By: Bob George/
December 31, 2010

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This year began with hockey at Fenway Park, and ends with the Patriots returning to the top playoff seed in the AFC for the first time since 2007.

No championships came to the region in 2010. The Celtics came the closest, falling four points shy of the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Amazingly, only the Red Sox missed the playoffs of all the four major pro teams, but their unusually high amount of injuries and lousy relief pitching did them in. The Patriots were bullied out of the playoffs, while the Bruins suffered the biggest playoff disgrace since the 2004 Yankees.

But things are on the upwing all around. The Celtics look like they are in contention for the best regular season record in the NBA, which will help them bring home an 18th NBA title. The Red Sox are immediate favorites to make it to the World Series thanks to some high profile deals they made late in the year. The Bruins are playing for Claude Julien's job, and have toughened up their act quite a bit. And then there are the Patriots, who go into the 2010 playoffs as a favorite to play in Super Bowl XLV.

That said, we present to you our top ten moments in Boston pro sports for 2010. Ironically, half these events are adverse in nature. That is why we said "top" instead of "best". This region has been spoiled in recent years with lots of championships. Perhaps as many as three more could be in the offing in one calendar year. It's a lot to hope for, but certainly possible.

May all these championships come true, and may all of you have a terrific 2011 along with your favorite sports teams.

#10 -- Savard concussion on Cooke cheap shot, March 7

It was a cowardly act that went unpunished, and most Bruins fans are still not over this dastardly event.

Some nobody named Matt Cooke blindsided Marc Savard with a cheap blow to the head as the Bruin centerman was crossing the middle near the blueline. Savard suffered a Grade 2 concussion and was lost for the rest of the regular season. Cooke was neither fined nor suspended by the league, as there was no mechanism in place to punish that kind of a hit.

Shawn Thornton had to do what the league could not do. Just under two minutes into the rematch between the two teams at Boston on March 18, Thornton went after Cooke as soon as he came on the ice and beat him senseless. But the fight came off as staged and transparent, and the Bruins went on to lose the game, 3-0 with no bump at all coming from the fight. Thornton got a misconduct in addition to the matching majors.

Savard did return for the playoffs and scored an overtime goal to win Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the east semis. But that sense of good feeling did not last beyond three games. More on this later.

#9 -- Shaq becomes a Celtic, August 4

The Celtics are going with veterans, make no doubt about it.

Shaquille O'Neal, perhaps the most celebrated big man in the NBA since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, signed with the Celtics during the summer. The team had already inked Jermaine O'Neal earlier in the offseason, feeling that the team needed to get longer given that the injury to Kendrick Perkins helped the Celtics lose Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Lakers. Now they bring in another O'Neal and another big man. This is comparable to the Patriots bringing in Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth in 2007 after needing more wideouts to help avert an AFC title game loss to Indianapolis a year before.

O'Neal brings his outspoken and flamboyant personality to Boston, but the big man is long in the tooth (38) and seemingly not used to being the role player he will have to be in Boston. But thus far, Shaq has been better than advertised. Besides, he has a burning desire within him to shut up Kobe Bryant, who pointed out during the offseason that he has more rings than Shaq.

The Celtics currently have the best record in the Eastern Conference and trail only San Antonio for the best record in the league overall. So far, so good, Shaq.

#8 -- Bruins blow 3-0 series lead to Flyers, May 14

On May 5, the Bruins were high flying after knocking off the Flyers for the third game in a row. One more win and it's on to the Eastern Conference finals.

Nobody really worried much when Simon Gagne scored an overtime goal in Game 4 to send it back to Boston for Game 5. Good, the team gets to win the series at home. No bother.

But in perhaps the most critical game of the series, the Flyers came into Boston and scored a 4-0 win in Game 5. Ten penalties were called on the Bruins, only four on the Flyers. But the most remarkable element of this game was that Philly goalie Michael Leighton was replaced by Brian Boucher in the second period with the Flyers up 2-0. Boucher closed the door on the Bruins, and the teams went back to Philly with the Bruins now up only 3-2. Bother.

After the Game 6 2-1 loss at Wachovia Center, the teams came back to Boston tied at 3 wins apiece. Everyone started bringing up the 2004 Yankees. No. It can't happen to us.

It did. For the third time in NHL history, a team lost a playoff series after leading 3-0. The Bruins led Game 7 3-0, but the Flyers came back with one goal at the end of the first and two in the second to tie it. And in the third, Gagne, who won Game 4 in overtime, scored at 12:52 to win it for the Flyers. The Flyers would go on to the Stanley Cup Finals, before losing to Chicago.

The Bruins would go home to an offseason of shame and total infamy.

#7 -- Red Sox lose 3 players in SF weekend, June 25-27

The Red Sox were bedeviled by injuries all season long, epitomized by Adrian Beltre taking out two left fielders on similar misplayed pop flies down the third base line. But the low water mark of the season, which spelled doom for the 2010 Red Sox, happened in beautiful AT&T park in San Francisco in late June.

Paying only their second visit ever to the City By The Bay, the Red Sox lost Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Victor Martinez to long term injuries in one weekend. Pedroia fouled a ball off his foot on Friday night, June 25 off starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. He came up in the third inning and managed to work a walk just after suffering the injury, but Mike Cameron had to come in and pinch run for Pedroia, who would not play again for the entire season.

On Saturday, Buchholz was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox against Madison Bumgarner. He got out of the first inning with no runs allowed despite giving up a walk to Edgar Renteria and a single to Aubrey Huff. But in the second inning, just after Cameron hit a three-run homer to make it 4-0 Sox, Buchholz singled to right. The next batter, Marco Scutaro, grounded into a 5-4-3 double play.

