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The Globe's top 10 non-Sox local stories for 2004

By Jim McCabe, Globe Staff, 12/25/04

1. PATRIOTS WIN ANOTHER SUPER BOWL
(Globe Photo)
The site was different (Houston, not New Orleans); so, too, was the opponent (Carolina, not St. Louis) and fancy Roman numerals (XXXVIII, not XXXVI). But the story line stayed eerily similar as for the second time in three years, the team that not too many years ago couldn't win continued to be incapable of losing. ''I had the sick feeling again,'' said Carolina wideout Ricky Proehl after watching Patriots quarterback Tom Brady complete 4 of 5 passes on a drive in the closing seconds to set up Adam Vinatieri's winning field goal with four seconds left. Proehl, as a member of the Rams in 2002, had witnessed virtually the same ending when the Patriots won that Super Bowl, 20-17.

2. PATRIOTS SET NFL RECORD FOR CONSECUTIVE WINS
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So what do you do for an encore after you've won two Super Bowls in three years? You set an NFL record for consecutive wins, that's what. OK, so it stretched across two seasons. And, sure, the league didn't officially recognize three of the victories, because they were of the playoff variety, which puts the number at 18 or 21, depending on your perspective. But the fact is, the Patriots started 2-2 in 2003, then reeled off 12 straight wins, tacked on playoff triumphs over the Titans, Colts, and Panthers, then started off 2004 6-0. Great stuff, only the players seemed to yawn. ''It really isn't a concern to us,'' said Richard Seymour. ''We just try to play good football.''

3. RAY BOURQUE ENSHRINED IN HALL OF FAME
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Our thirst for pro hockey stolen by illogical millionaire owners and greedy millionaire players, we in Boston were at least given a reprieve in early November when ''the captain'' gave us a reason to talk pucks. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto with two other defensemen -- Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy -- Ray Bourque was a pillar of strength and dependability for the 21 seasons and 1,518 games he wore the Black 'n' Gold. Though he achieved personal gratification by winning a Stanley Cup with Colorado in his final season, 2000-01, Bourque -- a five-time Norris winner -- will forever be remembered as the most dignified of all the great Bruins.

4. JIM O'BRIEN RESIGNS, DOC RIVERS TAKES OVER
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Boston was immersed in Patriots Super Bowl hysteria in late January when the tenants at the FleetCenter forced the sporting spotlight to shift a bit. His frustration with first-year executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge painfully obvious (''He needed followers; in good conscience I could not tell him that I was going to be that guy,'' said Jim O'Brien), the popular coach stepped down three years after taking over for Rick Pitino, his team 22-24 at the time. O'Brien went 139-119 during his Celtics' tenure and after John Carroll wore the ''interim'' title for the remainder of the miserable season, Doc Rivers was named the club's 16th head coach in late April.

5. PATRIOTS ACQUIRE COREY DILLON
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There were 31 other NFL teams to which he could have been dealt and each would have been preferred over the Bengals. That's how much the talented running back wanted out of Cincinnati. The fact that he finally got traded was joy enough; the fact that he got dealt (for a second-round pick) to the reigning Super Bowl champions was like hitting Megabucks. Having rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons before slumping to 541 a year ago, Dillon cracked the magic number in Week 12 with the Patriots and few New Englanders are looking forward to the upcoming postseason quite like him. At 30, he'll be one happy NFL playoff rookie.

6. BRUINS COLLAPSE IN PLAYOFFS AGAINST CANADIENS
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For diehard Bruins fans, the biggest regret must be that the owners didn't enforce the lockout back in mid-April, after Boston had built a 3-1 lead on the dreaded Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs. That could have prevented yet another chapter of heartache at the hands of Montreal. Storming to three straight wins, two of them at the FleetCenter, the Habs eliminated the Bruins in seven games, an improbable result given the way the clubs had finished during the regular season (Boston second in the Eastern Conference, Montreal seventh). But just two years earlier, the first-place Bruins had been stunned by the eighth-place Habs, so it's not like we haven't seen this act.

7. TYLER HAMILTON WINS GOLD, THEN ACCUSED OF BLOOD DOPING
(Reuters Photo)
For the 33-year-old from Marblehead, life was glorious for a stretch of 57 minutes 31.74 seconds in August, the time it took for him to win Olympic gold in the cycling time trial. It's been a four-month nightmare since, as Hamilton has faced accusations of blood-doping. ''Being called a cheater, knowing I didn't cheat. It's the worst feeling in the world,'' said Hamilton. He tested positive in Athens, but the lab destroyed the backup sample, so he kept his medal. Then he tested positive twice at the Tour of Spain and got dropped by his Swiss racing team. Next month, he'll plead his case before the US Anti-Doping Agency, which could suspend him for two years.

8. TY LAW'S CONTRACT SQUABBLES
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Not everything was bubbly champagne following the Patriots' second Super Bowl win. Instead, judging by the mood of the team's All-Pro corner, you would have thought New England had lost. ''I no longer want to be a Patriot,'' Law said in March. ''I can't even see myself putting on that uniform again.'' Why so angry? The fact that he was under contract for the 2004-05 seasons for a total of $17 million, but couldn't talk the team into a rich extension. Instead, the Patriots offered four years for $26 million. ''An insult,'' said Law, though he insisted ''right now, it's not about money.'' Despite the rhetoric, Law reported to camp and was his usual stellar self until getting injured.

9. UCONN MEN AND WOMEN TAKE CROWNS
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No major pro teams? No problem in the Nutmeg State. Not when there's the dynamic University of Connecticut basketball program. Not only did coach Jim Calhoun's men sweep away Duke in the semifinals, then Georgia Tech, 82-73, to earn the Huskies their second NCAA title, but the very next night coach Geno Auriemma's women captured their third straight national title. With Diana Taurasi pouring in 17 points, the Huskies beat Tennessee, 70-61, as UConn became the first Division 1 school to win both the men's and women's basketball titles in the same year. The teams combined to go 64-10 for the season.

10. ACTON-BOXBORO RUNS FOOTBALL STREAK TO 50
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Years from now, when brothers Bobby and Larry Abare gather for Acton-Boxboro High School reunions, they will be hard-pressed to talk about anything other than perfection. That's what happens when you play for a team that wins 50 games in a row and takes four straight Super Bowls. Bobby Abare, who rushed 12 times for 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns, also connected with brother Larry on a 38-yard scoring throw to help the Colonials blitz Chelmsford, 28-6, in the latest title game. ''It's just an amazing feeling,'' said Bobby Abare after the state-record winning streak had been improved to an even 50.