Saturday, December 26, 2009

List #24: Top 10 Gut Punch Moments in Boston Sports (2000-2009)

I've been trying my hand as a sports writer this week. Earlier I wrote about the top 10 Boston teams of the past decade. Today, I take a look at what I consider to be the most painful moments in Boston sports over the last 10 years. These were the top 10 moments when Boston sports fans felt like they had their hopes crushed.

10) Failed 4th and 2 against Indianapolis (2009)
On one level this loss to Indy doesn’t count for that much. The Patriots are going to the playoffs this season. On another level, the Patriots’ inability to hold a lead against the Colts is frustrating. Early in the fourth quarter of this game on 11/15/09 the Patriots held a 17 point lead. As the clock began to wind down the Patriots faced a decision: go for it on 4th and 2 and run out the clock or punt and hope that their anemic defense could stop Manning’s Colts. The Pats went for it, came up short, and the Colts once again took the victory. If the Colts have a perfect season this year, this play will be a big reason why… and it will feel like even more of a punch to the gut.

9) Champ Bailey’s Interception (2006)
On January 14, 2006 the Patriots went on the road to play the Denver Broncos. As the third quarter was coming to a close the Patriots marched down the field. A touchdown would give the Patriots the lead. From the 5 yard line Tom Brady threw into the end zone. Champ Bailey, one of the best defensive backs in football, intercepted Brady’s pass and returned it for 100 yards. As Bailey raced down the sideline Patriots tight-end Ben Watson raced across the field and flattened Bailey at the 1 yard line causing him to fumble. See the play here. How would the refs rule? If Bailey’s fumble went through the end zone, the Patriots would get the ball back at the 20 and have a chance to try again. If Bailey’s fumble went out of bounds without crossing through the plane of the end zone, the Broncos would get first and goal at the 1. The refs gave the Broncos the ball at the 1… and Pats fans felt like they had been punched in the gut. Moments later the Broncos punched the ball in. In only a few moments, a likely 13-10 lead for the Patriots had become a 17-6 deficit. The Patriots suffered their first playoff loss under Bill Belichick.

8) Yankees Sweep 5 (2006)
2006 was a disappointing year for the Red Sox. They put up an 86-76 record, good for third place in the American League East. It was the only season between 2002 and 2009 when the Red Sox failed to win at least 93 games. However, in mid-August the Red Sox had a chance to turn their season around when they played the Yankees five times in four days at home. The Yankees gave the Red Sox a punch to the gut winning all five games. The Red Sox continued to spiral downward until the end of the season losing 21 of their final 38 games.

7) “Let’s go for 20” (2004)
The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and they won the American League pennant by winning four must-win games against the Yankees. But remembering the first three losses still feels like a punch in the gut. In the first game Curt Schilling went down with an injured ankle. Pedro Martinez was outpitched in game two. But, after losing two at Yankee Stadium Red Sox fans hoped the good guys would come back strong in game 3. They didn’t. The Yankees put on a fireworks show at Fenway scoring 19 runs on 22 hits. As the Yankees continued to pour it on in the ninth taking a 19-8 lead, Yankees captain Derek Jeter was shown standing on the dugout steps cheering on his teammates to “go for 20.” Hearing those words felt like a punch to the gut.

6) Brady’s Knee (2008)
The Patriots put together an undefeated regular season in 2007 and then marched through the playoffs before suffering a devastating loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. (There will be more about that below.) Fans and football pundits alike wondered how the Patriots would approach the 2008 season. Would they be disheartened and discouraged? Would they come out with even greater determination and focus? Would they have a chip on their shoulder? Less than 8 minutes into their first game of the 2008 season these questions would prove moot. On a freak play Bernard Pollard of the Kansas City Chiefs took Pats QB Tom Brady out at the knees causing Brady to sustain an injury that would sideline him for the entire season. Brady’s busted knee felt like a punch to the gut.

