Friday, December 25, 2009

List #23: Top 10 Seasons by Boston Sports Teams (2000-2009)

Everybody else is making their best-of-the-decade lists. Now it is my turn. I don't usually write about sports on this blog, but I am an avid sports fan. Even though I've lived in Kansas City for the past 6 and 1/2 years, I am still a fan of Boston sports. This list will be the first of several that I post about the previous decade in Beantown. I should make a few comments. First, I don't follow the Bruins and couldn't tell you one thing about them since the days of Ray Borque and Cam Neely. So, there is no hockey on the list. Second, I think we have an MLS soccer team in Boston, but that is about all I know about that. Third, even though Boston is a city of colleges and universities those schools are not known for their dominance in college athletics. I'm sticking with the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics.

So, without further ado, here are the top 10 Boston sports teams since 2000.

10) 2006 New England Patriots
After winning the Super Bowl following the ’03 and ’04 seasons, the New England Patriots took a step back in 2005, losing their first playoff game under head coach Bill Belichick. When the Patriots entered this season many wondered if the dynasty was crumbling. They boasted a strong defense and didn’t allow a team to score more than 27 points against them during the regular season. However, their offense was questionable. After letting go of their top two wide receivers they patched together a receiving corps featuring Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, hardly the stuff of legends. In the regular season they won their division and compiled a 12-4 record. In the playoffs they decimated the Jets, won a spirited contest against the favored San Diego Chargers, and appeared poised to return to the Super Bowl. However, the season ended on a sour note. After jumping out to a big lead against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game the Patriots crumbled. Indy went on to dispatch the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.

9) 2009-10 Boston Celtics
It is probably too early to put this team on the list. But, as I write this, the Celtics have leaped out to a 22-5 record, best in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. We’ll see how they do this afternoon against Orlando. [Update: Celtics won.] The “Boston Three Party” of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen are playing with focus, realizing that they are not getting any younger. New addition Rasheed Wallace provides even more veteran leadership. However, the story of this year may be the ongoing development of guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins. They have finally arrived as top-level NBA talent.

8) 2003 Boston Red Sox
The beginning of the new decade was not easy for the Red Sox. They wasted Pedro Martinez’s brilliant pitching by fielding a line-up with more holes in it than Swiss cheese. In 2003 the Sox brought in David Ortiz, Bill Mueller, and Kevin Millar giving them the most feared lineup in the game. The team led the league in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging. They finished second in homeruns, triples, and walks. Seven batters in the lineup hit 19 homeruns or more. Eight had 85 RBIs or more. Batting near the bottom of the lineup, Bill Mueller won the batting title. The Red Sox finished second in the American League East to the New York Yankees. In the first round of the playoffs, they came back to narrowly defeat the Oakland Athletics in a nail-biter. This set up a fierce series against the Yankees which included a bizarre game three. That game’s antics included a hit batsman, a hard slide, Manny Ramirez charging the mound for no apparent reason, Don Zimmer charging Pedro Martinez in the ensuing melee and getting tossed to the ground, and a Red Sox groundskeeper assaulting a Yankees relief pitcher in the bullpen. The series – and the Sox’s season – came to an end with the Yankees winning game 7 in extra innings following disastrous decision making by Red Sox manager Grady Little. “Cowboy Up” is now a punch-line, but in 2003 it captured the spirit of this team.

7) 2003 New England Patriots
After shocking the world by winning the Super Bowl in 2001 the Patriots failed to make the playoffs in 2002. In 2003 they proved that 2001 was not a fluke. The Pats lost the season opener 31-0 to the Buffalo Bills but followed this disgraceful loss by winning 14 of the next 15, including the final twelve games of the regular season. In their first playoff game they played the Tennessee Titans and co-MVP Steve McNair to a closely-fought win. In their next game they dominated the Indianapolis Colts. With physical play against the Colts wide-receivers the Patriots ate Peyton Manning’s lunch. Ty Law intercepted Manning three times. In the Super Bowl the Patriots defeated Carolina despite a heroic effort by the Panthers.

6) 2004 New England Patriots
How do you beat a 14-2 Super Bowl winning season? How about with another 14-2 Super Bowl winning season? Despite their record, the Patriots did not secure the number one seed come playoff time. That went to the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers whose resumé included a victory over the Patriots on Halloween. In the playoffs the Patriots again dominated the Indianapolis Colts, keeping one of the greatest offenses of all time out of the end zone. Next the Patriots earned their revenge against Pittsburgh. Finally, the Patriots won another closely fought Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. For me what gives the 2004 Patriots the edge is overcoming the adversity of losing their best defensive back, Ty Law, to a foot injury at the mid-point of the season. This required the Patriots to play Troy Brown, a wide receiver, in this position.

