Where’s the buzz? Where’s the electricity? Where are the downtown rallies and the entrepreneurial types hawking bootleg team merchandise from busy intersections, city ordinances be damned?
Where is the unbridled emotion befitting a Super Bowl lead-up, a force so potent that it has been known to inspire bouts of relative insanity, like the Philadelphia gentleman so moved by the Eagles’ NFC championship game victory last year that he steered a dune-buggy up the famed “Rocky” steps in celebration?
It seems fair to wonder, as the Patriots prepare to make their unprecedented ninth Super Bowl appearance in the past 18 years — including their third straight — whether some of the thrill is gone.
Or, to paraphrase American president and Patriots enthusiast Donald Trump, has the team simply done so much winning that folks have grown tired of it?
“Patriots fans don’t care anymore,” opined Massachusetts native and Esquire political writer Charles P. Pierce in a recent appearance on NPR’s “Only A Game.” And while that might be a stretch, it’s a sentiment that has gained some traction as the championship trophies have piled up — particularly in light of how other NFL cities have responded to postseason success.
At this point last year, after all, police in Philadelphia were basting light poles in grease to keep crazed Eagles fans from scaling them. And forget the Super Bowl; when the Kansas City Chiefs advanced merely to the playoffs, the city transformed into a sea of red — flags flapping from light poles in the city’s Plaza district, fountains dyed Chiefs red.
Indeed, to those hailing from less-blessed NFL locales — cities in which a Super Bowl appearance would register as the event of the decade, if not the century — the local lead-up to this year’s game can seem a bit . . . underwhelming.
“Pretty tame,” says Andrew Kubitschek, a longtime Vikings fan from Minnesota who’s lived in Boston for the past four-plus years. “Like any other day.”
If it were the Vikings gearing up for a Super Bowl, he assures, businesses in Minneapolis would be closed down and the streets would be pandemonium. “It would be very Philadelphia-esque,” Kubitschek adds, referring to the 2018 Eagles playoff run.
Meanwhile, in Boston . . .
Just days out, light poles on Boylston Street were void of much in the way of Patriots regalia. A team banner hung half-heartedly from City Hall, though city officials had no other plans to honor the team.
Even the Public Garden’s famous duckling statues, draped last year in miniature Patriots jerseys ahead of the Super Bowl, have so far gone unattended this time around.
Over at Teddy Ballgame’s, a sports apparel stand in South Station where “Beat LA” T-shirts line the tables, Kevin Greene says business has been slower than this time last year, when his “Dilly, Dilly, Beat Philly” shirts were flying off the tables.
“We’re used to this kind of thing,” shrugs Greene, who remained hopeful sales would pick up as game day drew closer. “If we hadn’t been to so many, they would’ve been fired up for weeks.”
Pets, too, apparently are not feeling the fervor. Nancy Maida, of Pawsh Dog Boutique and Salon in the Back Bay, reports that sales of Patriots-themed pet gear — bandanas, collars, miniature jerseys — were down 60 percent compared with this time last year.
And there’s more (or less, depending on how you look at it): According to ticket search engine TicketIQ, this year represents the lowest demand for Super Bowl tickets in 10 years.
Part of that, company founder Jesse Lawrence says, can be attributed to the Rams’ still-developing fan base; the team is in only its third season in Los Angeles after relocating from St. Louis in 2016. But it’s also the result of what he calls fatigue on the part of Patriots fans who, like supporters of the college football powerhouse Alabama, have seen championship game appearances become an almost annual tradition.
“Fatigue is very real,” Lawrence says. “If you’ve already spent tens of thousands of dollars to go, it’s harder to do it again.”
In the city’s defense, February football is not exactly a new concept.
Despite what New England quarterback Tom Brady might have you believe, precisely no one considered the Patriots a long shot to make it back this year; at the start of the season, in fact, no team had better odds of winning the Super Bowl than the Patriots.
In Boston, this kind of success has simply become the status quo. And who gets overly excited about the status quo?
“I feel like we’ve kind of gotten to a point where it’s hard to accept anything but going to a Super Bowl,” says Danielle Laurion, a 29-year-old from Somerville who works in public relations. “It’s horrible, but it’s so true.”
Still, many scoff at the notion that the enthusiasm has waned. They point to the still sizable attendance at recent championship parades — and a Super Bowl sendoff that on Sunday drew an estimated 35,000 fans to Gillette Stadium — as evidence that the euphoria is as potent as ever.
Some insist, in fact, that the Patriots’ run of Super Bowl appearances has actually grown more thrilling with time, Brady’s inevitable retirement lending an added dose of intrigue each time around.
“You may not get to see this again,” says Samantha Aylward, 33, an accountant from Haverhill.
At The Fours Boston, near TD Garden, manager Jim Taggart hasn’t noticed much difference from Patriot Super Bowls past. Though it’s primarily a Celtics and Bruins bar, he says, conversation this week has inevitably centered on the Patriots.
If there has been a dip in buildup ahead of this year’s game, he writes it off to a fan base that — like the quarterback it roots for — has merely improved with age.
As he puts it, “I think they [pace] themselves a little bit better than they did the first few times.”Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.