The state of Connecticut has an inferiority complex.
A recent Sacred Heart University poll found that “more residents believe the quality of life in Connecticut is ‘declining’ (28.6%) compared to those who believe the quality of life is ‘improving’ (16.4%).”
A WalletHub study, meanwhile, rated Connecticut the 20th best state in which to live with the “third-lowest percentage of people living below the poverty level.” Plus, “the state earned high marks for safety and health and education.” Maybe not glowing, but certainly not inferior.
In short, life in Connecticut is not all that bad, despite the ostensible wave of families moving to cheaper climes, or despite the insufferable internet trolls who incessantly badmouth the state. A quick survey of the comments following virtually every story on this website provides a flavor of that disfavor.
So even as life in Connecticut doesn’t totally suck, it just seems that way to many Nutmeggers. That’s called an inferiority complex.
The best indicator of this insidious affliction is the state’s sports teams, starting with the athletic program at the University of Connecticut. Why else would Husky Nation be so abuzz with the news that UConn is rejoining the Big East?
“Finally!” they exalt. “We’re back in a real conference to play real teams. No more Tulanes or Tulsas. We’re back in the Big Frickin’ East!”
Such news is exactly the energy boost Connecticut residents need. Sports teams have a way of generating a feeling that, “Hey, we really do matter!”
Take it from a Baltimore native. I grew up amid people deeply in love with their teams, the Orioles and the Colts. I, too, cheered on Johnny Unitas, Lydell Mitchell, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, et al. These athletes and their teams gave Baltimoreans a shared sense of belonging, an immense feeling of pride.
It wasn’t always that way. Baltimore had traditionally languished as a second-rate industrial-port city, smack dab between the nation’s capital and historic Philadelphia. “A big hick town,” my father lightheartedly called Baltimore, desperate to be considered “big-time” but not quite capable. Not until the Orioles and the Colts did their magic, that is.
The Orioles came to town from St. Louis in 1954. It took a few years, but from 1966 to 1983, the O’s were among the winningest teams in baseball, appearing in six World Series and winning three. “The Oriole Way” became synonymous with hard work, attention to detail, and success.
The Colts, meanwhile, made headlines in 1958 when they defeated the New York Giants in overtime at Yankee Stadium to win the NFL championship, an event dubbed as “the Greatest Game Ever Played.” Then, between 1959 and 1971, the Colts appeared in three NFL championships, winning two, and in two Super Bowls, winning one. As with the Orioles, the Colts’ success gave Baltimoreans a legitimate reason to puff out their collective chest.
But later, catastrophe: In the wee hours of a snowy March morning in 1984, 15 Mayflower moving vans appeared at Colts’ headquarters in Owings Mills, Md., to cart the entire franchise off to Indianapolis — the ultimate act of betrayal by owner Robert Irsay. My own friends still make fun of how I recall this incident with photographic detail, but to live it is to understand it.
Connecticut residents can relate. Situated directly in the shadows of both New York City and Boston, the Constitution State is often relegated to second-tier status, especially with professional sports franchises. Sure, it’s fun to be the epicenter of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry — especially for a transplanted Orioles fan — but we want our own pro team!
For a while, we had one. The Hartford Whalers existed as pro franchise in the World Hockey Association and National Hockey League from 1974 until May 6, 1997, “a day that will forever live in infamy in the eyes of Connecticut sports fans. On that day, Peter Karmanos, owner of the Hartford Whalers, announced that he was moving the NHL team to North Carolina and renaming them the Carolina Hurricanes.”
The next year, Patriots owner Robert Kraft teased us with a plan to construct a $380 million stadium in Hartford. It took all of five months to terminate that idea.
So any statewide pride generated by sports teams would come from the University of Connecticut, which was happy to oblige. The NIT championship for the men’s basketball team in 1988 was a mere hint of the national championships to follow in 1999, 2004, 2011, and 2014.
Even more successful have been the women’s basketball teams of Geno Auriemma with their 11 national championships between 1995 and 2016.
UConn has many other athletic success stories — women’s field hockey (five national championships) and men’s soccer (three national titles) among them — but Connecticut basketball put the state on the map. And with it, authentic pride in the state.
So the return to the Big East is a welcome change — a chance to maybe, just maybe, bring back pride for the entire state. Only time will tell. If not, Connecticut’s inferiority complex might linger indefinitely.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School. He has lived in Connecticut for 37 years and counting.
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