The Patriots fell in the NFL’s final four. The Red Sox flopped in their title defense. An old rival took down the Bruins, and the ping-pong balls were not kind to the Celtics. Still, the Boston sports scene never lacked for entertainment in 2014. In remembering some of the bests and worsts of the year that is about to become past tense, let’s go all the way up to 11 …
1. BEST REUNION:
The 2004 Red Sox are so ingrained in our memories that it can be strange to see them gathered together now, a little older, a little grayer, maybe a little thicker than they look on that commemorative front page from Oct. 28, 2004 that hangs in the your home office. But of course it’s always great to see the supremely talented and supremely entertaining team that delivered the victories that we awaited for generations — especially when both Pedro and Manny are involved. Of course, even the Red Sox would probably acknowledge now that a 10th anniversary celebration makes much more sense than that weird 2012 fiesta after eight seasons.
2. BEST SHORT STAY BY AN ALL-TIME GREAT:
When Jarome Iginla signed with the Bruins on July 5, 2013, he had 530 regular-season goals to his name in 17 NHL seasons. When he left the Bruins to sign with the Colorado Avalanche on July 1, 2014, that regular-season total had been increased by 30 to 560, which left him tied for 25th in NHL history with Guy Lafleur. Those 30 goals led the Bruins last season, and he added a team-high five in the postseason, including their lone goal a season-ending loss to the Canadiens. Too bad Iginla couldn’t stay longer. The Bruins could use him right now.
3. BEST ARRIVAL BY AN ALL-TIME GREAT
Let me ask you: Is it too soon to call Darrelle Revis an all-time great? It isn’t, right? In his eight-year career, he’s made five Pro Bowls and earned three first-team All-Pro selections, and those numbers will be updated to six and four respectively at the end of this season. He’s 29 years old, still in his prime, so it’s fair to presume he has a couple of more outstanding seasons ahead. As for the season he’s currently having, his first in New England, I have a hard time believing a Patriots cornerback — even Ty Law or Mike Haynes — has had such a positive all-around impact on his teammates. Revis is the definition of a shutdown corner, and the decision to acquire him may go a long way toward securing a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
4. WORST POST-DEPARTURE DEPARTURE:
The record shows that Jon Lester officially left the Red Sox on July 31, when the accomplished, impending free-agent lefthander was traded to the Oakland A’s for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance draft choice. But it didn’t feel like he was really gone until a few months later, when after a late night anticipating news on whether he would return to the Red Sox or sign with the Chicago Cubs, he chose the latter, accepting Theo Epstein’s six-year, $155-million deal that included a $30 million bonus and an option for a seventh season on December 9.
5. WORST SLUMP BY A TOUTED ROOKIE:
During the Red Sox’ championship run in 2013, Xander Bogaerts offered a glimpse of the future superstar he was touted to be. And the start to his official rookie season in ’14 offered no reason for discouragement: through June 3 he had posted a .304/.395/.464 and looked like he might be headed for the All-Star Game. Instead, he headed into a southbound spiral of a slump that didn’t end until summer had all but ended. In 65 games from June 4-September 1, Bogaerts hit .155/.198/.226 — yes, that’s a .424 OPS — with three home runs, 12 walks and 68 strikeouts. Bogaerts came around in September, and he’s just 22, but it was jarring to see him struggle so much through the summer.
6. WORST LOSS TO A LONGTIME RIVAL (TEAM)
Entering the 2013-14 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins looked like a good bet to return to the Final for the third time in five seasons. They had little trouble with the Red Wings in the first round, winning the series in five games, and built a 3-2 lead over their longtime nemesis Montreal in the second round. But the Bruins lost Game 6 at the Bell Centre, then came home and suffered the ignominy of a 3-1 home-ice loss in Game 7.
7. WORST LOSS TO A LONGTIME RIVAL (PLAYER)
NFL history and New England conventional wisdom tell us that when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are surrounded by similar talent, Brady is almost always the quarterback who will emerge victorious in a showdown. Unfortunately for the Patriots and their fans, Manning had a significant talent advantage at his disposal during January’s AFC Championship Game in Denver. While he was throwing to the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, Brady was left to target the likes of Austin Collie, Matthew Mulligan and Matthew Slater during key moments. The result: A 26-16 Denver victory.
8. BEST ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF LANDMARKS
Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan was on a mission to win the elite women’s race at the Boston Marathon in the year after the bombing. She ultimately finished seventh after leading for much of the race, setting a personal best. In the aftermath, she talked about the joy she found in running the course during her training. “I have fallen in love with this course,” she said. “I knew every little divot in the road. I knew where every Dunkin’ Donuts was, where every Wendy’s was. I have some great memories on this course. It was such an enjoyable process. My dad would come out and drive the course, and I just had a really, really fun time preparing. It’s been an amazing journey.”
9. BEST COMEBACK FROM AN INJURY
In his fifth NFL season, Rob Gronkowski has 82 receptions, eight shy of the career high he set during his transcendent 2011 season. He has 12 touchdowns, five away from his ’11 total, and his 1,124 receiving yards leave him 203 short of the standard he set in — yep, 2011 — when he had arguably the greatest season by a tight end ever. Not bad for a guy who looked rusty at the start of this season during the final stages of his recovery from a major knee injury suffered last December. Honorable mention goes to Celtics-turned-Maverick Rajon Rondo, who returned from a significant knee injury himself in January.
10. BEST COMEBACK FROM MEDIA AND FAN REACTIONARY IDIOCY
Anyone out there who suggested a month into this season that Tom Brady should be moved to make room for Jimmy Garoppolo want to own that now? Just raise your hand. Anyone? No? Ah, we know who y’all are anyway.
11. BEST QUOTE BY A TIGHT END/BOUNCER: Gronk, on why he pummeled Colts defensive back Sergio Brown into a sideline camera during the Patriots’ “He was just yappin’ at me the whole time. So I took him and threw him out of the club.”
Actually, that’s not just the best sports quote of this year. It might just be the best sports quote of any year.