Loved this chat/mailbox question from reader Pollone so much that I decided to break it out as a quick separate post. I think you’ll understand why:
Which would have sounded more far-fetched circa 1999? “Super Bowl winning head coach Pate Carroll” or “the Boston Red Sox, winners of three World Series in the past 10 years?” Kind of makes sports great, don’t you think?
Absolutely. And the more I thought about this, the more amazed and appreciative I became at how much things have changed since then.
I mean, they weren’t necessarily bad back in ’99. The Patriots and Red Sox were flawed high-quality teams if not outright championship contenders, the Bruins were perennially a player or two away, and the Celtics — well, they were a Pitino-created mess, but at least they had Paul Pierce, CyberToine and better days immediately ahead.
But there were palpable recurring frustrations. The brilliantly constructed Yankees were just plain superior to Pedro, Nomar and the 23 role-player squads Dan Duquette duct-taped together. The Patriots were regressing annually under Carroll. (And no, I never thought he’d win a Super Bowl as a head coach. Maybe as a coordinator again, like he did with the ’94 Niners. But I never saw him become a goofy/ruthless mastermind of a potential dynasty.)
The title drought had gone on so long — the ’86 Celts were our last champs — that in June 2001 we felt the need to celebrate Ray Bourque’s championship with the Colorado Bleepin’ Avalanche with a gathering at City Hall Plaza. It was a nice gesture, and just a little bit desperate.
We can recognize that now, 15 years beyond ’99 and 13 past basking in the Avs’ Cup’s reflected glory. Who knew that the Patriots would have a parade of their own just a few months after the Bourque party, spurring a blessed and fulfilling stretch that so far has included eight championships (three Red Sox, three Patriots, one each for the Bruins and Celtics), four other trips to the Finals (2007, ’11 Patriots, 2009-10 Celtics, 2012-13 Bruins), and another six trips to the conference/league finals (2006, ’12, ’13 Patriots, 2003, ’08 Red Sox, 2001-02, 2011-12 Celtics).
That’s 19 times since 2001 that a Boston big-four team has made it to their sport’s respective final four.
Back in ’99, there was just so much we didn’t know then that we’re blessed as fans to know now. Imagine believing then …
… that the greatest quarterback in Patriots history would not be 27-year-old incumbent Drew Bledsoe, but a scrawny, unsung, but hyper-competitive kid at Michigan who just spent his senior season outplaying a phenom named Drew Henson?
… that Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown would emerge as two of the most dependable players in Patriots history?
… that Adam Vinatieri, who made just 78.8 percent of his field goal attempts in ’99, would become the greatest clutch kicker in league history (if not the greatest kicker, period) and would still be going strong at age 41?
… that Claude Julien, the coach who would guide the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup victory since 1971-72 was in his fourth and final season coaching the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League?
… that Cam Neely, just a few months removed from a final, aborted comeback attempt, would build a Bruins team in the mold of all that he represented as a player?
… that young stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen would someday join Paul Pierce in Boston to hang Banner 17?
… that Tom Gordon would play a crucial role in helping the Red Sox overcome their past, but not as a member of the Red Sox?
… that arguably the most important player in turning around the perception of the Red Sox was a 23-year-old first baseman/designated hitter who went 0 for 20 for the Minnesota Twins in 1999?
… that the MVP of the Red Sox’ 2007 World Series title had debuted in 1998 with the Yankees, getting 15 at-bats before an offseason trade to Florida.
… that a 27-year-old rookie outfielder who stole 11 bases in 41 games for the Indians would someday author what was instantly and forever known as The Steal?
… that Derek Jeter would play for the Yankees a decade longer than Nomar Garciaparra would with the Red Sox?
… that Bruce Sutter and Bert Blyleven would be enshrined in Cooperstown, but Roger Clemens would be on the outside looking in?
… that Pedro Martinez would be as beloved by Red Sox fans in 2014 as he was during his electric heyday?
Well, OK. I’ll give you that last one.
But the bottom line? We really are lucky around here, aren’t we?
Though the Celtics are early in a daunting but necessary rebuilding phase, there’s really no sign of the good times ending anytime soon with the other three franchises.
The song is cheesy and a little bit creepy, too, but it sure is accurate. Good times never seemed so good.