This piece has been updated to reflect the Cubs' World Series win.
The Chicago Cubs are no longer massive losers. Early on Thursday morning, the Cubs earned their first World Series title since 1908, beating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings in a decisive Game 7. Fans of the Boston Red Sox got to know what winning felt like 12 years ago, when Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Dave Roberts, and friends took out the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series and then the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. How does it feel for a downtrodden fan base to finally get the victory it’s been waiting for? On the eve of Game 7, Slate’s sports editor Josh Levin talked to Slate contributor, Massachusetts native, and Boston sports fan Seth Stevenson about that curse-breaking 2004 playoff run and whether he misses the high-stakes, high-anxiety days of pre-championship fandom. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What does it feel like in the immediate moments after your team wins the World Series?
With the Red Sox in 2004, it was as much about coming back from 3–0 to beat the Yankees as it was winning the World Series. What I remember is walking around the day after the Sox won the ALCS, with my Red Sox cap on and spotting other Red Sox caps, just nodding to each other and feeling full of goodwill and pride that whole next day.
The immediate feeling, it’s like an out-of-body experience, like you took a Vicodin and everything is wonderful and cinematic. A weight gets removed from you, this thing that you didn’t even realize was there on your shoulders. You feel weightless for a time—that will last for several days. It’s a sense that all is well with the universe.
How long did it take for that initial feeling to wear off? I imagine you’re thinking about it all the next day, and it’s all you’re thinking about. And then one day you realize you’re not thinking about it anymore.
Yeah, it probably took like four days. But even then it was still a significant part of my thinking. Through at least Christmas, I would think about it a lot, and it would feel so good. I went to the ring ceremony in Fenway on Opening Day the next year to write a dispatch for Slate. By then, that initial thrill had faded. It was a formal marking of, Yes, we did this, but that pure euphoria had faded.
What was it like watching the Red Sox, defending World Series champions, during that 2005 season?
In 2005, they made the playoffs and got crushed by the White Sox. It was pretty much the same team, and I remember thinking, What happened? The 2004 team seemed willed by the hand of God, and then the 2005 team just loses unceremoniously in the first round. It made it feel more like happenstance and less like destiny, but maybe it was destiny that was required to reverse the curse. I don’t really believe in fate, but the thought crossed my mind.
When they lost in 2005 and in the years after, did you feel content because the Red Sox had already won a championship?
Oh, for sure. The fact that they lost the next year, it really didn’t bother me that much. It was surprising because it really was the same team—it seemed like they would probably do it again, and then they just didn’t. It was maybe a little disappointing that they didn’t cement themselves as an all-time great franchise, but it didn’t hurt that much.
To compare that to the pain of 2003—when Aaron Boone hit that home run, that is by far, without any competition, the worst sports moment in my entire life. The morning after that happened, I remember thinking, Why do I watch baseball? Why do I spend months following the ups and downs of a team and knowing every last person on its roster and having strong feelings about middle relievers if it’s just going to build me up and create this intense pain and shame and a hollowness in my heart? I remember feeling very strongly the next day—maybe for a good three days after that loss—that I was going to stop watching baseball.
Losing to the White Sox in 2005 was nothing like that. I really couldn’t get too upset about it.
Do you feel like the massive accumulation of pain over the years was worth it in the end?
Yes, it was absolutely worth it. The way they lost to the Yankees in 2003 made it that much sweeter, and so powerful and so cathartic. If they’d done it without the loss from the year before, I would have been able to summon the pain of 1986 when I was in sixth grade. But it was so fresh in everyone’s mind, and it had been the worst way to lose. Looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen any differently.
When they won the World Series again in 2007, did you feel like there were diminishing returns?
Hugely diminishing. It was still really fun and really nice that they won, but it was not the same at all. They’d already broken the curse. They’d already avenged the horrible Yankees. It was just—it was really nice. I felt like a regular baseball fan again.
What has it been like to root for a team that—though it hasn’t won every year—is perennially a contender and successful?
It’s fun to be a Red Sox fan because they make the playoffs a lot. It’s a lot less fun when your team is mediocre or really has no prayer of making the playoffs. What’s fun about being a fan is watching your team in big games.
I wouldn’t really want to go back to how it was before 2004, although I do miss it sometimes. Watching the pre-2004 Red Sox was a completely different kind of fandom. It was like opera. It was life or death for me. I somehow felt like I couldn’t be a full person or a restful person until they won the World Series. After 2004, it was not that life-or-death feeling. It was not entwined with who I am as a person. It was just like watching baseball. I miss that passion, I miss that life-or-death, that whole-body feeling I used to have watching baseball. But it was kind of a relief to be honest, to just watch my team like a fan of any other team, to just be happy when they won and disappointed when they lost.