Being a New England Sports Fan
Living With the Joy of Success
When the Boston Bruins lost game seven of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs the other night, it left the New England area without a defending champion in one of the four major sports. More often than not, over the last 12 years, New England sports fans have had a defending champion or two to root for. We have become spoiled. We are now used to seeing our teams in the thick of things come playoff time. Seven times in this period, our teams have walked away with the ultimate prize. We have had unprecedented period of success, which can be matched by few if any sports fans of this or any era. We have truly been blessed by the success and glory of our sports teams.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
It all began on a sunny September afternoon in 2001. The New England Patriots were playing the New York Jets in the last season of Foxboro Stadium. Patriots star quarterback Drew Bledsoe dropped back to pass. Not finding anyone open. He scrambled to the right and attempted to get out of bounds. He was knocked flat by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and suffered a collapsed lung. He was out for several weeks. By the time he was healthy and ready to play, his spot had been taken by a skinny, cocky and determined quarterback from the University of Michigan named Tom Brady. Brady and coach Bill Belichick would lead the Patriots, to the Super Bowl that year and upset the mighty St. Louis Rams on last-minute field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
This was just the beginning of the decade of dominance To prove this was not a fluke, they won the Super Bowl in 2003 and 2004. They have continued their dominance to the present day, with two more Super Bowl appearances (Unfortunately, losses to the New York Giants) and a near miss in 2006, when they lost the AFC championship game to the Indianapolis Colts in the last-minute. They have won the AFC East in nine out of the last 11 seasons, and went an incredible 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl in 2007.
Through most of their history, the Patriots have been the laughingstock of Boston sports. They were rarely a good team, and when they were good, they were never good enough. It took Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft to instill an atmosphere of winning. They are an often imitated but never matched sports organization
BOSTON RED SOX
Forty one miles north, the Boston Red Sox were without a World Series championship for eighty six years. After losing in extra innings of the seventh game of the 2003 ALCS to their rivals, the New York Yankees they found themselves the next season once again facing the Yankees for the American League championship. After falling behind 3-0 in the series, they did something no other team in the history of baseball has done. They won four games in a row to take the American League pennant. In what was perhaps the most emotional and meaningful championship this decade, they then swept the St. Louis Cardinals for the World Series title. They continued with playoff appearances in 2005, 2007, 2008.and 2009, again winning the World Series in a four-game sweep over the Colorado Rockies in 2007. In 2008 they came within a few innings of going back to the World Series, when they lost a seven-game series to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The owners, Tom Warner, John Henry and Larry Lucchino, along with GM Theo Epstein have finally brought a winner to Fenway Park. They have shown the talent to be able to
put together a winner and the willingness to spend whatever is necessary to succeed. The ownership has also converted Fenway Park from the charming, but rundown stadium it was into the fan favorite it is now. The Red Sox have sold out Fenway Park a Major League record 718 straight times. The streak began on May 15, 2003 and continues to this day.
Both the Celtics, and the Bruins have had some of their least successful seasons in the past decade. But both of them have won a championship.
In 2008, the Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in six games for the NBA title. They were lead by the “New” Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, coach Doc Rivers and team president Danny Ainge. They went back to finals in 2010 only to lose the Lakers in seven games.
Not to be out done, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. They defeated the Vancouver Canucks in the finals in a tight fought, grueling seven-game series. It was the first Stanley Cup for the Bruins since 1972.
In addition, a few New England area college sports teams have also been very successful. The University Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team won the NCAA championship five times in the last decade. The mens team has won it three times. The BC Eagles men’s hockey team has won the NCAA championship in four of the last 11 seasons.
STATISTICS OF DOMINANCE
Just how dominant have the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins been over the last 11 years? Combined ,they have played 44 seasons and won seven championships in that time span. That means that 16% of all major sports championships in the last 11 years have been won by local teams. In addition, the teams have made it to the championship game or series 23% of the time. They have made it to the league or conference finals about one third of the time and into the playoffs a whopping two thirds of the time. Given that the hockey and basketball playoffs involve 16 teams apiece, a team just has to be better-than-average to qualify. In football and baseball, playoff teams have to be a few of the best teams in the league. The Patriots and Red Sox have made the playoffs 68% of the time, made the league championship 45% of the time and they won a quarter of the championships. I doubt whether any other sports city in America in any other era could even come close to the long-term success of our teams.
Being a New England sports fan, I am very happy with our success . Every time a season starts I know that our team is going to be competitive,. But I know this cannot last forever. Both Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are getting older and can perform at the level that they have performed at for only a few more years, if we are lucky. The same is true for the Celtics Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen and the jury is still out on whether the Bruins can regain their Stanley Cup form of 2011.
As for the Red Sox, after last season’s embarrassing collapse., they have gotten off to a slow start . This season may or may not be successful for them. But with no salary cap in Major League Baseball and management’s willingness to spend what it takes to have a competitive team, the Red Sox seem to be immune to the problems that affect the other three teams.
I have enjoyed this stretch. Boston is the only area in the country to have all four of his sports teams win at least one championship in the new millennium. It is a pleasure sitting down to watch a game and knowing that I am a fan of the very best.