By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 31, 2004

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Want a new championship? Just wait a minute.

It was a year for duck boats. They spent more time on the streets than in the water. They spent more time in front of sports fans than they did catfish and bridge underpasses.

It was a year for knocking down barriers and breaking curses. Anything is now possible. Next thing you'll see is Jeremy Jacobs opening up his vault and spending dollars on his players instead of pennies.

It was a year of excellence, achievement, and best of all, champions. Never before had two Boston area teams been champions at the same time. The number one sports region in the nation is a true City of Champions right now.

This was 2004, the finest year of them all in the long history of Boston sports. From start to finish, you the fan bore witness to some of the finest moments you have ever seen in your life. Whatever memories you will take away from 2004, most of them will be awesome and few of them will be adverse. You'll be a grandparent some day, and you'll hold your grandkids in your lap and wax poetic for hours over another great kick by Adam Vinatieri and that bloody right ankle of Curt Schilling. And your young'uns will respond with something like "Aw, Gramps, that's neat! You saw Manny play?"

Presenting a top ten list of Boston sports stories for 2004 is much like opening presents on Christmas Day. It's lots of fun and suspense and there's literally no downside. You can't go wrong with the top events, even if you happen to disagree. It was half of Charles Dickens' famous sentence: "It was the best of times!" Bruce Springsteen wrote Glory Days with Boston's 2004 in mind. Fox Sports concluded its broadcast of Game 4 of the World Series with Etta James' riveting and sultry At Last, which was a master stroke of genius.

At last. Perhaps those two words sum up 2004 better than any others.

With that, we give you our top ten Boston sports stories for 2004, and our best wishes for 2005. Can 2005 improve on 2004? Tall order, but we now know that anything is possible.

#10 -- Red Sox win "Brawl Game" against Yankees

Why this game? Simple. This one single game completely changed the dynamics of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. And that, as you all know, is no small thing.

It began with Bronson Arroyo hitting Alex Rodriguez, the centerpiece of the offseason for both the Red Sox and the Yankees, in the back with the Yankees leading the Sox 3-0 in the third. A-Rod screamed at Arroyo on the way to first, Jason Varitek intervened and told A-Rod to shut the (insert naughty word here) up and get to first base. A-Rod looked at Varitek, said some more naughty words, and told him to "come on".

The ensuing donnybrook became what Theo Epstein would later refer to as a "catalytic event". Terry Francona said that after such a fight, the Sox had to bounce off the mat and win the game instead of shrink up and disappear from sight.

Both men proved prophetic. In the bottom of the ninth, trailing 10-8 and having to face Mariano Rivera, the Sox pulled off a miracle rally against the indomitable Yankee closer. An RBI single by Kevin Millar made it 10-9. Then Bill Mueller came up and belted one into the Sox bullpen. Joe Buck of Fox Sports usually doesn't raise his voice that loudly. He did this time: "The Red Sox WIN!!" Fenway went bonkers, the Sox danced at home plate, and the momentum from this game would carry over into Games 4 and 5 of the ensuing ALCS. The next time Buck would approach this level of shouting, he would be saying "Red Sox fans have LONGED to hear this!"

Ten years from now, if the dynamics of this rivalry have indeed changed, this game was where it happened.

#9 -- Ray Bourque inducted into Hockey Hall Of Fame

He should have kept that stupid Denver Stanley Cup the heck out of Boston. It had no business being here. Other than that, one of Boston's finest met his ultimate destiny.

Bourque toiled for 20-plus seasons in Boston, before being traded to Colorado in the spring of 2000 for Brian Rolston and others. The trade was made so that Bourque could win something Jacobs would never allow him to do in Boston. And win the Avalanche did, bringing the 2000 Cup to the Rocky Mountains.

He extended the legacy of Bobby Orr, winning five Norris trophies and earning 12 first-team All-Star appointments. Seeing him end his career with Colorado was like seeing Orr end his career with Chicago, albeit far different circumstances, but Bourque has made no secret that Boston remains his home, and that he is a Bruin now and forever.

#8 -- Patriots trade for Corey Dillon

Up until the Monday night loss to Miami, the only game the 2004 Patriots lost was the one game where Corey Dillon was unable to play. He hated Cincinnati and Cincinnati hated him back. Now that he's in Foxborough, he's in the playoffs and is one happy camper.