5) Indianapolis’ Comeback in January 2007
I remember this game vividly. Well, actually I remember half of it. I watched the first half of this game in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Patriots played with dominance in the first half, jumping out to a 21-6 lead at half time. The Pats were excelling in all facets of the game and looked to be well on their way to their fourth Super Bowl in six years. I decided to go out and enjoy San Juan’s famous San Sebastian street festival. When I checked the score later that evening I was shocked. The Colts came out in the second half and quickly tied the game. What followed was a shoot-out. The Patriots scored a touchdown and Indianapolis answered. The Patriots kicked a field goal and Indianapolis answered. The Patriots kicked another field goal and Indianapolis scored a TD to put them ahead 38-34 with 1:00 left on the clock. Three plays later a Marlin Jackson interception sealed the win for the Colts. Indy had outscored the Patriots 32-13 in the second half. What a punch to the gut!

4) Jon Lester gets cancer (2006)
Remember that awful 2006 season by the Red Sox? They suffered a 5 game sweep against the Yankees in late August. They ended the season in a downward spiral, losing 21 of their final 38 games. Well, it was even worse. In September, Boston’s 22 year old pitching phenom Jon Lester was diagnosed with lymphoma. At the time it was a big gut punch, but Lester responded by punching the cancer back. Lester’s cancer was in remission by the time spring training came around. And even though the Red Sox put Lester’s return on a conservative time table he was back pitching in the majors in July of 2007, ten months after his diagnosis. He went on to win the final game of the 2007 World Series.

3) Plaxico Burress’ Touchdown (2008)
Sometimes it all comes down to timing. In November, 2008 Plaxico Burress carried a handgun into a popular New York night club. The concealed weapon was secured in the waist band to his pants. The gun came lose, started sliding down the inside of his pants, and when Burress reached down his pants he accidentally pulled the trigger on his glock and suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the thigh. Burress is due to be released from prison in 2011. While he serves his time Burress can be comforted by memories of scoring a Super Bowl winning touchdown in February, 2008 against the Patriots. Burress’ catch came at the expense of overmatched Patriots defensive back Ellis Hobbs. Of course, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make this catch if not for…

2) David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” (2008)
This play in the 2008 Super Bowl was unbelievable when it happened. Each time you watch the replay it becomes even more unbelievable. The play is so well known that Wikipedia has an entry about the play. Here is a portion of what they write.
[David] Tyree… had only 4 receptions for 35 yards and no touchdowns during the 2007 regular season. The Patriots, who had been heavily favored to win the game, scored a touchdown to take a 14–10 lead with 2:42 remaining in the game. The Giants then faced a 3rd down with 5 yards needed for a 1st down from their own 44 yard line with 1:15 remaining.

Manning took the snap… and immediately faced pressure from the Patriots defensive linesman [sic] Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green, and Adalius Thomas. Thomas grabbed Manning by the shoulder while Seymour grabbed him by the back of his jersey and attempted to pull him down for a sack. Manning however was able to stay on his feet and duck under the arms of the Patriot defenders, before scrambling backwards into space at around the 34 yard line, and throwing the ball down field to Tyree at the 24 yard line of the Patriots…

As the ball arrived Tyree leapt in the air, along with Patriots defender Rodney Harrison who was attempting to knock it down. Initially, Tyree caught the ball with both hands, but a swipe by Harrison's arm caused his left hand to be knocked off the ball. However, Tyree was able to secure possession of the ball by pressing it against the top of his helmet with his right hand. Harrison pulled him down, and Tyree landed on top of him with the ball still pressed against his helmet.

The play gained 32 yards for the Giants and gave them a first down with 59 seconds left. Four plays later, Plaxico Burress scored the touchdown that won the game for the Giants 17–14.
Let me summarize: Eli Manning’s offensive line lets three Patriot defenders through. Two of them grab on to Manning. Manning manages to elude them and hurls the ball downfield. David Tyree catches the ball and holds it against his helmet. Rodney Harrison, one of the hardest hitters in the game manages not to knock the ball loose.

1) Aaron Boone’s Walkoff (2003)
The Red Sox played the Yankees in 2003 for the chance to go to the World Series. The series had it all. In the final game the Yankees managed to come from behind and send the game into extra innings. In the 11th inning, Aaron Boone smacked a towering homerun off of Tim Wakefield. His dinger sent the Yankees to the World Series and sent the Red Sox home, feeling as though they had been hit in the gut.