December 31, 2007
The Best Sports Year In Boston History
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
To say this year was defined by three men coming to this area is gross oversimplification. But it is a nice place to start.
People all over are calling this the "Golden Era of Boston Sports", and it's hard to argue with them. You have the Red Sox being the current world champions of baseball, the Patriots becoming the first team in NFL history to finish a regular season at 16-0, and the Celtics, who just swept a season series from the Lakers to improve their record to 26-3, the best in the NBA. You even had the Revolution once again making it to the MLS Cup final. Only the Bruins are failing to scale these highest of highs, but they are at least over .500 despite being currently fourth place in the NHL's Northeast Division.
For the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics, each team saw the arrival in 2007 of a high profile athlete which seemingly helped turn the fortunes of the franchise upward. Between Daisuke Matsuzaka, Randy Moss and Kevin Garnett, the press given these three guys was perhaps on par with what the President gets. The Red Sox had to pay $50 million just to get to negotiate with Matsuzaka. Everyone brought up Moss's history of misbehavior when the Patriots traded a fourth round draft pick to the Raiders to get him. And it seemed that Garnett wanted nothing to do with Boston when trade rumors began to swirl.
With 2007 beginning to ride off into the sunset, these three men seemed to typify what these teams accomplished this year.
Red SoxSelecting Matsuzaka as the Red Sox figurehead for 2007 comes with a few qualifiers. First of all, the Sox sought him and signed him in December 2006, not 2007. It's just that Dice-K got more run in the offseason than any other player. Second, Matsuzaka was hardly the total reason the Red Sox won the World Series, as he underwent a huge transition from baseball in Japan to baseball in the USA. He finished 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his first season with Boston, and seemed to wear down during the final months of the baseball season.
But Matsuzaka did win his last two postseason starts, Game 7 of the ALCS versus Cleveland and Game 3 of the World Series versus Colorado. Whether or not he becomes worth all the money paid him will be found out starting next season, when he should be more acclimated to how baseball works (e.g., traveling, length of season) in the USA. But his arrival climaxed perhaps the most anticipated new member of the Red Sox since Manny Ramirez coming on board in 2001.
As previously stated, Dice-K was not the sole reason the Sox won it all. The Sox finished at 96-66, tied with Cleveland for the best record in baseball. Josh Beckett became the majors' first 20-game winner since 2005 and was the most feared pitcher in baseball in the month of October. Along with Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester, who returned to the Red Sox after a battle with cancer, the Red Sox were deep in starting pitching, and none of them managed to throw a no-hitter like Clay Buchholz did (Schilling almost did). The bullpen was anchored by the newest best closer in the league, Jonathan Papelbon, who only needs to learn how to riverdance correctly (keep arms down, say dance experts) to make himself the complete package. If this wasn't enough, the Sox had a setup man who made it to the All-Star Game in Hideki Okajima.
Offensively, the Red Sox were frightful in October. Ramirez and David Ortiz no longer had to shoulder the entire offensive burden. Mike Lowell won the World Series MVP and became another daddy figure in the clubhouse. J.D. Drew picked the right time to get hot and hopefully can carry it over into 2008. Jason Varitek's time is growing short, but no one in the league handles pitchers better than the captain.
And then there's the two young guys at the top of the order. Dustin Pedroia won Rookie of the Year, and rightfully so. Jacoby Ellsbury can still do the same next year. These two guys should stabilize the top of the batting order for years to come (as long as the Sox don't deal Ellsbury for Johan Santana, which would be a gross mistake). Ellsbury played Coco Crisp out of a job, which is unfortunate for Crisp, but should become the best leadoff hitter in Red Sox history as long as he is allowed to stay.
And you have the best manager in Terry Francona. Nobody on the planet can do what he does in Boston. The "in Boston" part is the key operative here. He should have this job as long as he is still breathing. This guy does not, and perhaps never will, get enough credit for the great job he does. Francona is 8-0 in World Series games as Red Sox manager, including the four-game sweep over Colorado to bring this year's top prize to Boston.
CelticsWhen July 31 came along, the Red Sox were making news by acquiring former All-Star closer Eric Gagne from Texas for Kason Gabbard. No one figured that on that same day, Danny Ainge would have a similar announcement. Ainge made this day a red-letter day in Boston sports history by announcing that the Celtics had acquired Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, sending former Celtic teammate and Minnesota GM Kevin McHale Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, and the contract of Theo Ratliff. Just a month prior, the Celtics acquired former UConn standout Ray Allen from Seattle for Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak.
There they were. Garnett, Allen and Pierce. They looked like Larry, Kevin and Robert. Basketball was back in Boston. Season tickets suddenly picked back up again. The excitement was unbelievable. This was perhaps better than the day Bird signed his first contract with the Celtics in 1979.
