nobody needs to rehash the incredible success of boston sports teams this decade… but… hell, here i go:
3 superbowl championships
2 world series championships
1 nba championship
1 ncaa hockey championship
not to mention countless trips to the postseason for all 3 teams, nailbiting win streaks, mvp awards, dozens of probowlers and all-stars, and millions of stories from millions of fans.
what i want to tell you about are the five unlikeliest and most pivotal moments of the boston sports decade. these are bizarre yet key events that shaped a dynasty, unraveled years of irrelevance and ended 86 years of futility. here we go.
5. nomar sits out. (7/1/04)
i hate to pick on nomar. he did great things in a red sox uniform. but on july 1, 2004 in yankee stadium (i was there), he sat on the bench while his teammates fought like hell to avoid a 3-game sweep (and falling 10-games behind in the AL East), going blow-for-blow until ultimately losing in the 13th. the controversy swirling around him since the a-rod trade rumors in the off-season and during his injury-plagued year came to a head just a few weeks later, when theo pulled off the ballsiest move of his young career and shipped nomah out for … uh … who? just kidding. orlando cabrera and doug mientkiewicz will never be enshrined in cooperstown but neither one will ever have to buy a beer in boston ever again. by the way, a lot of folks remember this game for “derek jeter’s amazing catch into the stands” in which he “sacrificed his body and left the game with contusions” resulting in “his teammates pulling together to win for him.” i was there. first, pokey reese made an incredibly athletic catch in that game that far surpassed anything jeter could’ve pulled off and b) it was a foul ball close to the 3rd baseline that required absolutely no jumping. he was showboating on an easy pop-up and tripped. I WAS THERE.
4. hank blalock homers in the all-star game to preserve the patriots’ win streak. (7/15/03)
you read that correctly. this is an incredible math problem and kinda fun. the patriots had gone 8-0 since starting off the 2003 season at 2-2 in the wake of belichick dumping lawyer milloy to the bills, who thumped them 31-0 on opening day. on december 7 the pats took on miami IN A SNOWY FOXBOROUGH, a notoriously tough environment for the traveling fish. well try this on for size: their first 2003 matchup in miami would have occurred in a balmy foxborough in october had the NL earned homefield advantage during the 2003 world series. thanks to hank blalock, the AL won the all-star game, the football locations were unaltered, and tedy bruschi brought in a late-game interception for the only TD of the game. cue “rock n’ roll part 2″ and snowballs flying high in gilette. the win streak was preserved and the patriots went on, of course, to win the 1st of 2 back-to-back superbowls (and the 2nd of 3 in 4 years). does your brain hurt yet?
3. celtics pull no. 5 in the NBA draft. (5/20/08)
the history-making disappointment of the decade. the C’s had a 38% chance of landing a top-2 draft pick and in a case of cosmic jokery, they wound up snagging no. 5. i’m not even a huge basketball fan and i was distraught. imagine the collective despair felt around new england when this turkey happened to an irrelevant and fading team that had all but turned paul pierce’s career into a bust. but think about it: if they’d grabbed no. 1 or no. 2 we’d be staring at greg oden on the bench, or watching an electric kevin durant perform without a supporting cast (pierce would’ve been traded, you know this to be true). instead, danny ainge redeemed his drifting front-office career by putting together the trades that brought in ray allen and kevin garnett, while building a solid team around the big 3 with rajon rondo, kendrick perkins, and a plucky bench. the celtics hoisted banner 17 and have a good shot at raising number 18 before 2010 is over.
2. mo lewis’ hit on drew bledoe. (9/23/01)
we have every reason to believe that bill belichick would have benched bledsoe in favor of tom brady eventually. he had a history of overriding popular opinion and benching a franchise quarterback (bernie kosar in cleveland) and sportswriters michael holley and bob ryan have speculated he may have gone a similar route in new england. but the key here is eventually. it may have taken another 5-12 season for such a move to make political and organizational sense. mo lewis not only helped to smooth the transition publicly but managed to salvage a 2001-2002 season that resulted in a superbowl win – the first in patriots’ history and the first meaningful new england sports championship in 16 years.
1. manny’s foul ball smacks a kid in the face. (9/2/04)
not just any kid. in an eerie twist, manny’s wayward foul ball smacked up the face of the kid who lived in babe ruth’s house. like pedro, i never believed in any damn curses, but come on. in the midst of a huge august/september run by the red sox, in which they pounded the best AL contenders on the road and put together monster win streaks en route to the playoffs, manny just happens to bloody up a kid living in ruth’s house? and 7 weeks later, the red sox complete the greatest comeback in the history of sports, against the hated yankees, ultimately winning their first world series in 86 years? sure, i could give this spot to dave roberts’ steal, or any one of papi’s three game-winning post-season hits, or schilling’s bloody sock performance. but when it comes to the red sox, i prefer to stick to the spiritual. manny broke the curse that night. and some teeth.
here’s hoping the next decade gives the rest of america reasons to hate us and envy our teams.