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In Boston, It's Not News If It's Not About Patriots


BOSTON — Radio talk show host Upton Bell focused on four topics on his program here Monday: Iraq, Boris N. Yeltsin's latest illness, Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the Patriots' decision to abandon Boston for Hartford.

"I guarantee you," Bell said as he prepared for his broadcast, "the Patriots will blow everybody else off the air."

It's been like that since word leaked out last week that the state's beloved, if also bedraggled, football team was packing up and heading south.

"Hartford," sniffed Eddie Andelman, another radio show host. "The only reason to go there is if you have to stop for gas on the way to New York."

In case anyone thought that this erstwhile citadel of culture was interested in more weighty subjects, there were all the local television stations cutting into Kenneth W. Starr's testimony last week to broadcast a briefing by Patriots' owner Robert Kraft.

"Look, when you think about it, Clinton and impeachment is about a stained dress," said Bell, son of former football commissioner Bert Bell. "This is about the best business deal since King Solomon reigned in the Middle East."

It's also about the passionate confluence here between sports and politics. Almost anywhere, it's easy to argue that the one is only a variation of the other, but in Massachusetts, sports and politics fuel fervor in a particularly personal way.

"The greater Boston area has taken a psychological hit" said Boston University sports psychology professor Leonard Zaichowsky. "You wake up one day, and you're a quarter less of a major league city."

In these days of football fury, angry charges were leveled at Kraft, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran and recently elected Gov. Paul Cellucci.

Kraft got the blame for daring to move his team to a crumbling Northeastern city that nevertheless has promised the Patriots a new $350-million stadium replete with premier seats and luxury boxes. The deal is tied to the construction of a hotel and convention center complex--for which Kraft will pony up $50 million--that Menino opposed in his own city.

Finneran was pilloried for insisting Kraft was bluffing when he began looking to move. Cellucci took heat for promising in his campaign to keep the team here, come Hartford or high water. So now, Andelman said, "people are perceiving this as a kidnapping by Connecticut."

Boston has the oldest university in the country. It has more Nobel Prize winners per square (very square) inch than anywhere in the known universe. It has famous art museums, a legendary symphony orchestra and poetry in its subway cars. "Boston always wants to be seen as better and brighter, and sports is an easy way to do that," said Patriots season ticket holder Skip Perham, a public relations specialist here.

Not only are the Patriots packing up and leaving, but Boston is now known as the city that was too cheap to sign Mo Vaughn. The power-hitting Red Sox first baseman is entertaining an $80-plus -million-dollar offer from some team in some place called California (OK, it's the Angels).

"Why is this more important than impeachment?" Perham asked unrhetorically. "Well, everything seems to be collapsing around us. Everybody's just pretty damned depressed."

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