Once the regular season began, all of everyone's green and white dreams came true. The Celtics began with a 103-83 win over Washington on November 2 in the season opener, and are the best team in the league right now based upon won-loss record. The Celtics just completed a 4-0 west coast swing, defeating Sacramento, Seattle, Utah and the Lakers in succession. Only Orlando, Cleveland and Detroit, whom many think is the real best team in the east for now, have been able to solve the Celtics thus far.
It isn't just the big three, it just seems that way. Paul Pierce no longer needs to do everything himself. Rajan Rondo is developing into a nice point guard, but still has more to learn about the game. James Posey, Eddie House Tony Allen and Glenn "Big Baby" Davis provide excellent support off the bench. And then there's this year's Connor Henry, Brian Scalabrine.
And finally, head coach Doc Rivers is getting some positive vibes after some years of being a teacher. He has become now more of a facilitator, with Garnett providing some incredible leadership along with Allen and Pierce. Garnett alone has transformed the Celtics into a team which resembles the Patriots from a self-policing standpoint, in that what Rivers tries to impart to his players, Garnett will make sure to enforce it all.
The Celtics have still not yet played San Antonio or Phoenix. And they must still prove themselves when they play Detroit again. But there is no question that the Celtics are suddenly legitimate title contenders right now, and that alone is something incredible.
PatriotsWhen the Patriots lost the AFC Championship Game to Indianapolis in January, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli knew exactly what to do. Score more points.
In came Wes Welker, Kelley Washington and Donte Stallworth. While Welker went on to break Troy Brown's record for most catches in a season for a Patriot receiver, all these acquisitions paled to what happened on April 29.
The Raiders wanted to get rid of Randy Moss, but were afraid to find any takers for one of the biggest manchildren in the NFL in recent memory. All he did was cause trouble in Minnesota and Oakland, and he was completely disgruntled again. Belichick offered the Raiders a fourth round pick, and the Raiders said "Done". Moss came to New England, and the team came under mass scrutiny as to whether or not they have abandoned their squeaky clean image of picking up only high quality, low maintenance players.
And in the end, Belichick and Pioli knew better as always. Moss was like Corey Dillon. He was a problem child only because he was stuck with losers when all he wanted to do was win. Looking back on the 2007 season, hearing the phrase "the light is yellow and ready to turn red" when referring to Moss now seems totally ridiculous. Even this column said that by week six, Moss would be screaming for a new contract and refusing to play until he got one. Moss deserves a lot of credit for proving all his detractors wrong.
Now it is New Year's Eve. Moss has now set an NFL record for most touchdown catches in a season and a Patriot record for most receiving yardage in a season, and Moss's Patriots finished a perfect 16-0 regular season. The only issues Moss has right now is with members of the media which he, in his own words, shut up this season. Moss's acquisition turns out to be the best trade in Patriot history, and one which may have catapulted the Patriots to the best one-season performance in league history. His teammates have nothing but the highest of praise for Moss, which again smacks of similarities to when Dillon resurrected his career here in New England.
Tom Brady will likely win the league MVP award. He set an NFL record for most touchdown passes in a season, and continues to play at the top of his profession. Thanks to Moss, Stallworth and Welker, Brady was given the targets he lacked at the end of the 2006 season. He was protected by perhaps the best offensive line in the conference. Sammy Morris was a nice pickup at running back until he went down with an injury, and Laurence Maroney is now finally getting to show what he can do now that the weather has gotten colder around here.
Brady and Moss have at times relegated the defense to a bunch of "who deys", but make no mistake, they can play. Asante Samuel and the Patriots settled their differences, and he went out and led the team with six interceptions. Richard Seymour missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, but Jarvis Green provided his usual terrific bench backup support to complement Ty Warren and super run-stuffer Vince Wilfork. The loss of Rosevelt Colvin at linebacker hurts, but Junior Seau has been a pleasant surprise at inside backer with Tedy Bruschi, while Adalius Thomas and Pro Bowler Mike Vrabel form a nice outside tandem. Rodney Harrison managed to stay injury-free in 2007, and his experience in the secondary helped greatly.
Belichick overcame his own personal problems in 2007. The SpyGate scandal which broke after the Week 1 win over the Jets rocked him personally. But he responded by using this scandal to fire up his team and win all sixteen regular season games. He remains the best coach in the business, and will be the team's guiding light as the Patriots try and turn 16-0 into 19-0.
Between these three teams, they make you feel great to either live in or be from this region. 2007 was the greatest year ever to be a Boston sports fan. If the Patriots can win the Super Bowl and the Celtics can return to the pinnacle of the NBA, then 2008 would perhaps top 2007.
But for now, as 2007 fades off into history, this was as good as it gets. The fact that potentially better things can happen in 2008 make this "Golden Era" even better. For right now, tuck 2007 away in your memory banks. Find a special place where you can visit often and reminisce with a smile.
And here's hoping that all Boston teams have a prosperous 2008, as well as you and yours.
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