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Marathon Monday: Boston at its Best

One especially patriotic marathoner is among many runners making their way down Boylston Street on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

This past week has been huge for Boston sports. The Celtics and Bruins are killing their respective first-round playoff series, the Red Sox are kicking off their season (albeit in a mediocre fashion by Red Sox standards), and the Patriots drafted Tim Tebow. OK, so the Pats didn’t get Tebow, but Belichick-disciple Josh McDaniels did. Instead, the cornerback-heavy Pats picked cornerback Devin McCourty in the first round. Whatever, it’s the offseason. There’s time to iron things out.

On second thought, no, it’s not Patriot offseason. Monday was Patriots’ Day. Here’s a quick Patriots’ Day fun fact: The holiday is only observed in Massachusetts (in honor of the Battles of Lexington and Concord), Maine (which was once a part of Massachusetts), and Wisconsin (because what else do they have to celebrate?). For some, Patriots’ Day may just rub in the fact that the Pats don’t kickoff the 2010 season for another five months. For most, Patriots’ Day is associated with a far richer Boston tradition: the Boston Marathon.

The Diversity

Despite all the recent hullabaloo generated by the Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox, the Boston Marathon was the best sporting event that Boston had to offer this week. The Marathon attracted an estimated 100,000 spectators to watch some 27,000 participants labor along the 26.2-mile course. Among the crowds were tens of thousands of intrigued onlookers, 36,974 fans who poured out of Fenway after the morning Red Sox game, thousands of runners’ friends and family members, hundreds of drunk college kids, a handful of Wellesley College students at the famed “scream tunnel” near the 13-mile mark, and probably a few clueless drivers waiting to cross Beacon Street.

Many of those spectators are likely also Boston sports fans, but the Marathon is different. Every single spectator is cheering for every single runner. Every fan wants every runner to succeed. It’s hardly about winning. When Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot came barreling down Boylston Street in record time, everyone cheered wildly. A few minutes later, the crowd made its Patriots’ Day patriotism known with even louder cheers for American Ryan Hall as he cruised into Copley for a fourth-place finish. But that wasn’t nearly the end of it. The cheers down Boylston continued throughout the morning and into the mid-afternoon as runners completed the final leg of their journey.

The Unity

The Marathon brings people together. It is very rare under any circumstance for so many people to be united for a common cause in the same place at the same time. In athletics, it is nearly unheard of. The Boston Marathon, however, has that power. No cups of beer are thrown, no runner is taunted or booed, and no fans get into fights about which runner is the best. It is a display of monumental athletic accomplishment and the respect that people have for that accomplishment. Last I checked, human beings are not supposed to run 26.2 miles in one outing. For many people, I would assume that running 26.2 miles in one week would be a lofty goal. Heck, I know people who dread driving 26.2 miles. Witnessing first-hand some of the 27,000 people on their way to achieving this milestone was incredibly inspiring, extremely humbling, and downright awesome.

Everyone who could get their hands one of the little blue or red Boston Marathon cowbells was sounding them as though Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell were present. On Beacon Street, a runner with her name on her shirt could expect at least three personalized cheers per minute from fans that she doesn’t know and will never see again. A guy who appeared to be struggling could expect a high-five and some words of encouragement from a random onlooker. I am hard-pressed to come up with another sporting event in which cheering is a non-discriminatory activity.

The Brevity

But discriminatory cheering is why most people are sports fans. Imagine a Red Sox/Yankees series at Fenway in which no one booed the Yankees, or a Celtics/Lakers game in the Garden with people cheering equally for Paul Pierce and Ron Artest. The Marathon has come and gone, but never fear, none of that equal cheering will stick in anyone’s head. Boston sports fans still harbor their current anti-Heat/Orioles/Sabres sentiments. The universal cheering phenomenon in Boston is limited to Marathon Monday. In a perfect world, it would happen four more times each year – at the championship parade for each the Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins, and Patriots. But that perfect world would be someone else’s worst nightmare. Thus is the nature of being a sports fan.

So now we are back to throwing beer, taunting, booing, and fighting. Go Celtics! Go Bruins! Go Sox! I’m counting down the days until the Pats kickoff! Among those constants, Marathon Monday gives us a brief annual opportunity to ease our raging discriminatory fandom and adopt a temporary cheering perspective: It’s not a sport, it’s a marathon.

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