By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 31, 2008

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Three champs at the same time. Oh, so close.

Boston continues its run of what has to be its Golden Era of sports with pro teams who continue to enjoy great prosperity. You also have to include the Bruins in that discussion at this time; while they still don't have a Stanley Cup since 1972, at this writing they are comfortably in first place in the Northeast division, 12 points ahead of Montreal. The Celtics are the only current champions, but the Red Sox and Patriots either lost their league finals or came darn close to being there.

But three champs at the same time? If the Patriots defend Eli Manning a little better on that final drive? If Terry Francona doesn't leave Josh Beckett in too long in Game 2 at Tampa? It's a thought that is both seductive and heartbreaking. Three champs. Never been done before. Boston came tantalizingly close to having three teams at the top of their leagues at the same time.

But things are still good around here. As we change from 2008 to 2009, we would like to present the Top Ten Boston area pro sports stories of this past year. We give this to you with the best wishes for all in 2009, and that a year from now, this column will find all readers healthy, happy, and still loving their local teams with no less, if not more, vigor than ever.

#10 -- Bruins, Habs and that classic Game 6

If the Bruins do someday return to the level of Stanley Cup finalists, they will point to this game as the linchpin. Trailing the hated Habs in games, 3-2 in the Eastern quarterfinals, the Bruins came home on April 19 for Game 6. They trailed, 2-1 going into the third period. But the Bruins electrified everyone with four goals in the final stanza, with Marco Sturm scoring the game winner at 17:23 of the third period to give the Bruins a 5-4 win and to send the game to the decisive Game 7. Though Montreal shut out the B's in the finale, 5-0, the Bruins sent notice that, under new head coach Claude Julien, they will be a force to be reckoned with. So far, interest is back up, though they have a ways to go to catch Cam Neely era fever, and even longer to catch Bobby Orr fever. But things are still on the upswing, and that's terrific.

#9 -- Celtics, Cavs and that classic Game 7

Nobody thought the new Celtics could win a playoff series on the road. Going into the seventh game of the East semi-finals, the Celtics were 7-0 at home against both Atlanta and Cleveland, but 0-6 on the road against both teams. Thank goodness this showdown with Cleveland was also at home. But LeBron James, who should have been NBA MVP last year instead of Kobe Bryant, had other ideas. The result was the greatest two-man duel since Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins of 1988. James did everything humanly possible to try and bring his team to victory, scoring 45 points and showing a dogged determination in the process. Paul Pierce responded with 41 points, and won a key jump ball to help seal a 97-92 win and advancement to the East Finals against Detroit. Kevin Garnett said it best: "Give the ball to Paul, get the hell out of the way!"

#8 -- 11 wins not enough for Patriots, miss playoffs for first time since 2002

Don't depend on others to help you. The Patriots had to, and one by one, all of them failed the Patriots. Be they Dallas, Jacksonville or the Jets, one by one they lost games which could have catapulted the Patriots into the playoffs. The Patriots won out in December but could not save their heroic season marred from the start by the season-ending knee injury to Tom Brady, and thus became the first team in 23 years to win 11 games and miss the playoffs.

#7 -- Jon Lester no-hits the Kansas City Royals

On May 19, Jon Lester became the second Red Sox pitcher in the last 12 months to toss a no-hitter, blanking the Royals 7-0 at Fenway. Lester, who also was the winning pitcher in the decisive Game 4 of the World Series the previous year, cemented his special legacy here in Boston with this masterpiece as he completes his recovery from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Lester went on to become Boston's most effective pitcher in 2008, and along with Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, figures to be a part of a great Red Sox pitching rotation for years to come.

#6 -- Dustin Pedroia wins AL MVP

The mighty mite of the Red Sox dazzled the American League in 2008, collecting 213 hits, 54 doubles and 17 home runs. His batting averages were .326/.376/.493, and managed to win the first MVP by a Red Sox player since Mo Vaughn. Some folks thought Kevin Youkilis was more deserving, but for one stretch during the season where Pedroia was forced to hit cleanup, he went through a stretch where he looked like Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. He is now locked up with a new contract, and no one is complaining. The only question here is will Pedroia become the next captain of the Red Sox if Jason Varitek leaves the team.

