The Patriots and the Red Sox -- back to back

About a month ago, we had the opportunity to watch the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox play in back-to-back games. The Patriots kicked off against the Houston Texans at 1:00 p.m., and the Red Sox went up against the Tampa Bay Rays just after 4 o'clock that afternoon.

It was a chance to measure the two sports against each other.

The most glaring difference between them, of course, is that football is by far the faster game; every 45 seconds huge linemen weighing 300 pounds or more engage in head-to-head combat while wide receivers built like greyhounds run intricate routes in an effort to evade the pursuit of speedy and persistent defensive backs, all while the quarterback either surreptitiously hands the ball to a halfback or slings it downfield. In baseball, on the other hand, a pitcher might, in the same period of time, rub up the ball, shake off a catcher's sign, and reach for the rosin bag.

That's an oversimplification, of course, but, in an age of shrinking attention spans and growing demand for instant gratification, it is football that has good field position while baseball is on the defensive.

Yet there is something about baseball that draws you in, that when it is well-played compels your attention on each and every pitch. At least that's true in my case.

In the Patriots' game, they came back from a 22 to 9 deficit to win it, 25 to 22 on a Nick Folk field goal with just 15 seconds remaining on the clock, but that paled in comparison to the drama of Christian Vazquez's walk-off homer in the 13th inning of the Red Sox game.

I freely admit to a prejudice toward the game of baseball, yet I acknowledge that all the evidence points to football being the more popular sport. Maybe my bias is because the Red Sox have been an integral part of my life for so long. I have known about them and cared about them since what seems like forever. I've been telling people for years that I was baptized a Catholic and born a Red Sox fan (Not my line, I stole it from someone so long ago that I don't even remember who it was). The Patriots, on the other hand, didn't even exist until after I graduated from college and began hacking my way through the jungle of life. I had no idea of either the adventures or the pitfalls that were ahead for me. I just wanted to get on with it. The Patriots were just another start-up company back then. Like me, they struggled in the early going.

But the Patriots, and indeed the entire American Football League, had a secret weapon that helped it survive those early days -- television. CBS had owned the rights to televise NFL games since the mid-50s and had discovered ratings gold in the heretofore barren ratings wasteland of Sunday afternoons. NBC wanted to get in on the action, so a deal was cut with the fledgling new league to air its games. With Curt Gowdy as its lead announcer, the AFL had achieved instant parity with the more established NFL in terms of exposure, if not football talent. Soon, rather than engage in constant bidding wars for high-profile players, the two leagues decided to merge. The rest, as they say, is history. Ratings continued to soar; the Super Bowl was invented; Monday Night football came along; it was followed by Sunday and Thursday nights; and franchises, such as the Patriots, which were once hand-to-mouth operations, became valued at billions of dollars.

And baseball has been left in the dust.

Baseball is a pastoral game with origins dating back to the middle of the 19th century. The world was a different place back then, or so I'm told. No matter what you think, I have no personal memories of the Rutherford B. Hayes administration. The game came along before the invention of the internal combustion engine, before the invention of radio, and even before Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round. Baseball has changed over the years but it has not adapted well to the changing times. It used to take about two hours to play a game, now it takes more than three. The extra inning game with the Rays took five hours and 14 minutes. While the rest of the world has been speeding up, baseball has been slowing down.

Football has changed, too. But it has kept up with the times. The days of three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust contests are as extinct as dinosaurs. Quarterbacks are kings now, and they will be for as long as the ratings hold up.

Still, there is something about a closely contested baseball game that draws you in, or draws me in, anyhow. Is it the growing tension that builds as the innings go by? Or is it the suddenness with which it can all come to an end?

It has often been said that when you watch a baseball game you might see something you've never seen before. Sure enough, that's what happened in the Red Sox/Rays game. In the top of the 13th with a runner on first base, a long drive hit by Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier, with Boston right fielder Hunter Renfroe in hot pursuit, caromed off the low retaining wall in front of the Red Sox bullpen, took a short hop off the turf and rebounded off of Renfroe's leg into the bullpen as he (Renfroe) tried desperately to keep it in play.

I've seen thousands of games over the years but I'd never seen that before. Neither, apparently, had the umpires because they consulted with MLB officials in New York before ruling the play a ground rule double that limited the runner, who had scored easily from first, to a two-base advance, sending him back to third. The Rays complained vociferously that they'd been cheated out of a run and the lead. The issue proved moot when Vazquez hit his two-run homer in the bottom of the inning.

I root for the Patriots and was delighted by their come-from-behind victory last month. But I was enthralled by the Red Sox win that same night.

I guess that makes me a football fan and a baseball fanatic.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.