By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 29, 2005

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How well do they defend titles?

One team loses its general manager and its star/pop icon center fielder, and their best hitter hates Boston and wants out.

The other team simply wins another championship.

While the other teams languish almost completely under the radar screen (well, if you count the Revolution as one of the "other" teams, they did at least play for the championship), the Red Sox and Patriots remain at the forefront of Boston area professional sports. And it is clear that the Patriots have regained their lofty status as the top team in the region, though the Red Sox remain the favorite of the local media.

Simply stated, the Patriots are a better team, the Red Sox a better story. On Monday night's broadcast, ABC's John Madden made this observation: "Methodical dominance is boring!" And he's right. But the Patriots are winners, and continue their winning tradition in 2005 despite being riddled with a hail of key injuries and the loss of the top coordinators going into this season.

And they are the toast of Boston and New England in 2005, highlighting our presentation of the top Boston area pro sports stories for 2005. Enjoy, one and all, and have a happy and prosperous 2006.

#10 -- Patriots overcome injuries, win AFC East

They are calling this the greatest coaching job of Bill Belichick's career. The Patriots go into the final regular season at 10-5, AFC East champions, and still alive for as high as a three seed. Did any of you think this was possible when a 26-16 loss at Kansas City put the team at 5-5 and left the team exposed as one that could play zero defense?

The Patriots have since tightened up the screws on defense. They have reeled off five straight wins, one by shutout (and nearly two), clobbering weak teams and suffocating the one good team (Tampa Bay) during this stretch drive. Now all of a sudden the Patriots are back to being the one team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

Belichick can be as coy as he wants at the podium. Just coach, baby.

#9 -- Bruins return after long layoff

Yawn. Anyone care?

As of Thursday morning, the Bruins are in last place in the NHL's Northeast Division, 23 points behind first place Ottawa. This right here is enough to warrant your complete lack of attention. But there's more.

These three facts must always be taken into consideration when/if you wish to regain your interest in the Bruins: First, the long lockout exposed the Bruins as merely a senior Beanpot tournament, that being the fan base is only inside the route 128 beltway. Second, the Bruins will never contend for the Stanley Cup unless Jeremy Jacobs sells the team to someone dedicated to winning over making a ton of money. And third, with sincere apologies to Cam Neely, the Bruins have still not replaced Phil Esposito after all these years, and never will win a Stanley Cup until they do.

So, unless the latter two conditions are remedied, the first one will remain the same, and that's not even a gimme.

#8 -- Joe Thornton traded

This would be like the Sox trading Manny Ramirez to the Devil Rays for two or three minor league prospects. On November 30th, the Bruins traded the top pick of the 1997 NHL draft to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. Thornton, who was supposed to be the franchise icon for many, many years, never had the desire to work to the fullest of his limits. His dismal performance in the previous Stanley Cup playoff series the Bruins were in (losing in the first round to Montreal in 2004) was perhaps his death knell in Boston. The Bruins pick up three nobodies for Thornton, and are still in last place.

Oh, well, look at the bright side. Jacobs' bottom line looks terrific. Get yer hot dogs here, folks.

#7 -- Manny being Manny

This is why nobody should be upset if Manny Ramirez gets traded someday.

On that horrid night in Tampa Bay (July 26th) when Matt Clement was coldcocked on the pitching mound with a line drive off the bat of Carl Crawford, Terry Francona went to Ramirez and said that he badly needed him to play the next day, a planned day off. Ramirez refused to go in. This sent Ramirez off on a three-day nutty which caused him to be scratched from the lineup for until Sunday, the July 31 trading deadline.

On that Sunday game at home against Minnesota, with the game 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Ramirez came up in a pinch-hit role as Fenway Park thundered. He delivered a game-winning single, and the Sox won the fifth of eight straight games. Ramirez was hailed as a hero, and after the game he called the last three days "Manny being Manny".

Fans forget too easily. All the goodwill he engendered from the previous year was gone. At the salary he is making, and at the level he is playing at, those three-day nutties are not acceptable. It was a total and complete disgrace, hidden under a veil of one lousy game-winning hit. And Red Sox Nation should not forget, especially if you are forced to watch that horrid video of Clement getting struck in the head by that line drive.

#6 -- Celtics ousted by Pacers

Never before in their storied history had the Celtics lost a Game 7 at home. They did this year, to a team known more for Ron Artest than Larry Bird and Reggie Miller.