#5 -- Manny Ramirez traded to Los Angeles Dodgers

No matter what kind of spin you put on this, it was a move the Red Sox had to make. The July 31 trade deadline blockbuster, which sent Pittsburgh's Jason Bay to Boston, was a seismic event for not only Boston but for all of baseball. Ramirez, most assuredly goaded by agent Scott Boras for financial reasons, quit on the Red Sox and behaved so poorly that the front office had no choice but to let him go. Bay fit right in and helped the Sox to come within one game of the World Series. Ramirez helped the Dodgers to sweep the Cubs in the playoffs but then saw his team lose the NL pennant to Philadelphia. With Mark Teixeira now a Yankee, you would think Manny would have a new home also, but lo and behold, nobody wants Manny now. He may return to the Dodgers for less money than he or Boras thought he could bring, and if that be the case, he has no one to blame but himself. Or perhaps Boras bears the blame. Who knows, and who cares.

#4 -- Red Sox lose Game 7 of the ALCS to the Tampa Bay Rays

The Sox should have won this series in six, as they dropped the ball in Game 2 by leaving Beckett in too long in a game they could have won if relief had come sooner. The Red Sox made a courageous rally with an unbelievable comeback in Game 5 at Fenway, then won Game 6 at the Trop to force the deciding game. But Matt Garza, who would wind up crapping out in the World Series, shut down the Sox, and David Price, who will contend for Rookie of the Year in 2009, closed the door. The Sox saw their world championship defense come to an end at the hands of a team that had never known any success at all until 2008.

#3 -- Tom Brady suffers season-ending knee injury in 2008 season opener

Bernard Pollard, an otherwise nondescript defensive back on a lousy Kansas City team, plowed into Tom Brady's left knee 15 plays into the Patriot season, forcing the Patriot great to the injured reserve list for the first time in his career. Matt Cassel came in and did well enough to engineer 11 wins, but Brady remains a major concern for the Patriots. Reports and stories vary, but the main gist is that he had surgery to repair torn ACL and MCLs, and that his rehab is being slowed thanks to infections in his knee and scar tissue that may have to be surgically removed. The Patriots are thus forced to consider keeping Cassel around instead of letting him leave as a free agent. Brady's status for 2009 continues to be one big question mark.

#2 -- Patriots upset by Giants in Super Bowl XLII

What was supposed to be the crowning moment of the Patriot franchise, a perfect 19-0 record and the possible label of the greatest one-season team in NFL history instead turned out to be one of the most nightmarish experiences in the history of Boston sports. The New York Giants somehow managed to come out as the more hungry and motivated team, and the exhausted Patriots were beat up all game long. Still, the game came down to a last-second touchdown from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress, and the Giants came away with a 17-14 win, the only loss suffered by the Patriots in 2007. The jarring loss is still hard to fathom in these parts, and it may stick in the craw of New Englanders longer than the 1986 World Series.

#1 -- Celtics win 17th NBA Championship, first one in 22 years

June was a wonderful trip down memory lane. Having the Lakers come in for the NBA Finals had "just like old times" written all over it. The Celtics were able to out-muscle the Lakers and take away Bryant's effectiveness, but the turning point of the series was a huge comeback in Game 4 out in Los Angeles where the Celtics wiped out a 22-point deficit to win and take a 3-1 series lead. The Celtics pulverized the Lakers in the decisive Game 6, 131-92 at the Garden, sending the area into wild celebration. The series was wonderful vindication for Pierce, but veterans like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen saw personal triumphs in their own right. The new Boston "Big Three" instantly claimed their fame in city sports history, and in one season elevated them all to iconic status. And it also showed everyone what a great coach Doc Rivers is, masterfully orchestrating the whole thing by getting these veterans to put team first and to rededicate themselves to playing good defense.
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