McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

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McAdam: Varitek retirement marks end of era

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It began last September, two days after their season had flamed out in Baltimore. Six months later, the gradual dismantling of the Red Sox continues, unabated.

The manager is gone, and so is the general manager who hired him. The pitcher who very nearly set the franchise record for most wins in franchise history retired two weeks ago, and Thursday, the catcher -- stalwart and team captain -- followed him out the door. Together, they had parts of 32 seasons together in Red Sox uniforms.

In 2004, when the franchise rid itself of the ghosts and ended the title drought, it was said: These are not your father's Red Sox anymore.

Now, just eight years later, they're not even those Red Sox anymore.

Time marches on, and with it, inexorably, go the veteran players.

For the longest time, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek were as much a part of the Red Sox as Fenway itself. Now, they each have the dreaded ''ex'' in front of their names: ex-player, ex-captain, ex-Red Sox.

Past tense.

When Varitek arrived, the Red Sox hadn't figured it out yet, but they were getting there. In 1999, just his second full season, they reached the ALCS, only to demonstrate how far they still had to go.

Varitek was part of the learning curve, the long, slow climb to the top of the mountain. As he learned behind the plate, the pitching got better, too. The two were not unrelated.

The arrival of Curt Schilling in 2004, to go with Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, created arguably the best rotation in modern Red Sox history and Varitek was the one in charge, a year before he was given the captaincy.

He cajoled, pushed, and shaped them, and when Varitek leaped into Keith Foulke's arms after the final out of Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, it was, in every sense of the word, a leap of faith.

Months earlier, Varitek was responsible for an epochal turning point in franchise history. A mid-summer grudge match with the Yankees had turned ugly and Varitek, no fan of Alex Rodriguez to begin with, had had enough of Rodriguez's angry declarations toward Red Sox pitchers.

Varitek intercepted any bad intentions A-Rod had after being hit by a pitch, and gave the Yankee third baseman a facewash with his catcher's mitt.

To this day, eight years later, that image -- Red Sox catcher puts Yankee star in his place -- is the screen-saver, the bedroom poster, the avatar of Red Sox fans everywhere.

The picture said something. It said the Red Sox would not be pushed around by the Yankees, that they would not bow to their tormentors. Three months later, in St. Louis, it was as if Varitek's line-in-the-sand moment was ultimately validated.

After two World Series in the span of four seasons, success for the Red Sox dried up. The trajectory has plain and unsettling. From the 2007 title, the Sox went to Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, to getting swept in the 2008 Division Series to two straight playoff DNQs.

In the interim, Wakefield and Varitek were both marginalized as players, their contributions diminished. Wakefield returned to spot starter, Varitek to backup catcher, and this spring, they read the proverbial writing. It was time to go.

Now, the Red Sox are someone else's team. Perhaps they belong to Dustin Pedroia, as vocal as Varitek has been stoic and quietly steady. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, they will soon belong to someone who has not yet played a major-league game -- say, Will Middlebrooks, or perhaps someone still in the lower minor leagues.

Whomever becomes the face of the franchise, it's doubtful that his career will last in Boston as long as Varitek's did. It's virtually certain that that career will not span eras the way Varitek's did, with as many defining moments, or transcendent events.

Should the Red Sox win a third championship in this young century, it won't have the same impact as the first one in 2004, or for that matter, the one that followed in 2007, guaranteeing that the first was not a fluke.

You may not recognize what's left of those Red Sox. But you surely will not forget them.

Ravens’ Suggs submits half-hearted effort at Brady snub

Ravens’ Suggs submits half-hearted effort at Brady snub

Terrell Suggs keeps doing his best to pump air into his one-sided “feud” with Tom Brady.

Ever since Brady begged for a flag on Suggs after a benign hit back in 2009, Suggs has made it his mission to speak truth to the perceived power of Brady.

“Everyone just seems to worship the guy so much,” he once said. “Not me, though.”

So, Suggs has called basically derided Brady as a crybaby and occasionally called into question the validity of the Patriots championships.

It’s clearly all for show. When Deflategate was at its height in June of 2015, Suggs said of Brady, “The guy is a winner. He’s won with whatever kind of personnel that he’s had. So I don’t think [Deflategate] really tarnished it … Everybody needs something to write about and needs something to talk about. It’s always something. I’m leaving that alone.”

This week, Suggs smirkingly refused to use Brady’s name when discussing the Patriots leading up to Monday night’s game.

Asked about Brady earning his 201st win as an NFL starter, Suggs said, "He's pretty good. Like I said, wins are wins and numbers are numbers. Numbers don't lie. He's pretty good."

Suggs went on, avoiding Brady’s name. It’s something he’s done in the past for whatever reason. But he’s also been complimentary of the Patriots and Brady as well, saying that, when it’s done, there will be three quarterbacks in the conversation for best-ever: Montana, Unitas and Brady. 

The only time Brady’s verbally stepped out against Suggs and the Ravens is in response to their barbs. In 2010, Brady stated that the Ravens, “Talk a lot for beating us once in nine years.”

Brady also chastised Ravens coach John Harbaugh – now there’s a guy who whines! – after the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff Game when the Patriots snookered the Ravens with intricate formations. That’s about it for return fire.

 

One-sided feud: Brady praises Suggs for playmaking, instincts

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One-sided feud: Brady praises Suggs for playmaking, instincts

FOXBORO -- Terrell Suggs kept up what has been a years-long campaign to mock Tom Brady's public perception by refusing to say Brady's name this week. 

Outside of a quick, "Talk a lot for beating us once in nine years" comment back in 2010, Brady has typically let the feud be one-sided. That continued on this week when Brady said the Ravens edge defender looked as good as ever during a Westwood One radio interview.

He continued his praise of Suggs during a press conference Thursday.

"I think every year, he's had pretty major injuries, and he comes back and looks like he didn't miss a beat," Brady said. "It's his 14th year, he's been a great player for as long as he's been in the league. I think he does a lot of things really well.

"He's got all the rush moves, he actually drops into coverage, he bats down balls, he butchers the tight ends coming off the line of scrimmage. He's really a playmaker for their team. It's not just sacking the quarterback, probably like most defensive ends. He makes plays in a lot of ways. I've seen him intercept slip screens, jumping up and picking [Ben] Roethlisberger off going the other way. 

"I think he has great instincts. He definitely plays with his instincts. If he feels like the ball's going to go inside, he rips inside and tries to take it away even though that's not his assignment. I think 99 percent of the time, the ball goes inside. I think he just has great instincts for what he's doing.

"You can't ever really count on the same thing from him. I think you just try to play him straight up and see what he's going to do because I think he makes a lot of really good decisions out there and he makes a lot of plays."

Brady didn't say Suggs' name during the course of his answer, but he left no doubt that there's a level of respect there for his game. 

I think all these games are kind of the same. I just look at the opp and look at what they do. The only thing that matters is what we do this week of practice and in the game. I think you just try to put everything aside and, whether it was that or whether it was playoff game a couple years ago, whether it was the rs game a couple years ago or C games, none of those really nmatter. It's really going to be about what this team does this week and like I said, coach will try to put a lot of urgerncy on that. We understand that. We know we're facing a team that's 7-5, their at the top of their division. They have a lot of conf in what they do and wso do we. It's going to be a good, tough matchup.