February 01, 2008
If Patriots Win, Best Area Championship Ever?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Whither Bobby Orr, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and David Ortiz?
Since the NBA came into existence in 1946, Boston area sports teams have won a total of 23 championships. The Celtics lead the way with 16, the Patriots have won three, and the Red Sox and Bruins have won two each. Given the high level of intensity of professional sports in this region, every one of the championships is legendary in its own right, something that has its own special place in the minds of all who witnessed them.
One has to wonder where Super Bowl XLII will rank if the Patriots should come through and defeat the New York Giants on Sunday. Finishing off an historic 19-0 season would go down as perhaps the greatest achievement in NFL history, and talk would heat up as to where the Patriots rank in terms of the best teams in NFL history. But in an area where the Red Sox are seemingly never away from anyone's consciousness, the Celtics are looked upon with reverence in the long continuum of time, and the Bobby Orr era in Bruins hockey is the best era anywhere outside of Montreal, putting the 2007 Patriots at the head of this class would really mean something.
The Patriots still have to go out and win the game on Sunday. And if they do, here is what their legacy will have to compete with. Following is a list of the ten most significant championships in area history, and by significant it can mean anything from "memorable" to "important" to "unlikely" to "improbable" to "unbelievable". You can go out and make up your own list, but here is our top ten favorite titles.
#10 -- 1964 Celtics
Bill Russell called this the best season of his career. It would be the last championship founder Walter Brown would live to see. The Celtics dispatched the San Francisco (now Golden State) Warriors in five games, not terribly remarkable by itself. But this NBA Finals win gave the Celtics six titles in a row, which set a professional sports record. The old record was five, done by the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Yankees. The Celtics would push that championship string to eight before finally losing in the 1967 East Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers.
#9 -- 1957 Celtics
The Celtics beat the St. Louis Hawks in a thrilling seven game series, winning the Game 7 clincher at the Boston Garden on April 13, 1957 in double overtime, 125-123. The win marked the first NBA championship for the Celtics, who had lumbered through three dull years in the 1940s under coaches Honey Russell and Doggie Julian, but were progressing steadily under Red Auerbach since his arrival in 1950. Auerbach finagled his way into drafting Russell the previous summer, and the greatest championship run in sports history was born.
#8 -- 1984 Celtics
This season produced one of the finest NBA Finals in history. The two centerpiece franchises of the NBA, the Celtics and the Lakers, staged a seven-game series for the ages, with Larry Bird finally getting the better of Magic Johnson after losing to him in the 1979 NCAA national championship. A clutch steal by Gerald Henderson helped the Celtics win Game 2 at home to tie the series, and after Bird called out the manhood of his teammates, the Celtics toughed out an overtime win at the Los Angeles Forum to tie the series again. It came down to a seventh game, and the Celtics sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a 111-102 win to bring the 15th NBA championship to Boston.
#7 -- 1969 Celtics
This Celtics team was aging, over the hill, and fourth in the NBA Eastern Conference. But this team somehow beat the Bullets and the Knicks and found themselves in the NBA Finals against the Lakers. In what would be the swan songs for both Sam Jones and Russell (player-coach by now), the teams would swap home wins and send the series to a seventh game at the Forum on May 5, 1969. The entire world predicted a Laker romp, and balloons were in the rafters to be released at the moment of victory. But the Celtics sent all those Laker fans home with a punch in the stomach, as they prevailed, 108-106 to claim the most unlikely, and perhaps sweetest, championship in team history.
#6 -- 2007 Red Sox
This title did not involve shocking the world, but rather looking like perhaps what the Boston folk saw in 1912. The Red Sox were leaders of the AL East nearly wire to wire, were tied for the best record in the majors at 96-66, and blitzed through the playoffs to the tune of 11-3, the only harrowing moment being down at one time to Cleveland in the ALCS, 3 games to 1. Behind the starting pitching of Josh Beckett, the shutdown closing of Jonathan Papelbon, the clutch hitting of Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis, and the new young greyhounds in Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, the Sox won their second World Series in four years in dominating fashion. Papelbon would become more famous for dancing Irish jigs, but his intensity became the symbol for the Sox in their conquest of the baseball world.
