Boston's Decade of Championship Madness

Boston's Decade of Championship Madness
March 18, 2013, 3:00 pm
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In honor of March Madness, today’s column is presented in the form of an eight-team, single-elimination tournament. An old fashioned Kumate to determine, once and for all, the most memorable and significant championship from Boston’s recent Decade of Dominance.
 
But first, in my Gumbeliest of Greg Gumbel voices:
 
“LET’S . . . take a look at the seeds.”
 
1) 2004 Red Sox: The sentimental and historical favorite; no points deducted for being the only team* to inspire an awful Farrelly Brothers movie.
 
(*Not quite the same thing, but it’s worth noting that the Farrelly’s 2012 film “The Three Stooges” was also inspired by the Sox.)
 
2) 2001 Patriots: Led by honorary captain Mo Lewis.
 
3) 2011 Bruins: We can argue for days about whether the ’11 Bruins or ’08 Celtics deserve the No. 3 spot, and it won’t make a lick of difference. At the end of the day, if you’re a hoops fan, it’s the Celtics; if you’re a hockey fan, it’s the Bruins. And there’s no in between. There’s never an in between with B’s and C’s fans. It’s like Boston’s own little Civil War — starring Michael Felger as Robert E. Lee, and with Scal emerging as this generation’s Ullysses S. Grant.
 
Anyway, all things being equal, I went with the Bruins because they were the bigger underdogs, had gone longer between titles and because their victory nearly wiped out the entire city of Vancouver.
 
4) 2008 Celtics: They were 27-3 over their first 30 games; they finished 66-16 overall and 35-6 at the Garden. They had the league’s most efficient defense and 10th best offense. At the time, we knew they were great, but with every passing season, our appreciation only grows.
 
(In a related news: Six years later, and I still vow not to rest until PJ Brown has his own statue next to Bobby Orr.)
 
5) 2004 Pats: The least exciting of the three Super Bowl wins, but from a historical perspective, this one solidified the dynasty. It was also responsible for so many timeless images, such as the Belichick/Romeo/Weis hug; Bruschi wrestling with his kids on the field; the father/son Belichick Gatorade bath; and Donovan McNabb throwing up on Brian Westbrook’s cleats.
 
6) 2007 Red Sox: Death by comparison. 86 years vs. three years. Yankees/Cardinals vs. Indians/Rockies. Millar/Damon/Pedro/Lowe vs. Beckett/Dice K/Drew/Lugo. And it doesn’t help that the TV show was already in full effect. Even though they were winning, something wasn’t quite right.
 
7) 2003 Pats: Jan Brady. Lisa Simpson. Meg Griffin. Alex Dunphy. Malcolm Somethingorother. The Pats’ second Super Bowl run is a classic middle child.
 
Of course, we’ll never forget Lawyer Milloy’s release, Tom Jackson looking like a fool or the bookend 31-0s. We’ll never forget the Ice Bowl, Ty Law’s three interceptions against the Colts, or that unbelievable Super Bowl against the Panthers (the best overall “game” of the three). But I don’t think this team gets enough credit or respect for what they did for Boston in the aftermath of the 2003 ALCS.
 
When Boone hit his home run in the wee hours of October 18, this city was toast; equally terrorized by pain and paralyzed by helplessness and depression. It was like Gotham after the Bain takeover. And in that moment, we needed something to bring us back. We needed a reason to believe.
 
Two days later, Tom Brady aired it out in overtime and hit Troy Brown for a game-winning touchdown against the Dolphins, and the healing process was under way. (A process that was expedited by the fact that the Pats didn’t lose another game until after the Sox had wrapped up the 2004 title.)
 
8) 2007 Pats: Sorry, but I needed an eighth seed.
 
And there you have it.
 
Eight teams. Eight fantastic seasons. But, in my Nantziest of Jim Nantz voices: “Ladies and gentlemen . . . there can BE . . . only ONE winner. So let’s watch the majesty unfold.”
 
Round 1 . . . Fight!
 
’04 Sox vs. ’07 Patriots: The Sox win thanks to a ninth inning error by Asante Samuel, and David Ortiz’s game-winning 400-foot field goal (held by Dave Roberts).
 
’01 Pats vs. ’03 Patriots: The original always beats the sequel (unless you’re talking about Weekend at Bernie’s).
 
’11 Bruins vs. ’07 Sox: Tim Thomas outduels Josh Beckett as the Bruins advance in close one. After the game, an enraged Beckett starts a riot and sets his own reputation on fire. Just for fun, Thomas follows suit.
 
