is so predictable, New York sports fans are pretty much numb to it. But when their opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles, they start feeling the pain again.
The hatred between Eagles and New York Giants fans is hotter than the fire of a thousand suns, and a New York Jets fan would sooner root for the Boston Red Sox than the Patriots. Add a halftime show by milquetoast ex-Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake, and it's shaping up to be a long Sunday night.
But for all the reasons New Yorkers (and their regional neighbors) might be turned off by the Super Bowl contestants, the sports allegiances of their local political leaders aren't among them.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson — both raised in Massachusetts — have recently affirmed their support for the hated Patriots. Perhaps this display of backbone has earned New Yorkers' grudging respect, or perhaps no one's paying attention while we all suffer on a barely functioning subway system.
So brazen are de Blasio's Boston bona fides that he dared to reject even the pretense of rooting for the New York Yankees during last season's playoff run — rejecting the national consensus that the Bombers had become temporarily likable underdogs. The mayor told the New York Daily News last October that it was "constitutionally impossible" for him to root for the Yankees, and pledged to continue his mayoral boycott of Yankee Stadium. He was re-elected in a landslide a few weeks later.
Gotham's previous mayor Mike Bloomberg (ANOTHER Massachusetts native) cynically flip-flopped while in office, embracing the home teams for political convenience. Yet when Bloomberg said in 2003, "I share a bond with Yankees past and present who have left Boston to find success in the greatest city in the world," the eclipse-level of shade he threw at his former Beantown cohort made him momentarily seem like a genuine chop-busting New Yorker — almost.
In neighboring New Jersey — a state split among Giants, Jets, and Eagles fans — former governor Chris Christie infuriated constituents when in 2015 he ostentatiously cheered for the hated Dallas Cowboys as a guest in Jerry Jones' owner's box. But in keeping with Christie's unapologetic abrasiveness, he explained that when was was a kid the Giants were perennial losers who used to make his father angry while watching them on TV, and the Cowboys were the nationally televised "America's Team" with a winning tradition and happier fans. Christie chose to root for the Cowboys and has maintained his loyalty to the team of his youth and he doesn't care what you think about it.
But Christie was already a scandal-plagued lame duck at that point, where his newly elected successor, Gov. Phil Murphy, has taken an even more iconoclastic stance in potentially alienating Garden State voters. Like his fellow Masshole political transplants across the Hudson River, Murphy has declared he’s rooting for the Patriots in the Super Bowl, a bold move for a chief executive whose Trenton office is within shouting distance from Philadelphia.
Conversely, you would sooner see a restaurant in Faneuil Hall serving Manhattan clam chowder than an admitted New York sports fan holding high office in Boston.
When Long Island native William Weld served as Massachusetts governor from 1991 to 1997, the affable blueblood carpetbagger played it politically safe by claiming his only sports allegiance was to the Dodgers — a baseball team that hasn't called Brooklyn its home since 1957.
Sports are so entwined with the New England civic identity that native Bostonian politicos with barely a passing interest in sports know they need to at least attempt to prove their street credibility to their constituents, resulting in some memorable face plants.
The late former mayor Thomas Menino served for 21 years yet somehow confused beloved former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and beloved former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri in a rambling anecdote during a statue unveiling for beloved former Boston Bruins star Bobby Orr.
When Boston Brahmin John Kerry was a senator running for president in 2004, he claimed his favorite Red Sox player was "Manny Ortez" — the likely result of overhearing the names of popular sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Years later as secretary of state, Kerry praised MLB teams who paid touching tributes to the Boston Marathon bombing victims by playing the Fenway Park seventh inning stretch anthem "Sweet Adeline" in their ballparks. Of course, Kerry meant to refer to the Neil Diamond classic "Sweet Caroline" — named for the daughter of Boston's favorite son, President John F. Kennedy.
But that was nothing compared to former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's disastrous radio show appearance in 2010, where she described former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (who had endorsed her opponent, Scott Brown) as a "Yankee fan" — a widely ridiculed gaffe that may have contributed to her losing a close special election for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's senate seat.
For all the hay made out of their sports rivalries, New Yorkers and Bostonians have a lot in common; grumpiness, stoicism in bad weather, and a predilection to retire in Florida, to name a few. But when it comes down to it, New York can't compete with Boston when it comes to the intensity of sports fandom embedded into the regional identity.
New York has two professional teams represented in each of the four major North American sports leagues (and three professional hockey teams, if you count the NHL's New Jersey Devils as you should considering that you can see the Empire State Building from the front of their Newark arena), whereas Boston has one team in each league to represent all of New England. Half of New York sports fans hate their crosstown rivals, and given the whole "capital of the world" thing, plenty of New Yorkers couldn't care less about sports. In Boston, even casual fans know they need to be able to name drop a few players' names or be left out of most conversations — which of course, is how you end up with "Manny Ortez."
There is one more New York-based politician who will likely be pulling for the Patriots this Sunday: Donald Trump, who counts the team's owner, head coach, and quarterback among his close, personal friends. But given that Trump is a native New Yorker who once tried to snatch Lawrence Taylor from the Giants for his own football team and who has variously claimed to be a lifelong devotee of both the Mets and the Yankees, authentic fans have just the pejorative for his style of bandwagoning sports allegiance: frontrunner.