Getting the Patriots to play better


I wonder if the Patriots would have looked so bad Sunday, if you couldn’t see them. I mean, that is, if I’d listened to the game on the radio.

Gil Santos, the play-by-play guy, would have said, “Cleveland is lined up in the ‘I’, the wide receiver to the far side, right. McCoy has Hillis behind him. The snap, the handoff to Hillis, running right, he gets to the outside, he’s at the 30, the 20, the 10, touchdown.”

Then Gino Capelletti, the analyst, adds, regretfully, “Nobody touched him, excellent containment by the Browns. He’s running through and around the Patriots defense.”

No, I guess the answer is that the performance was pitiful, an absolute downer, whether you see it or hear it. Gil is mostly X’s and O’s, but the disappointment in Gino’s voice was clear as if in HD. He’s a former Patriot, after all, a Boston Patriot from the AFL days, a wide receiver, a placekicker, and a Patriot Hall of Famer.

But, if listening to the ball game doesn’t take much away from the experience, does it add anything? I think, yes. The listener has to do more work. He has to fill in all the missing stuff — the character development (Who is this Peyton Millis anyway, and how can someone that big run so fast?), the plot (These Browns, 3-5 after Sunday, weren’t supposed to beat the, now 6-2 Patriots. What happened?), the sympathetic situations (Brady couldn’t complete a pass. Pray that nothing’s wrong with his aim. Maybe it’s the long hair.), the beginning, the middle, the end of the story (At each of these locations in the drama, the Browns led.).

As a spectator, listening on the radio, I might have stayed for the sad ending. Watching it on the TV, I got up, groaned, and went out to do something fun, like rake leaves.

Radio, like a book, can force you to do the things that movies and television do for you. It did such work for everybody years ago. I remember lying in bed, when I ought to have been doing my homework, eyes open and fixed on the invisible ceiling where I saw the brilliant Boston Garden parquet.

“On the right side of the key, Rapid Robert has the ball.” Johnny Most described the on-court action. His croak filled the black room’s distant spaces — no headphones in those days. “Cousy fiddles and diddles, fakes left, goes right, behind the back to Heinsohn for two.”

When I was a child, it was easy to see in the dark. I watched the Celtics on the radio when they were the team that won every year. I heard Jungle Jim Luscotoff discipline opposing forwards who had taken for granted an easy night on the boards against Boston. Most had the play-by-play, and I was watching with him.

Fenway Park also glowed in my bedroom on summer evenings. The green and amber semicircular dial might as well have been the impossibly green infield. And beyond it, Ted Williams stalked sullenly in the shadowy acreage between the dial and the Green Monster. Nothing could have been sharper and more detailed than Fenway when the Sox were on the radio playing night game and Curt Gowdy was announcing it.

Years later, when Ron Brown led the Vineyard to basketball championships, a reporter doing sports desk duty could cover the game from the news room after everyone else had gone home.

And, if there was no game? A kid could listen to Amos ‘n’ Andy and that rascally Kingfish, or the Bickersons, Jack Benny, or the Great Gildersleeve, or Duffy’s Tavern, or the Lone Ranger.

“Blanche, for Pete’s sake, will you let me sleep,” Don Ameche as John Bickerson would whine. I learned to whine from Don Ameche.

At least one of my children listened to these stories on CDs and fell asleep to the Lone Ranger hi-ho-ing Silver in the blackness beside his bunk. To him, I hope, the dark is as fun and mysterious, as full of stories and laughs, as it was for me.

Or maybe music. With music, you could write your own script. When the Everly Brothers sang “Wake Up Little Susie,” I went on a date with the Susie of my dreams. I was terrified at what we’d say to her parents when we got home late.

Actually, I never had the problem. It was a radio romance, a mind’s eye love affair, and although Don and Phil were addressing their tune to Susie, not me, I was the one moved by it. She was home with her parents, probably asleep, beyond my fevered reach. Which, as I look back on it, took nothing away from the high def intensity of my experience.

Years later, grown up but very little wiser, I found myself commuting for a while four hours each way to and from the Island. Heading this way, usually in the early evening, there was often a Mets or Yankees game on the smelly old diesel Peugeot’s AM tuner. Once the Reds were playing, but this was after Charlie Hustle had become a manager. Often, I didn’t know the announcers or the players or the ballpark, but the experience was luminous anyway, hurtling along the Mass Pike in the blackness, with a twinkling ballpark on the dashboard, and the smack of the bat and the crowd’s roar right there in the car.

In so many ways, it was better than being there, especially if the team you were rooting for played dismally. What you didn’t see, you could imagine, and, if you were inclined, you could improve a bad situation, even if the outcome wouldn’t actually change.