By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 31, 2013

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There isn't any question whatsoever which singular event will define the year 2013 in Boston, and perhaps all of New England.

Oh sure, there were celebrations and near-celebrations. We had still another duck boat parade and almost had two. Another team got two whiffs of such a party at opposite ends of the year. We are still in the midst of the Golden Era of Boston Sports. It's still going, and may not be over for some time yet.

To counterbalance this ongoing euphoria, we are sobered with three young men who allegedly made horrible and tragic choices. One of the three men lost his life and the other two are currently incarcerated. One entity has survived his incarceration so far, but the other entity turned the dirty deeds into a new rallying cry for the city and the region.

We would like to usher in 2014 with our annual top ten list of Boston area sports stories. 2013 turned out to be a most extraordinary year, in many aspects. Let's look back once more at Boston Strong 2013, and hope that the word "strong" permeates itself to the entire New England region. And as always, our hopes and wishes for 2014 to be the best year you have ever had.

#10 — Patriots earn two seed and a bye week, December 29

It's becoming commonplace around here. 2013 marks the fourth season in a row that the Patriots will get a first round playoff bye. The Patriots secured the two seed by defeating Buffalo in the regular season finale at home. Everytime the Patriots have made the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, they did it with the first playoff weekend off.

What sets 2013 apart is that the Patriots have had so much to deal with regarding personnel issues. Departures, injuries, arrests, they have all ravaged the Patriots. Yet here they are, once again, 12-4 and a top two playoff seed.

The Patriots may win Super Bowl XLVIII, they may not. But Belichick may look back on this season as his best coaching job ever.

#9 — Rob Gronkowski and his injury history

What happens to this guy is no small deal. We're talking about the best tight end in the NFL. But he has been more known lately for injuries and off the field shenanigans than for being Tom Brady's go-to guy. Right now, the parties he hangs out at and the girls he associates with pales in comparison to the debilitating injuries he continues to suffer, and its residual effects on the Patriots.

Baltimore's Bernard Pollard hit him hard in the AFC Championship Game in January, knocking him out with a forearm injury which contributed to the Patriots losing the chance for a second straight Super Bowl. He misses the first six games of 2013, finally comes in against the Jets on October 20, and proceeds to play in the next seven games, catching 39 passes for 592 yards and four touchdowns.

But against Cleveland, he suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the 2013 season and perhaps part of the 2014 season. Most experts think this injury will prevent the Patriots from winning Super Bowl XLVIII. Combine this with how long it took him to play at all in the 2013 season thanks to family concerns, and Gronk could be looking at a long time on the sidelines.

#8 — Jacoby Ellsbury signs with Yankees, December 3

This column saw this coming a year and a half prior. You knew he wouldn't come back to Boston, because he really didn't want to come back and the Red Sox wouldn't meet his price. Everyone thought he would wind up in Seattle, Anaheim, Los Angeles or Texas. But we knew better.

Sure enough, the Yankees got their center fielder of the future by offering Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million contract. Without any further haggling by agent Scott Boras, Ellsbury agreed immediately. The deep sentiment here is that Ellsbury wanted to stick it to the Sox for their mistreatment of him during the 2010 season, thus the quick agreement to terms with the Yankees. The Yankees take a risk here with his injury history, but Murphy's Law says Ellsbury will feast on that short right field porch and give the Yankees at least 4-5 very good years.

#7 — Doc Rivers traded to LA Clippers, June 25

In 2008, Rivers pulled off one of the most amazing coaching feats in area history. Thanks to a monster deal over the summer by Danny Ainge, bringing Kevin Garnett to Boston along with Ray Allen in a separate draft deal, the Celtics broke their 22-year championship drought by annihilating the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Rivers became an instant hero, and the best post game interview in the area.

The Celtics made it back to the NBA Finals two years later, but 2013, the Celtics championship door with the current Big Three appeared to have closed. Rivers took the opportunity and forced a trade to the LA Clippers, ending his nine-year tenure in Boston. He was warmly received on his return a few weeks back, and rightfully so. He was very likeable, and did a brilliant job of managing men once he finally had the winning trinkets in place.

#6 — Bruins lose Stanley Cup Final Game 6, June 24

Trailing the Stanley Cup Finals 3 games to 2, the Bruins led the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in the third period thanks to a goal by Milan Lucic at 12:11 of the period. It seemed that the teams were heading towards a Game 7 at the United Center in Chicago.

But the Hawks pulled their goalie, Corey Crawford, and the amazing happened.

At 18:44, Bryan Bickell tied the game. Then with 59 seconds left, Dave Bolland netted the Stanley Cup winning goal. The Hawks celebrated on TD Garden ice while Bruins Nation looked on in horror. A certain Game 7 turned into season over. Great series, the Bruins did great to get that far thanks to an iconic win over Toronto and sweeping the Penguins in the East Finals.

But Bruin fans are still dizzy over Those Two Goals.

