Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pain in Title Town

Much has been made recently about Boston's ascendance to the top of the sports world, and with good reason.  Beantown's four major sports teams have netted seven championships since in the past decade, leading many to dub the Hub as the number one sports city on the planet.  So when the Red Sox completed their historic meltdown last week, very few people outside of New England felt too sorry for us.  After all, we probably deserved a little reality check, a reminder that not every season can end with shiny trophies, diamond rings, and boat rides through the narrow streets of Boston.

But life in Title Town, USA has not always been full of sunshine and roses over the past few years.  Yes, we've had our wins, but we've also suffered some terrible bumps and bruises along the way.  I could mention the Aaron Boone debacle of 2003, but I felt like 2008 would be a more appropriate place to start.

This year will be remembered because the Boston Celtics raised their franchise's seventeenth championship banner, but just the first since 1986, when Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce took down Kobe Bryant's favored Lakers in six games.

But just four months earlier, New England suffered heartbreak when their Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII and their 19-0 season to the New York Giants, who rallied from a four point deficit with 2:42 remaining in the season.  Nearly five years later, this game still induces nightmares.  There's Eli Manning emerging from the pocket unscathed and as defenders fly at him and tug at his jersey, but can't bring him down.  There are roughly 421 holding penalties on the Giants that go uncalled by the refs.  And then there's David Tyree catching the ball off his freaking helmet.  There was just so much going on that season, with SpyGate and Randy Moss and all the new records, that the pressure became almost unbearable.  The Patriots had to win.  And naturally, they didn't.  Many said they got what they deserved for their foul play and proclivity for running up the score on opposing teams, and this bad karma carried over into the fall, when Tom Brady shredded his left knee in the season opener. 

And if that wasn't bad enough, the Bruins lost Game Seven in the Conference Quarterfinals to the Canadiens.  Then in October, the reigning World Series champs let the plucky Tampa Bay Rays, the Cinderella team that had gone from last place in '07 to the top of the AL Beast in '08, stomp all over them for the first four and a half games.  B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria were teeing off like it was batting practice, and the Sox looked dead in the water when the Rays, up 3-1 in the series, took a commanding 7-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game Five.  Just nine outs from elimination, Boston rallied for the Fenway Faithful and scored eight runs over the final three innings, winning on a J.D. Drew walk-off single.  Then they won Game Six behind Josh Beckett and drew first blood on a Dustin Pedroia solo homer in the first inning of Game Seven, so it looked like another epic comeback in the vain of 2004 and 2007 was about to be complete.  But Matt Garza and rookie David Price shut down Boston's potent lineup (who stranded eight runners), and Tampa nicked Jon Lester for three runs to take the series.

Not much in the way of heartbreak, just all-around disappointment.  The Patriots missed the playoffs altogether despite an impressive season from backup QB Matt Cassell.  The Bruins fell in seven games to the Hurricanes in the conference semis.  The Celtics lost KG to knee ailments and, after wheezing through one of the greatest postseason series ever with Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls, couldn't summon the energy to overtake Dwight Howard's Magic in the seven game conference semfinals.  The Sox got swept by the Angels, who had been our playoff doormat throughout the decade, when Jonathan Papelbon imploded and blew the save in Game Three.

Boston went another 365 days without a title.  The year started off on a bad note when the Pats got destroyed by the Ravens in the Wild Card Playoffs, and then the Bruins tortured the city by blowing a 3-0 lead against the Flyers in the second round of the playoffs.  Worst of all, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game Seven, only to watch it disappear and turn into a numbing defeat.  2010 Marked the third straight season for the Bruins that ended with a Game Seven loss.

A month later, the Celtics took a 3-2 Finals lead to Los Angeles and were poised to win an eighteenth banner in enemy territory, but Kendrick Perkins blew out his knee early in Game Six and Boston got crushed.  They enjoyed a nice start in Game Seven and appeared to be in control for most of the game.  They held a 13 point advantage about halfway through the third quarter, but Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom were killing us on the glass and Rasheed Wallace couldn't fill the massive hole in the paint left behind by Perkins.  The refs swallowed their whistles in what turned out to be one of the sloppiest games of basketball in recent memory, and the aging Celts simply ran out of gas against a much bigger and more physical Lakers squad.

The Red Sox missed the playoffs after suffering devastating injuries to Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Josh Beckett. 

An overachieving and young Patriots squad (14-2) lost to the Jets by a touchdown in the divisional playoffs.  After sweeping Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups aside in the first round, the Celtics never showed up for their series with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh and bowed out in five games.  Rajon Rondo basically played with one arm, and the old Big Three showed its age against the new Big Three. 

The Bruins salvaged the year by winning the Stanley Cup, their first since 1972, but the Red Sox ruined it by blowing a nine game Wild Card lead over the season's final month to those pesky Rays.  The pitching stunk, the hitting was hot-and-cold and the fielding turned shaky for a team that had been guaranteed a spot in the postseason after adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  These were the Red Sox of old, the ones who gagged made a 14 game lead vanish in 1978, who couldn't finish off the Mets in '86 and couldn't put away the Yankees in '03.  They were chokers, bums, and we should have known it was coming when David Ortiz pressed the panic button.  This wound is still too fresh to talk about.

See that, world?  We get our fair share of misery in Boston too.

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