Never mind that playoff series. We'll draw some Bruins-esque comparisons here. The Celtics will never win another title unless 1) Paul Pierce is not responsible for any kind of peer leadership (e.g., captaincy), and 2) the Celtics somehow get themselves a legitimate front-line center. Rick Pitino was right on when he lamented over not getting Tim Duncan. Duncan would have brought more banners to the rafters here rather than in San Antonio. Get a center, Danny Ainge, then we'll stand up and take notice.

#5 -- Johnny Damon leaves Red Sox

He cut the hair and shaved the beard. That's how badly he wanted out.

Fans think the Yankees overpaid for Johnny Damon, that his lousy throwing arm will cost the Yankees runs to any ball hit to left-center at the Stadium, that his offensive skills will decline rather than prosper. But all of greater Boston cannot be happy with the thought of the player some likened to Jesus Christ playing for the Yankees now.

Damon became a pop icon in Boston. His grand slam in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS may go down as the most important home run in franchise history. But his good looks and his penchant for theater made him very special. The Red Sox have been notorious for allowing great players to enter into their contract year and watch them walk (with Jason Varitek being a glaring exception), and Damon continues that inglorious legacy.

You know, maybe wife Michelle wanted this. She and Johnny together in New York? Yikes. Five years from now, Johnny will be a bum, but Michelle will be the next Cindy Crawford. Write it down. As long as Michelle never has to speak, she's got it made in the shade.

#4 -- Red Sox swept by White Sox

At least the world championship defense was ended by a team which broke a longer skein of its own a few weeks later.

You follow a team winning its first World Series in 86 years with one which hadn't won one in 88 years. The White Sox looked all their Black Sox demons in the eye and dispatched of the Red Sox, Angels and Astros in only twelve games. The Red Sox got off easy when you look at the Angels (four straight ChiSox complete games) and the Astros (terrible umpiring). But lose the Red Sox did, in three straight games to the eventual World Champs. The title run lasted only one year. This was clearly Chicago's year, not Boston's.

Oh, and did the White Sox lose Paul Konerko to free agency? Hah.

#3 -- Theo Epstein leaves Sox

Trick or treat. Theo's gone. The horror.

You now have Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington as co-GMs. The Red Sox operated better when they had no one. They made the Josh Beckett, Edgar Renteria and Mark Loretta trades before the naming of these former Epstein lieutenants. Since then, they had Damon snitched while no one was looking, watched Kevin Millwood sign with pitching-poor Texas, and still have no centerfielder or shortstop for opening day.

Meanwhile, the door is still open for Epstein to return, but all this mess has exposed Larry Lucchino, seemingly untouchable after the World Series win, as an autocratic dictator who may be ruining the Red Sox. Fans are calling for Lucchino's head, ignoring all the good he has done in the last few years in making the Red Sox more fan friendly as well as competitive. Maybe Lucchino knows more about Epstein than we thought we did.

In any case, the Red Sox are in chaos right now, unlike a year ago when things were like yummy hot fudge sundaes and candy canes.

#2 -- Tedy Bruschi suffers a stroke, but returns to play football

Here's your regional man of the year right here.

On February 16th, Bruschi was rushed to MGH from his home in North Attleborough, complaining of sever headaches, blurred vision and partial paralysis. The diagnosis left Patriot Nation completely numb themselves. Bruschi had suffered a minor stroke.

While the fan base waited and prayed, it was later learned that Bruschi had a hole in his heart, a congenital condition which was repaired through surgery. Bruschi hired an agent and was poised to take the 2005 season off, recuperate and try to make a comeback for 2006. Everyone thought his career was over, and was prepared to move on, wishing only for Bruschi to fully recover and to be there for his family.

Surprise. By the eighth week of the season, at home against Buffalo, there was old number 54, back out there at middle linebacker. His return was hailed as a miracle. But then again, Bruschi has been a miracle since he first set foot here in 1996 as a Bill Parcells draftee.

Now injured once again, Patriot Nation waits to see how his leg will heal up as the playoffs approach. But Bruschi's heart will always be full -- of love and adulation from his caring fans.

#1 -- Patriots win Super Bowl XXXIX

Do you still think that winning the Super Bowl is easy? The Patriots sure make it look that way.

To win a Vince by having to beat Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia along the way had to rank amongst the most remarkable postseason runs in NFL history. The Patriots did not look completely outstanding in their 24-21 win over the Eagles at AllTel Stadium in Jacksonville, but it was more than good enough. The Patriots continue this stunning run of dominance and excellence in the NFL, a run which some experts call the best in league history.

Three out of four was nice. But if the Patriots can make it four out of five, then it really is the best run in NFL history. Then and only then can you start using words like "best ever" and "Patriots" in the same sentence. Winning Super Bowl XL will top them all.

But winning Super Bowl XXXIX was pretty darned good in its own right.


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