Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Golden Age of Boston Sports

For any fan of Boston area sports under the age of 45, the 'Oughts is the Golden Age.

I have touched on the numbers that we're now seeing from Boston teams before. The Patriots are the impetus for this sports Renaissance in the Hub of the Universe, and reversal of fortune for Eastern New England's professional sports franchises.

It is, for me - an admitted football fan first, and baseball fan second - vindication for a team that, while I was growing up, was sometimes called a distant fourth in popularity in a three sport market.

Before I get into where I'm going with this, I want to note that all this tends to be cyclical. The Red Sox were the most dominant team in baseball 100 years ago, winning five championships from the beginning of 1900 through to 1918. In the 1960's, the Celtics were the most dominant professional sports franchise ever, winning ten of eleven championships starting in the late 1950's and running through 1970.

For New Englanders/Bostonians of a certain generation that 1960's to late 1970's stretch was, at one time the Golden Age. The Celtics dominated until the two Stanley Cups by the Bruins, then there were the 1967 Red Sox. By the time the Sox returned to the World Series in 1975, the other franchises around Boston were falling on hard times. Larry Bird wasn't yet drafted, and the Bruins struggled to advance in the playoffs.

The last time there was an up-tick in the cycle for Boston was in the mid to late 1980's when the Celtics won championships, and the Red Sox, Bruins, and Patriots all made it to the finals in their respective sports. The Sox lost the World Series to the Mets, the Patriots the Super Bowl to the Bears, and the Bruins the Stanley Cup to Edmonton. That was, for my generation, the Golden Age.

Until now.

In 2001, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli assembled a team of virtual no-names and won the Super Bowl on the arm of a sixth round, second string quarterback, the legs of a retread running back released from a division rival, the leg of an unknown kicker out of NFL Europe, as well as a punishing defense with the only big names on the team - Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy. The others were mostly mid- to low-end free agents, often career back-ups or part-timers or end of the road guys, who weren't tendered offers by their previous teams like Mike Vrabel, Brian Cox, and Otis Smith.

Theo Epstein, just three years later, built a Red Sox team based on the same principles that Pioli and Belichick used - don't worry about the superstars. Get the gritty guys that love the game. Epstein even went as far as trading away fan favorite, and team superstar Nomar Garciaparra at the trading deadline for Orlando Cabrera - a solid, get your uniform dirty sort of guy who, at the time, was not thought of as highly as Garciaparra. The Sox have won two World Series since.

The Patriots have parlayed their success in the big game into the ability to recruit the big names, the superstars like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss, and get them to check their egos at the door.

Now we're watching a Celtics team with a big three that the pundits wondered how they would mesh when the players were put together. The three - Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett - were known as shooters, and the big question was how they would operate - one ball, three shooters, someone was bound to be unhappy. Like with the recent Patriots and Red Sox teams, Allen, Pierce and Garnett all saw an opportunity to be great...if they left the ego at the door.

On the ice, the Bruins are fifth in the Eastern Conference and playing solid hockey. They will make the playoffs, barring a catastrophic collapse.


It's good to be a Boston fan right now. Savor it. These things don't last.


Dave said...

Even better for me has been my alma mater (UConn) winning two national titles in the past eight years. This SO makes up for the early and mid-90s

Kevin Smith said...

My Alma Mater is Emerson. In the two seasons I played baseball with them we went 2-18, losing to the Mass College of Pharmacy. Needless to say, we weren't exactly an athletics powerhouse.

David Sullivan said...

Some of my favorite Patriots memories were from when the sucked. Opening play in 1981 at Foxboro against Miami. Hand off up the middle to Tatupu. Flips the ball back to Grogan. 60+ yard strike to Stanley Morgan. They lost that game in OT on a Garo Yuprimiam field goal. Even when the Pats had losing teams they were always competitive with the 3-4 Defense and a gambling passing attack. I liked going to football games in the 70's and 80's because it was much as a show off the field than on. The feeling is like a grandpa pining away for the "good old days" when the good old days sucked. There was still something special about things then. You appreciated good fortune more and took nothing for granted.

Suldog said...

These will definitely be seen as "the good old days" 20 or 30 years from now. We are privileged to be here now. And I say that as a guy who grew up during the Celtics run of the 60's, the Bruins of 68 - 73, and the Impossible Dream team of the Sox. This is, by far, the more amazing era for Boston sports because we have championships either won (Sox twice, Pats 3 times) or possible (Pats, Celts, even a longshot Bruins hope) all at the SAME TIME.