THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

The 2000s: Best decade ever for Boston sports

By Jimmy Golen
AP Sports Writer / December 24, 2009

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • |
Text size +

BOSTON—The Red Sox opened Fenway Park and won four World Series in the 1910s, with a pitcher named Babe Ruth leading the way. In the '60s, Yaz won the Triple Crown and the Celtics won nine titles of their own. The '80s brought three more Celtics championships and a Heisman Trophy to town.

But there has never been a decade in Boston sports like the last one.

With the Red Sox ending their 86-year title drought by winning the first of two World Series, the Patriots claiming three Super Bowl wins and the Celtics ending the longest championship slump in their history, the decade from 2000-09 has been the most productive in the history of New England sports.

"In this decade, we've had championships for everybody. The fact that three teams won was exciting," said Danny Ainge, a Celtics player in the '80s and the general manager who built the 2008 NBA champions. "You can feel the enthusiasm winning brings to a city."

The Red Sox World Series victory would be enough to make any decade -- and they did it twice, first winning in '04 and then showing that was no fluke just three seasons later. But the Patriots also had their best decade, winning three Super Bowls in four years and losing another in a year when they went 16-0 in the regular season.

The football team entered the decade on tenuous footing after nearly moving -- first to St. Louis and then to Hartford -- in the '90s. But as a new building was going up next to the decrepit Foxboro Stadium, Adam Vinatieri (thanks to the Tuck Rule) kicked the field goals to tie and then win a snowy AFC playoff game; at the Super Bowl, he capped off Tom Brady's drive by kicking another game-winner on the final play to give the franchise its first NFL title.

The Celtics went more than 20 years without adding to their record cache of NBA championships. But that ended with the acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce in a new Big Three that rivaled the tri-champion trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

With a six-game victory over the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the finals, banner No. 17 was ready for the rafters.

"It was great to be a part of it -- and to get in on it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "For the first couple of years, you felt like it was just the Red Sox and Patriots, and we wanted to be a part of it."

Beanpot foes Boston College and Boston University won back-to-back NCAA hockey titles to end the decade, the latter after trailing by two goals with one minute to play in the championship game. BC won eight straight football bowl games, too, while sending Matt Ryan and a handful of other first-round draft picks to the NFL.

But it was the Red Sox win in 2004, after a crushing collapse in 2003 and a comeback from the verge of another elimination by the hated Yankees, that released almost a century of pent-up frustration. The clubhouse full of fools led by Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez and the bloody-socked Curt Schilling had finally given the fans, and their fathers and grandfathers, what they feared they might never see.

It was a decade for any city to envy, and even in Boston it seemed unlikely during the lackluster '90s of Rick Pitino's Celtics, Rod Rust's 1-15 Patriots, the "twilight" of Roger Clemens' career and too many Bruins coaches -- and too few playoff wins -- to mention.

So, what are the other contenders?

--The Sixties: No major professional team has dominated a decade like Bill Russell's Celtics did in the '60s. In 1967, Carl Yastrzemski won baseball's last Triple Crown and Jim Lonborg won the Cy Young in an Impossible Dream season that imbued the Red Sox with a passion that persists to this day.

The Patriots debuted in the AFL, reaching the 1964 title game, and Bobby Orr debuted for the Bruins; in both cases, the payoff came later.

The decade made its mark in culture, too.

Ted Williams homered in his last at-bat, retiring after the 1960 season and inspiring what many consider the best piece of sports writing ever, John Updike's "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu." Russell became the NBA's first black coach. Women crashed the gates at the Boston Marathon. Harvard "beat" Yale 29-29, a headline for history.

--The Eighties: Bird led the Celtics to three NBA titles. Doug Flutie won the Heisman and a game against Miami that is still talked about as one of the greatest in college football history. The Patriots went to the Super Bowl, the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals and the Red Sox to the World Series; what happened when they got there is best left unsaid.

The Marathon began awarding prize money, helping it attract the world's best runners and cementing its spot as the most prestigious 26.2-mile race in the world. Boston products like Mike Eruzione helped the U.S. hockey team win the Olympic gold medal in the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" at Lake Placid, N.Y. And a skinny and fresh-faced Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in a single game, sending him on his way to his first Cy Young award.

--The Teens: The Red Sox won four World Series after opening Fenway Park, and the Braves won their only championship in Boston. Harvard -- yes, Harvard -- won four NCAA football championships, finishing off what would be its last with a victory in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1920.

Other decades had their moments: Seabiscuit won the Massachusetts Handicap in 1937. Williams hit .406 in 1941 and followed it up with a pair of Triple Crowns and a couple of MVP awards. Brockton's Rocky Marciano won the heavyweight championship in the '50s, a decade that also saw Willie O'Ree break the NHL's color barrier. In the '70s, Orr led the Bruins to a pair of Stanley Cups and Carlton Fisk waved his home run fair in what is still considered by many to be the greatest World Series game in history.

But none could match the 2000s.

"I spent plenty of nights at Fenway Park, and at the Garden," said Brady, who as two-time Super Bowl MVP provided plenty of the thrills himself. "It's a great city; it's a great place to be in. We get so much support, and I think all the players are grateful for that.

"I see Jacksonville, for example, you watch their game film when they pan the crowd, it's like one-quarter full. We haven't had to experience that in my time here. It's nice to be able to run out in front of a sellout crowd."

So, which decade was the worst?

Richard Johnson, the curator of the Sports Museum of New England, thinks it was the '20s, when the Red Sox traded Ruth and the Braves played in front of a cavernous -- and mostly empty -- Braves Field. The NBA didn't exist. The Bruins were a novelty as the only U.S. team in the NHL.

"The Red Sox and the Braves were at the lowest ebb they ever had," he said. "There just wasn't much going on from a team sports standpoint."

And that can feed on itself, just like winning does.

"(Other teams') success can be great. If you're a good team, it can push you to reach that same level," Ainge said. "But if you're bad, it can be a curse. Because those expectations can be unrealistic."