#5 -- 1986 Celtics
This was perhaps the most dominating Celtic team of them all. They went 40-1 at home and smoked their way through the playoffs. They massacred the Houston Rockets in six games to win their 16th, and most recent, NBA title. Bird transcended everyone else on the court, reaching the highest of highs in his illustrious career. His court awareness was unsurpassed in the league. He was one-third of the greatest front line in NBA history. And he led this team to an easy title win in a league where Magic Johnson was still the best playmaker and Michael Jordan was just starting to kick up a storm in the Windy City. It remains a marvel to this day, and the 2008 Celtics are making everyone think of the ‘86'ers.
#4 -- 1970 Bruins
The Stanley Cup Finals in 1970 was basically a dull series. After 29 empty and moribund years, the Bruins finally broke through and won a Cup. But it was the way they won the Cup which left an indelible impression in the area. Leading the St. Louis Blues 3 games to 0 and tied 3-3 after regulation in Game 4 on Mother's Day in 1970, the Bruins needed only forty seconds to end things. Bobby Orr went into the left corner and slid the puck to Derek Sanderson. Then, on the most famous give-and-go play in league history, Sanderson slid the puck right back to Orr, streaking for the net. Orr flipped the puck past Glenn Hall and was lifted into the air by Noel Picard. Boston Garden went bonkers, and the picture of Orr flying through the air is perhaps the most famous and iconic picture in Boston sports history.
#3 -- 2004 Patriots
Building a dynasty in today's NFL is somewhat akin to performing calculus with your left hand and drawing a picture with your right. You could do it, but it is near impossible. In winning Super Bowl XXXIX over the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21, the Patriots won their third Super Bowl title in four years. By today's NFL standards, it is a miracle. Given the nature of free agency and the restrictions of the salary cap, it is very hard to keep a steady stream of good players who can play cohesively over a long period of time. But Bill Belichick has been able to establish just that in New England, and his being able to win these multiple championships in such a short amount of time represents perhaps the greatest testimonial to his coaching genius.
#2 -- 2001 Patriots
You never forget your first love. Or your first Super Bowl win. The Patriots were 17-point underdogs to the St. Louis Rams, given no chance to win the game. But win they did, as Belichick came up with perhaps the best game plan in NFL history. Part of it was coaching stupidity on the part of Rams coach Mike Martz, but Belichick shone brightly in shutting down the high octane passing offense of the Rams. Adam Vinatieri culminated that famous drive which put Tom Brady on the NFL map with the first walk-off field goal in Super Bowl history. The 48-yarder which gave the Patriots a 20-17 win in Super Bowl XXXVI is still unbelievable to watch, and to this day, still something to marvel at. The Patriots shocked the entire world, and forever changed how everyone views the former league laughingstocks.
#1 -- 2004 Red Sox
This still has to be everyone's favorite, but Sunday could well change that. Breaking the 86-year curse was simply the greatest. Coming back from down 3 games to none against the Yankees to win the pennant made the four-game sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series even sweeter. Thanks to clutch hitting from David Ortiz and some gritty pitching efforts from injured warrior Curt Schilling, the Red Sox were finally able to give the region a present unlike any other. Families remembered deceased loved ones who never got to see the Sox win a championship. This championship represented a long overdue satiation of championship longing for all Red Sox fans everywhere, and the heritage and history of the Red Sox is what gives this championship its unique place in history.
All this said, if the Patriots do win on Sunday and finish at 19-0, it very well could vault the 2007 Patriots to the top of this list. Red Sox Nation can disagree all it wants, and it can present some very compelling arguments. But those arguments will simply not hold up. For all the teams over the years who have gone 15-1 or 14-2, they will understand what this Super Bowl win would truly mean for the Patriots in an historical sense.
Simply put, no other team in NFL history will have done what the 2007 Patriots will have done if they win Sunday. It will be the best championship ever if the Patriots go out and finish the job.
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