5) 2007-2008 Boston Celtics
The previous two decades had not been kind to the Boston Celtics. It had been 21 years since they reached an NBA Finals. During that span they had reached the playoffs 11 times and won 7 series, an accomplishment that would be the envy of many NBA teams. But, let’s face it: standards are higher for the Celtics. Furthermore, the previous two decades had been marred by player deaths (Len Bias, Reggie Lewis), near deaths (Paul Pierce), bad drafts, failures of player development (Chauncey Billups), and dead weight from the likes of Vin Baker and Pervis Ellison. Before the 07-08 season the Celtics went nuclear. They blew apart their team and brought in Kevin Garnett, one of the most intimidating big men in the game, and Ray Allen, an assassin with the ball and one of the most intelligent players in the league. They also added a few spare parts, like James Posey, a poor man’s Robert Horry. Garnett and Allen teamed with Paul Pierce to make the Celtics the favorites to win the championship. They didn’t disappoint. After a first place regular season the Celtics nearly faltered in the playoffs. They were taken to the limit by the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers and also challenged by the Detroit Pistons. The NBA finals proved to be a rollercoaster with several of the games featuring dramatic comebacks. The Celtics finally won out against the Lakers by cruising to a 39 point victory in game six.

4) 2007 New England Patriots
Yes, this team does rank ahead of two other Patriots squads that won the Super Bowl. In 2007 the New England Patriots put together one of the most dominant seasons in the history of football. They went 16-0 in the regular season and then registered easy victories against both the Jaguars and Chargers before suffering a narrow defeat against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. During the regular season they lit up the scoreboard. They scored 30 or more points in 12 of their 16 games. Tom Brady rewrote the record for touchdown passes and Randy Moss set the record for touchdown receptions.

3) 2007 Boston Red Sox
2004 was sweeter but 2007 was more complete. The 2007 Red Sox squad won their only AL East championship of the last decade winning 96 games in the process. The year was notable for the performance of many Sox players. Dustin Pedroia won the Rookie of Year award. Josh Beckett won 20 games. Daisuke Matsuzaka joined the Sox and everyone wondered about the gyroball. Hideki Okajima was one of the top set-up relievers in all of baseball. Jonathan Papelbon and Kevin Youkilis continued to develop into stars. Even rookie Clay Buchholz tossed a no-hitter. The 2007 Sox continued their tradition of eccentricity. The Boston bullpen passed time during games by forming a rhythm section with empty water bottles. The Sox began the playoffs by easily dispatching the Angels. Next up were the Cleveland Indians who had beaten the Yankees thanks to a biblical swarm of bugs that had attacked Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Even though Cleveland took a 3-1 series lead the Sox came back and won the next three games by a combined score of 30-5. The Sox easily swept the upstart Colorado Rockies in the World Series.

2) 2001 New England Patriots
The season began ominously for New England. In the second game of the season quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered life-threatening injuries after getting clobbered by Mo Lewis. Tom Brady, a sixth round draft pick the previous year who shared the starting job at the University of Michigan, became the Pats’ QB. Over their first ten games the Patriots put together a modest 5-5 record. Then they got hot, winning the last six games of the regular season. In the playoffs, the Patriots defeated Oakland in the middle of a blizzard thanks to the application of the little known “tuck rule” which overturned what would have been a game-ending fumble. Adam Vinatieri’s clutch kicking iced the win. In the following game the Patriots defeated their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers. This led to a Super Bowl matchup against the intimidating St. Louis Rams and their “Greatest Show on Turf” offensive fire power. The Patriots won the Super Bowl on a last second field goal to complete one of the greatest upsets in football history.

1) 2004 Boston Red Sox
There is no argument. The ’04 Sox broke an 86 year curse, winning the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Following a heartbreaking 2003 campaign, the Sox added ace Curt Schilling and star reliever Keith Foulke to the mix. A physical incident involving Jason Varitek and Yankees star Alex Rodriguez in late July helped the Sox to show that they meant business. The team gelled a week later when sulky shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was traded for Orlando Cabrera and a number of spare parts. The 2004 Red Sox were a crazy bunch compared to the Yankees’ well-groomed look. Johnny Damon sported a caveman hairdo. From Pedro Martinez’s geri-curl to Manny’s braids, the Sox team featured bizarre facial hair and hairstyles. The playoffs brought about a rematch with the Yankees. Things could not have appeared worse for the Sox who lost the first three games of the series including an injury to Curt Schilling’s ankle. In game 4, the Sox went all the way to the wire touching up closer Mariano Rivera for a run and winning the game in 12 innings on a David Ortiz walk-off. The Sox pulled out game 5 in 14 innings on a David Ortiz bloop single. In game 6, Curt Schilling took the mound with a bloody sock, the result of an experimental medical procedure that sewed a tendon in Schilling’s foot in place to allow him to pitch. In game 7 the Red Sox completed the biggest comeback in sports history and were on their way to the World Series. Ace pitching by Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Keith Foulke allowed the Sox to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals and win their first World Series since 1918.