Then Scott Atchison comes out to pitch the bottom of the second. Replays then showed Buchholz pulling up lame going into second on Scutaro's double play ball. It was a pulled hamstring, and Buchholz, who was an All-Star in 2010, was shelved until July 21.

The next day, Jon Lester struck out Huff to end the bottom of the third. In the bottom of the fourth, Jason Varitek came out to catch for Martinez. It turned out that Andres Torres broke Martinez's thumb on a swing two batters earlier. Like Buchholz, Martinez was shelved for a month.

Credit Terry Francona on a terrific managing job in 2010. With all the injuries he had, to manage the Sox to 89 wins was no small achievement.

#6 -- Randy Moss traded to Vikings, October 6

The Patriots of 2010 opened the season well, cruising to a 3-1 record going into their bye week. They went into that weekend coming off an exhilarating 41-14 at Miami on a Monday night. Then two days later comes the bombshell announcement. Randy Moss was being sent back to his first team, the Vikings in return for a fourth round pick.

Most local observers were aghast. Why trade away the most dangerous deep threat in the league, the man most responsible for Wes Welker's success and the only key to sustaining any kind of rushing attack. The answer was soon in coming.

While Moss left Minnesota in disgrace on November 1, the Patriots have gone 10-1 since the trade. Tom Brady has found new weapons in Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead. He got an old friend back in Deion Branch. And Welker is still going strong, coming back from blowing out his knee in the 2009 season finale.

This isn't like the Bruins trading Phil Esposito to the Rangers. It's better.

#5 -- Patriots lose home playoff game to Baltimore, January 10

Not since New Year's Eve, 1978, had this happened to the Patriots.

Chuck Fairbanks was a lame duck coach, so that can explain why the Houston Oilers could come into Schaefer Stadium and bludgeon the Patriots, 31-14. But what the Baltimore Ravens did to the Patriots in January was much worse. The score was almost the same (33-14), but the Ravens were far better than that score would indicate.

Ray Rice ran for an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. The Ravens would score 24 first quarter points, and school was out. Baltimore forced four Patriot turnovers, including three picks from Brady. This was largely due to the absence of Welker, and the complete domination by the Ravens defense over the Patriots.

These teams could meet again in the 2010 playoffs. Like in 2009, the teams met during this regular season with the Patriots winning at home, 23-20 in OT.

#4 -- Red Sox sign Carl Crawford, December 8

Two days prior, the Sox swung a trade with San Diego, a deal which had been in the works for a couple of years. Adrian Gonzalez, the slugging first baseman of the Padres, was dealt to Boston for Casey Kelly and two other minor leaguers. Gonzalez and the Sox have a deal in place to keep him in Boston which won't be finalized until after the 2011 season begins, to ease the hit on the luxury tax for the Sox.

Then the Sox completely shook up the baseball world by signing former Tampa Bay left fielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal. It left everyone, especially the Yankees, totally shocked. The Red Sox became instant favorites to win at least the AL pennant. With Crawford and Gonzalez coming to Boston, and assuming players like Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury come back from 2009 injuries, the Red Sox have perhaps the best offense in all of baseball.

#3 -- Celtics lose to Lakers in NBA Finals, June 17

Meeting for the second time in three years, the Celtics and Lakers further reinforced themselves as the best show the NBA has to offer. This series went the limit, with history once again favoring the Celtics; they had risen up and conquered the Lakers in a seventh game in 1969 at the Forum with a team seemingly inferior to the Lakers on paper.

And the Celtics nearly pulled it off. A late fourth quarter collapse by the Celtics, already depleted without the injured Perkins, resulted in an 83-79 defeat in the seventh and deciding game. The Lakers and Celtics each won one game on the other team's court, but in the end the Lakers had the final game in their crib and protected their house.

And of course, it prompted Bryant to speak about how many rings he has, and the fact that it was more than his former teammate.

#2 -- Winter Classic at Fenway Park, January 1

It was a surreal way to begin the new year. A hockey game at Fenway Park.

True, many patrons had a bad view of the rink and the game was devoid of excitement until late in the contest. But it was still a great day, perfect weather, a nice rink, and a win by the home team. Trailing for most of the game, 1-0 to the Flyers, Mark Recchi tied the game with a goal at 17:42 of the third period. And in overtime, Marco Sturm won it with just over three minutes left in the contest. Fenway exploded in celebration, and it turned out to be the loudest cheers Fenway would hear in 2010.

Oh, and another tradition was continued from the Winter Classic. One of the combatants went on to lose in the Stanley Cup Finals for the third year in a row. And you all know how Philadelphia made it to the Cup Finals. Something about rallying from a 3-0 deficit in the East Finals.

#1 -- Patriots lock up top AFC playoff seed, December 26

This is an ongoing story as we speak, and the excitement around here is very noticeable.

In a year where not much was expected from the Patriots, with a young defense still in transition and Tom Brady and Wes Welker still recovering from catastrophic knee injuries, the Patriots are currently 13-2, in possession of the top playoff seed in the AFC, and are favored to advance to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. They clinched the top seed this past Sunday with a 34-3 win at Buffalo, and now face a meaningless regular season finale at home against Miami this weekend.

History has shown that whenever the Patriots have the bye week in the playoffs, they always make it to the Super Bowl. That is why this region is real jazzed over the Patriots, and that the team has a great chance to make a landmark impression on 2011. Blessed with both the best coach and quarterback in the league, the Patriots continue to bring lots of joy to their legions, and are in great position to tack on Super Bowl win number four, which would put them in very exclusive company in league history.