boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
BOB RYAN

Spoiled by sports: It can't get any better

When the Red Sox finally won the World Series, it was news on all seven continents. The Red Sox are world champions. Sounds good, huh?

Now we are deep in the somber reality of a tedious baseball offseason and we are also five days removed from a stunning reversal of fortune for the Patriots in Miami. But we must reembrace the Big Picture. We must remember that to be a Boston sports fan in 2004 is to be the most fortunate sports enthusiast on earth.

Snap out of it! You won! Twice!

Skip all the self-pity. Your pro football team was the best in the land. If it ever gets whole, it still may be. The New England Patriots have become the working model for the rest of the sport. Start with an ownership that truly is committed to winning a title. It all starts there. Bob Kraft is a complex man who has his business critics and enemies. But when it comes to his stewardship of the Patriots, what's the complaint? He stood up to the bullying Bill Parcells and his organization-first philosophy has been proven correct. (You have noticed that Mr. Smarty-Pants isn't exactly conquering the world in Dallas, haven't you?). He has a personnel man par excellence in Scott Pioli. He identified Bill Belichick -- remember when he was thought of as "Little Bill"? -- as the right man to coach his team, and now his selection is being acclaimed by more and more people as the best coach in the league.

The pre-Kraft Patriots had a very interesting history. There was success in the 1960s. The 1976 team wuz robbed (the infamous Oakland/Ben Dreith loss was just about the most aggravating Boston pro team defeat I've ever witnessed). The 1985 team became the first NFL squad to get to the Super Bowl by winning three road games. Its misfortune was to run up against one of the great juggernauts for one season in American sports annals.

But the essential image of the pre-Kraft Patriots was that of the Eternal Bumblers. The successes weren't as easy to remember as the failures. The image of the franchise was that of a cut-rate, second-rate operation. Billy Sullivan was a bombastic dreamer with not-very-deep pockets. Son Chuck fouled things up beyond belief with the foolish, ill-fated Jackson Tour caper. And when Billy finally sold, it was to the nefarious Victor Kiam, who, in turn, unloaded the team on the cartoonish James Busch Orthwein. But Orthwein did one very important thing. He hired Bill Parcells, then at the peak of his powers. And Parcells was the right man at the right place at the right time. He modernized the organization.

But there was nothing to prepare any of us for what has transpired since 2001, or, more specifically, since the 2002 playoffs. The Snow Game was the stuff of legend. The Tom Brady/Drew Bledsoe tag team in Pittsburgh was inspiring. The Super Bowl triumph over the favored Rams, capped off by the bold Brady-led drive leading to the winning Adam Vinatieri field goal, was all downright fictional.

Last year the Patriots wrote a new script. They began to win, and they just never stopped. They came off as a one-for-all and all-for-one bunch because that is exactly what they were. For the first time in their oft-tortured history, they became the relentless overdogs. We all expected them to win; this was entering strange, new territory. We expected them to beat Tennessee. We expected them to beat the Colts. We expected them to beat the Panthers. None of us can believe they lost to the Dolphins last Monday night. They had won 27 of 28 games, right? And don't we still expect them to find a way to win it all again?

All that said, and no matter how much people around here have come to love the Patriots, they are not the Boston Red Sox.

Now, if you need a primer on the Red Sox, and why what transpired in October is the greatest sports story in Boston and New England history, perhaps you've stumbled into the wrong part of the paper.

The Red Sox long ago ceased being a local professional baseball team. They are the lovable, frustrating and occasionally wayward member of every New Englander's family. They also rank with the various local medical, educational and cultural organizations as a certified Boston/ New England institution. A persuasive case can be made that Fenway Park is the most famous edifice in Boston. Think about it: do outsiders come here to stand and gaze at Symphony Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, or Massachusetts General Hospital, just because? I think not. But we know for sure that Fenway is a prime gawker's destination, and that's 24/7/365.

Why? Well, it's all about baseball, which has been rather big here since the 1870s. There is a generational bequeathing here no other team in town can match. And there is a rich, fascinating and well-chronicled history, whether we're talking about the Red Sox' dominance from 1903-18 (they were, along with Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's, the American League's first great franchise), the Babe Ruth saga, the frustrations of the great 1940s teams (one pennant and no championships to show for having baseball's best win-loss record from 1946-50), the four World Series seven-game losses, the Bill Lee blooper pitch to Tony Perez, the Bill Buckner error, the Bucky Dent homer, and, finally the debatable goings-on in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, culminated by Aaron Boone's swing of the bat. Plenty to talk about. And weep over.

So you package all that, and you bring us to the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of this year's ALCS, when the Red Sox are within three outs of being swept by the hated Yankees. And then Kevin Millar -- one of the original self-proclaimed "idiots" -- draws a walk from Mariano Rivera. Dave Roberts -- oh, Theo, did you have to trade him? -- steals second. Bill Mueller bangs a single past Rivera. David Ortiz hits one out in the 12th, and the karma is suddenly all different. The Red Sox win later that same night, and now we're going back to New York, where Joe Torre never wanted to go.

I think you know what happened after that.

This triumph meant more, and to more people, and for more complex reasons, than any Boston sports triumph ever. Period. End of Story. That's non-negotiable. 'Twas joked for decades that the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920 was an original sin from which there never could be any dispensation. Good story, but oh, so very false.

The Red Sox have won the World Series. People who didn't think they ever would do so already have died happily. There will be many more to follow.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

red sox extras
SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives