Final tally? We went 6 for 10
Presidential candidates love asking voters this question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?’’
But my question to you is this: As we approach the end of the decade (and what do you call the first 10 years of a century, anyway?), are you, the Boston sports fan, better off than you were 10 years ago?
The correct answer is yes. Six parades speak for themselves.
I’m not talking about ticket prices and the attendant cost of supporting our professional teams. That’s a sore spot for all of us. I’m simply talking about the psyche of the Boston/New England sports fan. Are you more fulfilled than you were when the 21st century began?
If you’re a Bruins fan, you’re probably saying, “What’s the difference?’’ What was then a 27-year Stanley Cup drought has now stretched to 37, and there isn’t a hockey expert in the world who thinks the Bruins will be taking turns in the summer of 2010 lugging Lord Stanley’s cup to the ol’ home town for a show-and-tell. It’s scary and downright depressing to think that you’d have to be approaching 45 to have any serious remembrance of what it was like when Orr, Esposito, Bucyk, Sanderson, Hodge, Cheevers and Co., were a standard of hockey excellence, and, most of all, excitement.
The Bruins are ahead of where they were 10 years ago, but not much. The 2000-01 Bruins were spending their first full year without the beloved and hallowed Ray Bourque. The big names were Jason Allison, Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Sergei Samsonov, Kyle McLaren, Don Sweeney and a 21-year-old named Joe Thornton, who, as he entered his fourth year, still had no idea how to please demanding coach Pat Burns. The goaltending duo was Byron Dafoe and John Grahame.
They would amass 88 points, good for fourth place in the Northeast Division, and they did not make the playoffs for the third time in five years. It was the beginning of a largely blah decade, the low point of which was the complete shutdown of the NHL in 2004-05 - the greatest combined labor-management blunder in North American sports history - and the high point of which was, well, you tell me. It may have been the stirring 5-4 victory over the hated Canadiens in Game 6 of the first round of the 2007-08 playoffs.
So here we are, in late 2009, with the Bruins currently a good but not great team. They are a season removed from a 116-point season that produced a Vezina Trophy (Tim Thomas) and Norris Trophy (Zdeno Chara) winner. But they have great trouble scoring and they are not a serious Stanley Cup contender. We have been at this juncture many times since the last Cup triumph, eight presidents ago.
Contrast that to the state of the Celtics, who are in the same this-is-where-we-came-in posture they were in 1960, 1980 and, to a lesser extent, 1990. That is to say, the Celtics are in excellent position to win what would be their 18th championship.
Oh, but 10 years ago, what a mess. The Celtics were coming off a 35-47 season and were entering Year 5 of a six-year playoff absence. It would be another lackluster season (36-46), with Rick Pitino resigning after 34 games and a 12-22 record (we’re still awaiting his promised explanatory news conference). Antoine Walker was entering his fifth season, and Paul Pierce his third. Kenny Anderson was the point guard.
A year later the Celtics rode sensational 3-point shooting and the solid, no-nonsense coaching of Jim O’Brien to the Eastern Conference finals. But it was not a team built to last. Boston quickly reverted to being the irrelevant stop on the NBA trail it had become in the mid- and late-’90s until Danny Ainge, having compiled enough prospects and draft choices, magically transformed the team with two trades, the second made possible only because he had made the first.
We all know what happened. The 2007-08 edition was right up there with any team in Celtics history, and now they’re right back in it with a deeper, more versatile team than that championship squad. As it has been for so many of the last 55 years, it’s a great time to be a Celtics fan.
Ten years ago the Red Sox were essentially about two people: Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra. The former was coming off one of the great pitching years anyone ever has had (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 Ks, 18 strike-out-the-side innings and only nine home runs, all solo). The latter had led the league with a .357 average in 1999 and was sitting on a .322 lifetime average after three full seasons.
The beginning of a euphoric journey that culminated in a second World Series sweep within a four-year period was a signature on a contract Dec. 19, 2000. The name of the new hire was Manny Ramirez. Whatever else his failings, Dan Duquette never can be thanked enough by Red Sox fans for bringing Ramirez to Boston.
The other two key moves were orchestrated by Theo Epstein. On Jan. 22, 2003, he signed an intriguing 27-year-old power-hitting first baseman named David Ortiz, who the Minnesota Twins did not think was worthy of being paid approximately $1 million a year. And on Nov. 28, 2003, Epstein traded Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge de la Rosa and a player to be named (Michael Goss) for Curt Schilling.
But who’s responsible for Theo Epstein? That would be owner John Henry, and more to the point, team president/CEO Larry Lucchino, who nurtured the Brookline-bred lad in San Diego. Since this regime has come to power, the Red Sox have won two world championships and have been consistent contenders. The Sox have had great success on the field and have become a business juggernaut beyond anything we could have imagined at the dawn of the 21st century.
All of which makes them the second-most successful local sports team of the decade.
Consider the New England Patriots in 2001. They played in an inadequate stadium. They were coming off a 5-11 season. They were a distant second, perhaps even third, in local affections.
You know why the Patriots would win three Super Bowls and wind up playing in a state of the art stadium before the decade was even half over? Well, sure there were many reasons - Tom Brady’s development being one - but I suggest it was because they had the greatest offseason in NFL history following the 2000 season.
Start with the 2001 draft, which gave them Richard Seymour in the first round and Matt Light in the second.
Then look at the veteran free agent signings in that offseason: Mike Vrabel, Antowain Smith, Larry Izzo, Anthony Pleasant, David Patten, Marc Edwards, and Mike Compton. All nine started Super Bowl XXXVI (I’m counting Izzo as a special teams stalwart).
Everything that happened afterward has flowed from that haul.
They gave us three parades, and, even in an obvious state of decline, they always could rouse themselves come January to give us an additional thrill or two.
Better off than we were 10 years ago? You kidding? We’ve stockpiled enough memories to carry us to the nation’s tri-centennial. But it would be nice if the Bruins could contribute a little something.