In terms of greatness, it was indeed more 1986 than 2004.
For the nation, it’s hard to argue with the claim of Sports Illustrated, which dubbed 2008 the “Best Sports Year Ever.” From an indigenous frame of reference though, while we watched one more title get added to the pile, tossed into the closet like the keg Michael J. Fox’s Teen Wolf so desperately acquired, it was also a year of a missed opportunity to boast 2008 as our own “Best Sports Year Ever.”
Still, while the year past may not go down in the annals as the best we’ve ever seen, it certainly was a great “moment” year. Over a 12-month span, we were witness to the locals playing one of the greatest football games in history (Super Bowl XLII), one of the greatest baseball games ever played (the Game 5 comeback against the Rays at Fenway), one of the greatest hockey games ever played (Game 6, Bruins-Canadiens at the Garden), and one of the greatest basketball games ever played (the Celtics’ Game 4 comeback triumph over the Lakers).
In each case, it was the athletic heart of competition that fueled these games, the refusal to quit and collect a paycheck. These four contests epitomize the reason we fall in love with sports in the first place. They are not just distractions from the duties of daily life, but thrills that drive our emotions, for better or worse. Times like these prove the accelerant of competition, those days that come out of nowhere every now and then and stick around forever. It’s why we watch the blowouts, losses, and Detroit Lions. Because we never know when those days are going to come around, and you better not miss them.
By the measures set by everyone else, nobody had it better than Boston, for sure. But by now, we’re admittedly greedy. What other town would look at an NBA title, a Super Bowl appearance, and an ALCS Game 7 and simply shrug? OK, maybe that’s understating things, for in terms of overall historical sports calendars in this town, 2008 will go down in history as a Top 10 most memorable year.
But it came a missed sack and one inning away from possibly being a year none of us has ever experienced. There has never been a year in which the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox could all call themselves champs. Just as in ’86, only the Celtics stand on top, with the Patriots dropping the Super Bowl, and the Red Sox losing a Game 7.
As fantastic as this year’s Celtics accomplishment was though, it doesn’t help 2008 even become the best Boston sports year this decade. That honor goes to ‘04, which saw the Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918 with an historic ALCS comeback, and the Patriots win their second Super Bowl, perhaps the greatest one ever played. You might even argue that ‘02 was better, with the drama of Lombardi No. 1.
And 2009? Not off to a good start, with the Patriots out of the mix in the NFL playoffs. But the Celtics are a good bet to repeat, and the Bruins have made believers both giddy and nervous for April to arrive. If we told you a year ago that heading into ’09 the two teams with the most questions surrounding them were the defending World Series champs and a regular season 16-0 squad, you’d probably laugh and say, “Yeah, if Brady goes down. And they trade Manny.”
For now, it’s wait and see, as they say. As for 2008, while it goes down as a single-title kind of year, oh so close to the trifecta, it’s arguably unparalleled in those unexpected instants that remind you why you like these games in the first place. The most fun I had watching any game this year was the Celtics’ Game 4 win over Los Angeles. It was in a Harvard Square pub, a seeming lost cause drowned in Guinness until Boston began its comeback. That development had the place hanging on every dribble. The sidewalk outside began to resemble a bus stop, people peering into the open windows to witness history. It was the best NBA game I had ever lay witness to, and to enjoy it in an atmosphere with peers just as shocked and delirious made it all the more celebratory.
The most fulfilled I felt watching any game this season was after Terry Francona and Jon Lester hugged it out after the pitcher tossed a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals for reasons too obvious and many to list. The most energetic I felt for any sport was following the Habs-B’s barn-burner at the Garden, a game that reminded Boston — and some hockey fans — what the NHL can still bring on its best days, despite the lack of ESPN interest.
The Patriots were also in the Super Bowl … I made some killer nachos for that one.
Was it the best year? Even if we had that trio, it’d be hard to top the emotional accomplishment that was October, ‘04. Was it the most enjoyable year? On most levels, sure. But the loss in the desert would halt most from making that claim.
It was, though, a year full of reminders, snippets here and there, that brought sport to another level in our consciousness. We jokingly complain about “only” one title this year, but in reality it’s hard to imagine 2009 being quite as compelling. But that’s why we continue to watch. Because that moment that recaps all that you love about the games could happen tonight.