In the struggle for supremacy, curses are exchanged, aspersions cast. These two great American cities cannot avoid one another, and they are on a collision course once again in the Super Bowl.
Sunday’s big game between the New York Giants (who really play in New Jersey) and the New England Patriots (home town: Foxborough, Massachusetts) is stirring passions across trading floors, bars and chatrooms throughout the U.S. Northeast, a proxy for greater battles over commerce, academia, cultural achievement and clam chowder.
“Half this firm has roots in Boston, the CEO is a Bostonian,” said Peter Kenny, managing director of the Knight Capital brokerage in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
“I don’t think there is another team that is represented on a fan basis at Knight other than these two teams, so that is really an intense conversation. It almost lacks humor, yet at the end of the day it’s a good thing, it is very much about camaraderie,” Kenny said.
New York surpassed Boston in population, cultural significance and financial strength about 250 years ago, and the rivalry has been lopsided ever since. Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles have taken turns as the challenger, but New York has reigned supreme.
“If the subject is sports, New York hustles to stay up with Boston. If the subject is economic, population, media and all that other stuff, it’s not really a competition,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a history professor at New York’s Columbia University.
“But I don’t want to say anything against Boston,” Jackson said. “If all of America was like Boston, sophisticated, cultural, we’d be a better country.”
Blue-blooded Bostonians have seen New Yorkers as somewhat vulgar: cut-throat in business and eager to raid smaller cities of their treasures. Many lamented the loss of William Dean Howells, “the Dean of American Letters,” who moved from Boston to New York in 1886.
New Yorkers may go to Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a first-rate education, but they’ll return to seek fortunes on Wall Street, and they’ll take the Metropolitan Opera over the Boston Pops.
William M. Fowler Jr., a history professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said tension dates to the 1600s, pitting the Pilgrims and the Puritans of Massachusetts against the Dutch in New York.
They called each other names, one of which evolved into the word “Yankee,” which was “not exactly a term of endearment,” he said.
“We always have land problems,” Fowler said. “Massachusetts thought its boundaries went all the way to the Hudson River, and so the constant squabbles over that with the Yorkers, we called them Yorkers, they called us Yankees.”
The rivalry continued through the 19th Century, over railroad lines, maritime trade and access to the west, he said.
“It’s going to go on forever, I think,” he said.
In sports, New York has generally led with the ironically named baseball team the Yankees, taking 27 World Series championships while their arch-rival Boston Red Sox suffered a notorious 86-year drought. But Boston has become the undisputed leader in the past decade.
Red Sox championships in 2004 and 2007 helped erase the heartbreak over Babe Ruth, sold from the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1919 for $125,000, and lesser tormentors such as Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2002 and Boston’s NBA Celtics (2008) and NHL Bruins (2011) have also won titles this past decade.
Still, New England tempers run high toward the Giants, the team that ruined what was about to become a historic, undefeated season for the Patriots before they gave up a game-winning touchdown in the closing minute of the 2008 Super Bowl.
“That we are playing the Giants, the team that destroyed the perfect season, that further spices it up,” said Robert Reynolds, chief executive of Putnam Investments in Boston and once a finalist for the NFL Commissioner’s job in 2006.