Welcome to Boston: A former title town turned big-market land of cost-cutting rebuilds

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It wasn’t too long ago that the debate raged.

Nope, not the Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick Great Debate that’s gotten so many so hot and bothered of late. That’s still burning like the sun.

Rather, it was the question of whether Boston is a baseball or football town?

Are the Red Sox or the Patriots the kings of the New England professional sports jungle? Even considering the overall popularity of the NFL compared to that of MLB, there was at least a discussion, a comparison.

Red Sox Nation or Patriot Nation?

Plenty of fans were actually passionate citizens of both mythical lands, expending great energy and spending even more money supporting their championship-chasing pastime purveyors.

Those fans were blessed by their favorite teams and loyally blessed those teams in return.

To steal the old Vince Lombardi proclamation -- winning wasn’t everything in Boston, it was the only thing.

Appropriately, World Series titles and Lombardi Trophies flowed to the fan base like the overpriced draft beers filling their plastic cups at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

Cue the Duck Boats for another socially compact championship parade!

All was good in the sports world. All was right as the Red Sox and Patriots seemingly competed with each other to be the more successful Boston franchise as much as they competed with their own sports’ rivals. They pushed each other to be better, to win more.

But, as is the case with so many things in our lives, then came 2020.

Patriots GOAT QB Tom Brady took his talents to Tampa Bay, where he’s currently leading the lowly Bucs into this weekend’s NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.

Red Sox MVP outfielder Mookie Betts was traded to the Dodgers, where he won a World Series for his newfound legions in L.A.

And when the Red Sox and Patriots finally plowed through the challenges of COVID to return to action, they just weren’t the same on the field or, come to find out, off it. Not only were they not nearly as good, they apparently weren’t trying to be as good.

In late October Belichick gave his former offensive coordinator and current SiriusXM NFL Radio host Charlie Weis what the coach later called an “honest answer to an answer question,” seemingly making excuses for a Patriots team that was about to drop to 2-5 on the season.

“Because of our cap situation in this particular year, this is kind of the year that we’ve taken to, I would say, adjust our cap from the spending that we’ve had in accumulation of prior years,” Belichick said, essentially admitting the 2020 Patriots were literally not as invested in winning as they’d been previously.

This comment, combined with an earlier fall declaration that “everything we’ve done for the last 20 years, and rightfully so, was for Tom Brady” certainly made it sound like Belichick was explaining the way New England “sold out” with TB12 in town and the resulting reset that was necessary for the team.

It was curious, at best. And certainly rather off-putting for a man who previously avoided excuses the way Donald Trump avoided Joe Biden’s inauguration.

If winning is contagious, then it seems rebuilding of formerly elite, driven teams through verbalized cost-cutting measures might be as well.

Not only did the Red Sox unload Betts as the superstar outfielder approached free agency, but just this week the team made it clear it wasn’t planning on following up last year’s last-place, COVID-shortened season of misery with any sort of recharged run for the playoffs.

Nope, after spending a summer with a more cost-effective roster including starting pitchers that even its poor overmatched fill-in manager Ron Roenicke struggled to name, Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy told the Boston Globe this week that, like the Patriots this fall, his team is not “all-in” for 2021.

“I think it would be inaccurate to say we are going for it with an all-in approach that perhaps we did prior to the 2018 title,” Kennedy told the Globe. “We cherish that title, and all of them, but the way we built that team came at a price, which included importantly a depleted farm system and some depleted draft picks along the way. So we are building back up, and as we do this hopefully the right way, we’ll have a chance to be competitive in the American League East in 2021, but also for the longer term.”

And there you have it. In clear and concise words from two men atop the organizational depth charts we’re told that the Patriots played this past season with accounting measures on the mind and the Red Sox will do the same this summer, really for the second straight season.

While once upon a time Boston’s two top sports franchises were racing each other to collect 10 titles between them over the last 20 years, now it’s about resetting the books and restocking the shelves. And maybe, just maybe, being “competitive.”

It’s sad, really.

Sad for them. Even more sad for the fans who so loyally follow and invest emotionally if not as much financially in these fan-free pandemic times.

It’s like watching a pair of former heavyweight champions step into the ring for a years-too-late pay-per-view fight, no longer capable of throwing knockout punches but just trying to last through the round.

Will the Red Sox and Patriots return to glory and challenge for championships in their respective sports once again while simultaneously fighting for the top spot in Boston sports?

Obviously.

Of course that return to glory will come sooner if Red Sox and Patriots actually commit to going “all in” to win again. Because right now, to hear them tell it, that’s just not the case.

Oh well, at least we still have the Celtics and Bruins in Boston. They still seem invested in trying to win a title.