"If we win, what do we do next?"

Red Sox fans have been asking this question for years now, only to have the query rendered moot year after year with results of heartbreaking disappointment. Now, with the long-awaited Red Sox championship in hand, the question has reemerged, reinforced with new importance.

Although they longed for the victory, there was a sizeable contingent who gleaned some pleasure from defeat, enjoying the certainty and safety of the failure. For so long, the Red Sox have found their identity in disappointment. The team has been known everywhere as loveable losers and the fans as obsessively anxious pessimistic hand-wringers.

After the Red Sox victory, though, this all seemed to change. Paradoxically, some felt that a World Series victory would ruin the team, and no one knows how the perception of the Red Sox will now evolve. The team can never have the same image. Fans need not wait for that inevitable defeat, as the curse has been lifted. The post-defeat suicide watches at the Tobin Bridge can even be stopped.

All the familiar slogans can be tossed aside. Fans no longer have to "wait till next year." While the Red Sox may have killed your father, they won't kill you. The Yankees fans' chants of "1918" have suddenly become delightfully irrelevant, replaced by the newly coined Red Sox chant of "2004!"

With this question, though, the familiar anxiety has returned in a new form. What are the Red Sox now? Where do we stand now with this victory? Will all the philosophers and romanticists who have supported the Red Sox all these years now abandon the team for a new goat, the Cubs? The casual fan base that has attached itself to the team will likely, after a year or so, also leave the team and attach themselves to some other team long deprived of victory.

The real anxiety is that the Red Sox, with this victory, may lose their luster. Not only will they have lost their identity as losers, Sox fans fear that the team will lose all of its identity. They fear that the Red Sox will just become another team, as unique as any other newly victorious team? no different than the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Anaheim Angels, or the Florida Marlins.

How much does this really change the fans? The die-hard fans will still be every bit as passionate and dedicated. They'll still anxiously watch the transaction wires, pay hundreds of dollars for scalped spring training games, and show up at far away stadiums across America. The Boston talk shows will be flooded with calls from the first day of the season, proclaiming the team either as bums or heroes, depending on the opening day result. "Yankees Suck" chants will still start up during Royals games and Journey concerts throughout New England, wherever a considerable number of fans are gathered. Boston fans will superstitiously knock on wood and sit in the same chair every game.

While the fans won't change, the dynamic will have changed. Next year's season will be like a celebration tour. Sox fans will come out in droves to cheer on their saviors in every ballpark the Red Sox visit. The rivalry with Yankee fans will finally have some authority to it. While the Yanks have won more battles, we have won the most recent and disastrous contest, a fact that Red Sox fans will certainly make known during games between the rivals.

Yes, an era has ended for the Red Sox. The mystical belief in curses can now die and a new era can begin. The team has a unique opportunity to reinvent their image. Who knows? The Red Sox may even dominate the twenty-first century like the Yankees dominated the twentieth century (knock on wood).

In any case, Red Sox fans, set aside your anxieties for a while and enjoy the moment. At least wait until after the parade before calling the talk shows about the Red Sox' offseason moves.