’08 Celtics vs. ’04 Pats: The game is tied at 17 with two seconds left, when Adam Vinatieri lines up for a game-winning field goal . . . BUT IT’S BLOCKED BY KG!
 
Tony Allen picks up the ball and starts running the wrong way before he’s redirected by Ray Allen and then hands it to Rajon Rondo. Rondo makes a dash for the end zone — he’s at the 40 . . . the 30 . . . the 20 . . . nobody’s going to catch him . . . the 10 . . . the five . . .
 
Suddenly, for no good reason, Rondo leaps in the air and throws a 360-behind-the-back lateral to Paul Pierce, who barely makes the catch and walks in for the game-winning score. Celtics win! Anything’s possible!
 
Round 2 . . . Fight!
 
’04 Sox vs. ’08 Celtics: OK, so maybe not “anything.” The Celtics get their lunch handed to them by the Sox, who prevail despite Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon being ejected in the first half for DUI — driving to the hoop under the influence. (No, really. It’s OK. I’ll show myself out.)
 
’01 Pats vs. ’11 Bruins: The second semifinal is slightly more competitive. In fact, the Pats and Bruins head to the fourth quarter in a scoreless tie.
 
But with less than a minute left, Brady beats Tim Thomas glove side for a 1-0 advantage, and then Pats goalie Jermaine Wiggins stops a last second Bruins barrage to preserve the dramatic win.
 
(On a side note, the night is marred by controversy when Shawn Thornton tells reporters after the game that Drew Bledsoe was a “wuss” for not playing through his collapsed lung. Said Thornton, “I’ve been bleeding internally since 1998. You don’t hear me complaining . . .”)
 
THE FINALS
 
’04 Sox vs. ’01 Pats: No surprises here. In this tournament, the ’01 Pats and ’04 Sox were Frank Dux and Chong Li. They were always destined for the finals. And right about now, you probably think that the Sox have this one wrapped up.
 
How could they not, right? It’s Boston. It’s the Red Sox. It’s the culmination of 86 years of the deepest, darkest, most twisted stuff this side of Two Girls, One Cup. (Editor’s Note: If you don’t know what that is DO NOT GOOGLE IT.) If you took a poll of every fan in New England, I’m sure the Sox would come out on top. After all, that season — that comeback, that title — was bigger than sports. It was about family. It was about love and faith and devotion and a bunch of other words that give me chills when I think back to those four nights in October. It’s something we’ll never experience again. Hell, we were lucky just to get it once. So you want to crown the Sox the champions of this silly bracket? That’s cool. I get it. No arguments here.
 
But personally, I’ll always have an unusually soft spot for that first Super Bowl team. In fact, as crazy as it sounds, I might even give them the edge.
 
I suppose a lot of that is generational. After all, I was only six when the ball went through Buckner’s legs. I never really experienced or truly processed that pain. Naturally, I got a taste in 2003, but it took all of ONE year for the Sox to erase everything. The Buckner generation — never mind those who lived through ’78, ’75, ’67 or even ’46 — had to withstand decades of that emptiness and regret.
 
For anyone born after 1980, it was really only a year.
 
That’s not to say that it was easy before then. I lived and died with the Sox through all the letdowns of the 90s and early 2000s. But the real pain, that honest-to-goodness “the Red Sox will ruin your life” pain, didn’t come until 2003 — and then it was gone.
 
My generation got lucky.
 
But we were unlucky in the sense that we grew up never knowing what it was like to win; never having been rewarded for all our years of dedicated service. In the same way that children of the 80s, and then the 90s, couldn’t relate to pain of Bill Buckner, we couldn’t share in the joy of Larry Bird and those three Celtics titles.
 
We needed our own Larry Bird.
 
And he arrived in that 2001 season.
 
I mean, as unbelievable as that Red Sox run was, how can you pick against the game and team that delivered Tom Brady? It’s Sophie’s Choice: Reversing the Curse or the Brady Years . . . if you could only have one, which would it be?
 
I think it comes down to this: While the 2004 Red Sox represented the end of an era of misery and torture for so many Boston sports fans, the 2001 Patriots represented the beginning of an era of rebirth and happiness for so many others. While nothing will ever match those four nights in October, that one night in February is every bit as memorable and significant.
 
So let’s maybe call it a tie?
 
Hell no. This isn’t soccer. Not until the Revolution win a title of their own.
 
In the meantime, we’ll give it to the Sox. They earned it. Generation after generation of Boston sports fans earned it.
 
But they did so in extra innings. With Brady on the mound and Papi at the plate. It’s full count. The bases are loaded. Here’s the wind up and here’s the pitch . . .
 
No wait. Hold on. Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore just ran onto the field.
 
Let’s try that again.