When the sports world ducked into undetermined hiatus last week after infected Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert inadvertently made it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic must be confronted immediately, I knew there was so much we would miss while sports were away doing the right thing.
Anyone among us that cares about sports, that savors the fan experience and welcomes the athletes and the games as part of our lives, knew the same. But more than lamenting a chance to see Xander Bogaerts dig into the batter’s box on Opening Day, or the next steps in Celtic Jayson Tatum’s ascent to true stardom, or the annual shining moments in March Madness, I mostly lamented the loss of suspense.
The best thing about sports is that at the beginning, you never know truly how something ends. We can watch all the “Hardwood Classics” on NBA TV that are offered up to salve our desperation, but the endings only surprise if you have just a vague recollection of the game in the first place. The jostling of a memory that you never noticed losing is not that thrilling.
But in attempting to find the most satisfying sports fix in our current status, one approach has worked quite well:
Seeking out and watching the best games our Boston sports teams have ever played.
Yes, of course, any suspense there is well-worn, since we’ll always store and savor the sweet details of the biggest thrills. But you know what lasts, and in full effect? The tension.
Even if you’ve seen the outcome of what you consider the best Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots or Bruins game between 1,976 and 2,014 times, even if you pay homage to the outcome with memorabilia in your home, watching the legitimate best-ofs play out again remains a nerve-tormenting thrill.
I know. Oh, do I know. Because over the last several days, I ranked the five best games in the history of the four most established Boston sports franchises — with some weight given to ones we can find on YouTube or streaming now, since many of us have some programming time to fill at home right now.
After ranking them, I rewatched in full what I considered the best game each for the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins.
Maybe it’s not the best idea to watch these nailbiters at a time when we shouldn’t be touching our faces, but I’m glad I did. The suspense wasn’t there, but the tension was palpable and welcome, even in a rewatch.
I suspect I’ll probably get the most grief for my best-of-the-Bruins pick. My trusted colleague with the initials KPD suggested Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, when Bobby Orr famously soared. But I went with Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning for a few reasons.
1. Not a single penalty was called in the Bruins’ 1-0 win; it is the most flawless game I’ve ever witnessed, and it left no time to exhale.
2. Nathan Horton drilled the winning goal off a Gretzkian feed from David Krejci with 7:33 to play, his second series-winning goal of the postseason. If you don’t appreciate what Horton did for the 2010-11 Bruins, you must have been out practicing curling or something.
3. The game was called by Doc Emrick on NBC, and there’s no broadcaster anywhere better at capturing the tension of a great game. One sequence of many I loved during that broadcast: “Horton had that one knocked away by Brewer, taken out by Lucic, on to Seidenberg, sloughs it back to Chara, Chara with a drive … OH IT STRUCK ROLOSON!” I know you could hear his voice when you read that.
Emrick could call play-by-play of those dusty board games you probably find yourself playing with your family right now in these days of social distancing, and he’d make it sound tense and thrilling.
I feel fortunate that he called the best hockey game I’ve ever seen — and that at least we have all of these wonderfully tense, if not quite suspenseful, games to revisit right now.
Chad Finn’s top five Bruins games to watch
June 15, 2011
Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each score twice as the Bruins hoist their first Cup since ’72.
April 26, 1988
The Bruins beat the Canadiens on the Forum ice to win their first playoff series vs. Montreal in 45 years. Talk about catharsis.
May 13, 2013
The Bruins trailed 4-1 with less than 11 minutes to play, but rallied to force OT. Who scored the winner? “Bergeron! Bergeron! Bergeron!”
May 10, 1970
If you’re a true Bruins fan and the picture of a soaring Orr’s winning goal doesn’t hang somewhere in your home, a redecoration is way overdue.
May 27, 2011
This isn’t the biggest game the Bruins ever played. But it’s the single best hockey game I’ve ever seen.