Going into the season finale against San Francisco, Dillon has 1,519 yards rushing and a 4.6 yards per carry average. He has become perhaps the biggest reason why the Patriots have been able to rattle off a 13-2 record as defending champs with every team gunning for them. In this Charlie Weis' final season as Patriot offensive coordinator, Dillon has given Weis a tremendous offensive alternative, as well as a nice alternative for Tom Brady as an offensive weapon.

Now if only the media will quit asking Dillon all those "bad attitude" questions.

#7 -- NHL season hangs in balance

The Bruins angered you in the spring with still another playoff loss to the Canadiens. How angry do you feel now, now that the 2004-05 season teeters on the brink of cancellation?

Hockey owners are doing what baseball owners don't have the guts to do. They are trying to impose a salary cap on the players, and they are really going to the mattress on this one. Both sides are holding firm, but the owners are determined to put a cap on spending and change the course of how their players are remunerated.

The only thing the players lack is Marvin Miller, the man who ruined baseball by turning it into a league run by its players association. He could go in there and shoot down every ownership argument, and the players would come out smelling like roses.

But there is one dreadful element of this work stoppage: fan apathy. Sooner or later, one of the two sides will care more about this than the other and blink. It's an awful thing when most fans don't miss hockey one bit during the lockout. Will it lead to the demise of the league? Not hardly, but it will be interesting to see what kind of league emerges from the rubble of this odd lockout.

#6 -- Doc Rivers becomes Celtics head coach

Okay, the Celtics are 12-14 right now, 1½ games behind the Knicks in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the conference. They still don't have a bona fide center. They still may not know completely what they have in Ricky Davis.

And they don't have Jim O'Brien. The defensive-minded head coach, who led the Celtics to the brink of the NBA Finals three years ago, quit the Celtics after running into philosophical differences with new GM Danny Ainge. Enter Rivers, the former Atlanta Hawk who left the broadcast booth to take over the most storied franchise in NBA history.

O'Brien is now back in his hometown of Philadelphia, but whether he should have left Boston remains to be seen. Rivers, who cut his coaching teeth with the Orlando Magic, is a former NBA Coach of the Year, but he will be hard pressed to match the nice playoff run O'Brien had here. Still, the Celtics have gotten off to a fair start and should stay in playoff contention for the season.

#5 -- Nomar Garciaparra traded to the Cubs

How must Nomar Garciaparra have felt, sitting at home and watching the Red Sox finally win a World Series without him?

Whatever story you believe concerning Nomar's departure, the fact is that he is gone, never to return. Whether you will remember him as a clubhouse cancer or the second son of Ted Williams, Epstein had incredible guts to trade him to the Chicago Cubs at the 2004 trading deadline. Epstein had incredible foresight also, as it turns out.

The Red Sox replaced him with Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, who has since signed with Anaheim and been replaced by Edgar Renteria. Cabrera provided steady offense and committed no errors in the 2004 postseason. The Red Sox went 42-18 (53-21 including postseason) after the trade. Meanwhile, Garciaparra signed a one-year deal with the Cubs for 2005, for far less than the $12 million per year average he would have received with the Sox had he re-upped at the right time.

Still, you don't trade someone like Nomar and not feel it. It would have been nice if he had been able to stay. You the fan don't see clubhouse cancer. You see Nomar.

#4 -- Patriots win 21 straight games

It began on October 5, 2003, a 38-30 win over Tennessee at Gillette Stadium. It ended on October 24, 2004, a 13-7 win over the Jets at Gillette Stadium. Somewhere in between, the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII. 21 straight wins. No NFL team in history has won more consecutive games.

The Steelers ended the streak on Halloween with a 34-20 win at Heinz Field, a game where Dillon was a scratch, Ty Law went down with a foot injury and has yet to return, and Brady threw two picks. The Patriots rebounded to win six more straight before the Monday night loss at Miami. The Patriots are 24-2 in regular season games since the Week 4 loss at Washington last season.

The success of the Red Sox has almost completely overshadowed this magnificent run of excellence by the Patriots. Not until the Patriots hit a losing streak will fans truly appreciate the great work by Bill Belichick and his team during this run. It is not a stretch to say that Patriot Nation likely does not know a great thing when they see it, or if they do they may still never fully appreciate how difficult this feat was to do.