#5 — Patriots lose AFC Championship Game, January 20

When Aqib Talib left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury, the Super Bowl hopes of the Patriots went with him,. Though his loss wasn't exploited until the third quarter, the Ravens were able to avenge the horrific memories of a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff a year earlier to defeat the Patriots, 28-13 and eventually win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

The injury to Gronkowski didn't help, but without Talib in there to defend Anquan Boldin, school was out once offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell wised up and saw the matchup deficit for the Patriots. The Patriots were thus denied a chance at back-to-back Super Bowls for the first time in eight seasons. The Patriots have now gone the longest of the four major professional teams without winning a championship.

#4 — Celtics trade Pierce, Garnett to Nets, June 28

Paul Pierce and Garnett look as happy in Brooklyn as Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did watching the Fenway celebration in October.

It was finally time for these guys to leave Boston. Rather than retire, these guys were shipped off to Brooklyn in a mega-deal which brought, among others, Kris Humphries to Boston. The former husband of Kim Kardashian was equally as glum upon his arrival in Boston. But as of the present, he's still here though he may not know why or for how long.

In hindsight, it's too bad Paul and Kevin didn't just retire and have a huge love fest at the Garden. You could have had one for each player. Allen may also get one someday also desperate his contentious exodus to the Miami Heat. The latest championship run of the Celtics was nice, albeit a bit short, but delightfully unexpected.

And the sight of Pierce holding up his NBA Finals MVP in 2008 is right up there in the "richly satisfying" column of Boston sports.

#3 — Aaron Hernandez arrested for murder, June 26

It was an adversely surreal moment. Hernandez being taken from his home in North Attleborough in handcuffs. It only got worse when all the facts started coming out, and seeing Hernandez in court with his lawyer trying in vain to get him released on bail.

In the end, Odin Lloyd is dead, allegedly killed by Hernandez. Hernandez may have also killed two other men in Boston, and then killed Lloyd to maintain his silence. He had a flophouse in Franklin which was stocked full of weapons. As the story unfolded, Hernandez became portrayed as a cold blooded killer, and questions began to come up regarding why the Patriots didn't see this coming when they considered drafting him in 2010.

Bob Kraft and Belichick were both out of the country when this went down. Belichick would hold a press conference and reveal some deep regret and personal feelings while telling his version of Hernandez's tenure in New England. This story continues to cast a pall over Patriot Nation. But with the Patriots on the precipice of the 2013 playoffs, it has magnified the coaching job Belichick has done in 2013 without both Hernandez and Gronkowski.

#2 — Red Sox win World Series at Fenway, October 30

In any other year, this would be number one, bar none.

95 years. We can finally put 1918 to rest. Not since then had Fenway Park seen a World Series celebration by the home team. When Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter to end Game 6 and the World Series, Fenway exploded in celebration. Finally, the Red Sox won a World Series at home.

To get to this point, new manager John Farrell presided over one of the more remarkable manager jobs ever. The 2012 Red Sox were horrid under Bobby Valentine. The 2013 Red Sox were better, expedited thanks to the late 2012 trade with the Dodgers which sent Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford out west and took hundreds of millions of dollars off the books.

The Sox got the best record in the AL, defeated Tampa Bay in four games in the ALDS, then defeated the Tigers in six games in the ALCS despite three near no-hitters. The iconic image of Torii Hunter falling into the Sox bullpen after David Ortiz's grand slam in Game 2 was the high water mark of the year.

In the World Series, the Sox overcame losing Game 3 on an obstruction call by winning Game 4 on a pickoff play at first. The Sox beat Adam Wainwright twice in the World Series, Big Papi went nuts at the plate, Jon Lester acted like Bob Gibson, and the Sox had their third World Series win in the last ten years.

This win by the Red Sox brought all of Boston full circle, thanks to…

#1 — Bomb explosions at finish line of Boston Marathon, April 15

It's still scary. Three people died and hundreds more were injured when two Tsarnaev brothers allegedly detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line. The brutal act shook Boston to its core. Television coverage was so great that the capture of the surviving brother and the subsequent cheers for the Watertown police when the cruisers left the area by sidewalk bystanders remains an indelible image of the whole tragedy.

President Obama fired the first salvo by calling Boston a "tough and resilient town", and that Bostonians would "move forward as one proud city." The next salvo was fired by Ortiz at Fenway Park on April 20, the first Sox home game since the tragedy. In a stirring pre-game ceremony, Ortiz took the mike and proclaimed to the crowd, "This is our (expletive) city, and no one is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."

During the Rolling Rally on November 2, the parade stopped at the finish line at Copley Square along Boylston Street. Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia brought out the World Series trophy, placed it at the finish line, draped a "Boston 617 Strong" jersey on it, and led a group of first responders and the crowd in a rousing rendition of "God Bless America" with Dr. Ronan Tynan singing the song over loudspeakers. It may not have brought total closure to the tragedy, as the 2014 race has not yet been run. But it did bring the event full circle.

Boston Strong came out of this tragedy. The Red Sox made it cast in stone with their championship. The Patriots may solidify it even further. This is 2013 in the region, and while bad memories remain, a lot of positive did arise from the ashes of despair and fright.

And it's not just Boston. This whole region is our (expletive) region.


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