There are exactly 86 days until the Boston Marathon. Three days from now is the 30th anniversary of January 26, 1986. Chicagoans will commemorate the occasion with pride. To Bostonians, it’s since been eclipsed by happier times.
January 26, 1986 was, of course, the day of my ninth birthday party. The underdog Patriots were unexpectedly in the Super Bowl to face the fearsome, but supremely arrogant Bears. Yes, the Bears gained fame for their hideous Super Bowl Shuffle video, but they should really be remembered for their litany of goofball commercials. Notably, rookie defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry devoured delicious McDLTs.
In retrospect, New England fans should have known the Patriots would lose when they countered the Super Bowl Shuffle with something exponentially more hideous, and quickly forgotten.
But oh yes, the main event of the day was my ninth birthday party. Because the Patriots were playing in the Super Bowl the Sunday after I turned nine, I had the brilliant idea to invite my friends over for some football-themed cake and to watch The Big Game in New Orleans on my parents’ 20-inch color television. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, after an 0-for-6 performance by Patriots quarterback Tony Eason, a bunch of bonecrushing hits by Richard Dent, and a nauseating touchdown run by The Fridge himself, the Pats lost 46-10 and I ended my birthday party in tears.
While that particular day ended in sorrow, as ’86 progressed it became a landmark year in Boston sports and truly the finest year in Boston sports of my lifetime until all the teams began winning championships in the 21st century. As I was at such an impressionable age, I’ve always looked back on ’86 as the year which cemented my sports fandom into a lifelong passion. I spent many evenings that summer sitting in the kitchen, listening to Ken Coleman and Joe Castiglione’s radio call of the Red Sox (less than half the games were on TV in those days), and keeping score on a scorecard. That passion influenced what I chose to study in college, my career after graduation, even when I’d be willing to conceive a child (January is bad because nine months later is when the World Series occurs).
Boston remained at the center of the American sports landscape throughout ’86. With a healthy Bill Walton coming off the bench to join Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge, the Celtics fielded one of the best teams in NBA history, finished 67-15, and stormed to their 16th championship. My beloved Red Sox got a 20-strikeout game from Roger Clemens in April and unexpectedly cruised to the AL East title before blowing the World Series in soul-crushing fashion. They’d finally end the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, coincidentally 86 years after their previous World Series title. Another 86.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle nationally but never off the radar locally was the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day. In ’86, a tall Aussie named Rob de Castella won the race.
If you’re not from Massachusetts, you truly cannot relate to what the marathon means to Bostonians. This didn’t start with the bombings, although they certainly brought the race national attention and linked it even further to the city. Run on a Monday state holiday that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, the marathon brings the entire eastern third of the state together in celebration. All the local TV stations cover it live from start to finish. Every school kid knows the progression of the course, from Hopkinton to Ashland to Framingham to Natick to Wellesley to Newton (hills!) to Brookline and on in to Boston, past BU and Red Sox fans in Kenmore Square on Beacon Street, finishing with a right on Hereford, a left on Boylston and a final straightaway past the public library to cross the line in Copley Square. Incidentally, my dog is a Boston Terrier. I got him as a puppy in 2004, the year the Red Sox won the World Series. I named him Copley.
To anyone who grew up there, Boston is the marathon. Nothing else comes close. When I learned via email that the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute had offered me a spot on their team for the 2016 race, I literally got goose bumps. The next 86 days cannot go by soon enough, though I’m sure they’ll fly by faster than a Kenyan. Once April 18 arrives, I will be trying to finish the race as quickly as humanly possible while simultaneously wishing the experience would never end. Seriously, you don’t beat the Boston Marathon.