Considering the parity which the NFL has tried to produce all these years, this streak was simply phenomenal. You can choose your own superlative. Few superlatives don't correctly describe this; for those that do, none of them do it adequately.

#3 -- Red Sox defeat Yankees in ALCS after trailing 3-0 in games

At least the Red Sox went on to win the World Series.

It was feared that this historic conquest of the biggest rival of the Red Sox would be viewed by many as the high water mark in franchise history. Even Joe Castiglione called the Game 7 win "the biggest win in Red Sox history" (so did Buck and Tim McCarver for Fox Sports; their booth colleague Al Leiter called Game 7 "the worst loss in Yankee history"). It was the sweetest. But it was not the biggest.

Yes, how sweet it was. Down 3-0 in games to the Yankees. Then four straight victories to win the pennant. Two pulsating extra-inning wins at Fenway, followed by two convincing wins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees had not lost a Game 6 and 7 at home in the postseason since the 1926 World Series. The result: a huge celebration on Yankee Stadium soil, the first team in MLB history to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-0 in games, and all this accomplished against the team Red Sox Nation is born to hate.

The ultimate goal is not to beat the Yankees, but to win the World Series. That would be yet to come. But to see the Yankees finally slain by the Red Sox was one of the most cathartic scenes in the entire history of pro sports. Eighty-six years of anguish was quelled in one fell swoop. The combination of making this kind of baseball history with having the Yankees as the victims is as sweet a combination as chocolate chip ice cream and hot fudge.

Jackie Gleason loved to say, "How sweet it is!" Yes, how sweet. You'll never fear the Yankees or look at them the same way ever again.

#2 -- Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVIII

One half of the game was a defensive stalemate. The other half was some of the finest offensive football in Super Bowl history.

Jake Delhomme and Tom Brady gunslinged for four heart-stopping quarters, and it came down to who had the ball last. Adam Vinatieri nailed a 41-yard field goal with four seconds left, and the Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years with a 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.

The classic game, viewed by many as the greatest Super Bowl in history, capped a dominant season by the Patriots. They finished 17-2, a 15-game win streak, and became the dominant NFL team since Y2K. Once again, Patriot Nation was treated to a very entertaining championship game, and their faves came out on top and currently rule the pro football world for the second time in franchise history.

Most importantly, this game cemented the Patriots as the model sports franchise in the nation. Bob Kraft has built this team into a literal machine, with every member of the organization selflessly dedicated to winning and nothing else. Star quality takes a back seat to wins. The degree as to how efficient the Patriots are in manufacturing win after win is astounding.

You can repeat the description of the 21 wins in a row and apply it here. Here's hoping nobody around here takes this Patriot excellence for granted. This was true with the Celtics of the 1960s and those eight titles in a row. What the Patriots are doing right now is a regional treasure, not just some little run of good stuff every week which you now simply accept as a given.

One champ down, one to go.

#1 -- Red Sox win World Series for the first time since 1918

This is indisputable. What more can you say other than "Thank goodness I lived to see the Red Sox win a World Series!"?

It's simply the greatest non-sacred story ever told in these parts. The Red Sox swept the Angels, rallied from down 3-0 to beat the Yankees, then swept the Cardinals (in sweet payback for 1946 and 1967) in the World Series to win baseball's world championship. The "Idiots", the defining element for these players which became a perfect mentality for a team to pull off the breaking of the Bambino Curse, won the hearts of the entire nation, and not just Red Sox Nation.

As the months have passed and this World Series win has sunk in, you begin to understand what a wonderful thing the Boston Red Sox did in 2004. This championship was rooted in all the players and fans who yearned for a championship over 86 long years but never could see the whole thing through. Fans thought of deceased ancestors, players thought of Williams, Pesky and Doerr. This was a win for all those players and fans who never got to see it or experience it.

Now, whenever you go to Fenway Park in the future, you will look at the Red Sox differently for the rest of your life. They will never be chokers, lovable losers or underachievers again. They will always be champions, and you will remember 2004 for all your days. If you will never regard the Yankees in the same way ever again, you will feel a hundred times that for the Red Sox.

May the Red Sox and Patriots always continue to be champions. May the other teams one day return to the lofty perches they had been to once upon a time. And may all their fans feel luckier than ever to be where they live or where they come from.


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