The Bruins were the lone Boston team to take home a championship in 2011.
Another year has passed us by, and once again a title found its way into the hands of a Boston sports team. Being deemed the “City of Champions” for the success of its four major squads in the past decade, including three Super Bowl championships, two World Series, one NBA title, and more recently a Stanley Cup, Boston has clearly distinguished itself as the best sports city in America. While these numbers may imply that the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins are seemingly unbeatable each year, perfection among these teams, as with any other, is a fallacy. In fact, none of the teams had even taken home a championship since the Celtics accomplished the feat in 2008; the C’s were also the last team to have made it to a title game, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games in 2010. This portrayal of three years as a “title drought” is certainly ludicrous given the difficulty involved with winning a championship, but it’s the level of success we have become accustomed to and grown to expect. Here is a breakdown of each team’s performance over the past year, containing team expectations, season outcome, and overall reaction:
New England Patriots
After ending the regular season with a 14-2 record, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage secured throughout the playoffs, it seemed that the Patriots were poised to make a run at their fourth Vince Lombardi trophy. What was initially deemed a “bridge year” given the team’s young roster and lack of veterans, Bill Belichick showed us fans why he is arguably the greatest coach ever in the history of the NFL. He coached the younger players up and got them to buy into the Patriot Way, testing their intelligence and mental toughness both on and off the field of play. The result? A team which appeared to be able to control the game on both sides of the ball. Led by Tom Brady’s MVP season, I, among many other Pats fans and experts, had New England pegged as Super Bowl favorites heading into the “second” season. Boy, were we all wrong.
Before the divisional round match-up on January 16th against the rival New York Jets and their pompous, loud-mouth head coach Rex Ryan, I had an uneasy feeling about the challenges their aggressive defense would present. But I simply shrugged it off as pre-game jitters. After all, the Jets couldn’t come into Foxboro and beat the Brady-Belichick duo, not with the way the Pats were playing and especially not after their 45-3 drubbing of New York at Gillette Stadium just a few weeks prior. What I, like other Pats fans, failed to realize was that our defense was only capable of limiting teams that played a “soft” brand of football as opposed to the smash-mouth style Sexy Rexy likes. The Jets were able to exploit this weakness as well as confuse the Patriots’ offense in a 28-21 victory that shocked not just us fans but the players as well. It was a bitter, bitter end to a season that had no expectations to start and provided what proved to be false hope as it drew to a close.
Boston Red Sox
Unlike the Patriots, the 2011 Red Sox had extremely high expectations heading into their season. With the free-agent signing of Carl Crawford and trade acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, along with their already potent lineup and solid pitching rotation, they were being deemed “the greatest Red Sox team ever” by numerous Boston publications before the regular season had even begun. Unfortunately, great teams on paper don’t always make for great teams on the field. This became evident as soon as April rolled around, when the Red Sox got off to a 2-10 start despite their bevy of All-Star caliber players. It was obvious they were lacking good team chemistry, showing through their seemingly uninspired and unnatural play. Still, they had too many talented players to have this poor of a record.
But as I and other Sox fans and experts expected, this talent eventually came into play and got the team back on track. Finally getting above a .500 winning percentage on May 16th with a 21-20 record, the Sox began to find a groove. Heating up as the weather got warmer, they were 20 games over .500 at the All-Star break at 55-35 and on top of the American League East, a position they still held a few days before the final month of the season with an 80-50 record. No one could have predicted the epic collapse that soon followed. Falling out of first place by losing their first two games in September, the Red Sox went just 7-18 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs altogether by blowing a nine-and-a-half game lead in the A.L. Wild Card. Their Wild Card lead was the largest ever blown in MLB history. What made their collapse even more monumental was not just the record, but the news that followed it. Reports of players drinking in the clubhouse during games, eating unhealthy and not staying in shape, tuning out easy-going manager Terry Francona: even Francona was brought into the spotlight, with rumors circulating involving an addiction to pain killers. Their season is proof that talent can improve a team, but it doesn’t always guarantee success.
2011 began with much promise for the Celtics, hoping to bring their veteran core back to the champion’s circle for the second time in four years. With the Big Three well-rested and center Kendrick Perkins close to 100 percent after a knee injury that undoubtedly cost the C’s an NBA title in 2010, this seemed like a very realistic possibility. That is, until “the trade” took place, a move that shipped Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for guard Jeff Green and forward Nenad Kristic. Many fans and media alike still resent Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge for that trade, but he felt that both Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal were going to be healthy and give the team significant minutes in the second half of the season. Jermaine’s appearances on the floor were sporadic and his performances inconsistent, while Shaq simply didn’t have the legs to do it anymore. Despite his deteriorating physical condition, the Shaq daddy played his heart out once the Celtics’ clock hit playoff time. Even with O’Neal’s inspiring effort, however, the C’s title hopes were dashed by the Miami Heat and their newer, younger version of the Big Three. The second-round victory gave LeBron James his first series win over Boston, a team he never was able to beat in the playoffs while in Cleveland; advancing past the C’s signified a passing of the torch.
Given the historic playoff failure the year before, blowing a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, the Bruins had their sights set on going deep into the playoffs for the 2010-11 season. Sitting at 20-11-6 following a pretty good first half, veteran goaltender Tim Thomas decided to take the season into his own hands in the second. Of Boston’s 26 victories at the tail end of the ’10-’11 campaign, Thomas won 17 to help lead them to a Northeast Division title and the number three seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Finishing with a 35-11-9 record, a 2.00 goals against average, and a .938 save percentage (the highest in NHL history), it was hard to imagine that Timmy could top those Vezina-worthy numers. Amazing things can happen in sports, however, and it soon became clear that nothing would stop him and his team from taking home hockey’s beloved prize.
First came the rival Montreal Canadiens, quickly putting the Bruins in a 2-0 hole with both games played in the Garden. No problem said the B’s, recording one regulation victory and three overtime wins to advance on to play Philadelphia for the second consecutive playoffs. With memories of last year’s series still fresh on their minds, Boston swept the Flyers in four games to put themselves in the Eastern Conference Championship against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A back-and-forth series that saw each game decided by two goals or less, it came down to a backhander by Nathan Horton with just under six minutes left to give the B’s a 1-0 victory and a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. Standing in their way was the Vancouver Canucks and the Sedin Sisters, Daniel and Henrik. Standing in the Canucks’ way, whether they wanted to admit it or not, was Thomas. Normally two always beats one, but Timmy was the exception to that rule as he made a record-setting 238 saves in the finals and helped lead the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup trophy since 1972. The euphoria surrounding the victory was overwhelming: it seemed unreal to me that they had actually done it, since going into the playoffs I thought the B’s had no chance to win the Cup. The players knew they could accomplish the feat despite the doubts and criticism that surrounded them all season long, however, and sometimes believing in yourself is all it takes to make incredible things happen.
It remains to be seen if one or more of Boston’s “Big Four” will take home a title this season. The Patriots are wrapping up the regular season tomorrow and will most likely enter the playoffs as the number one seed. The Bruins look like the best team in the NHL, and if they can stay healthy should have a good chance to make a run at repeating. The Celtics’ season just got under way, and the Red Sox have successfully completed a management overhaul with plans for redemption. I’m not saying that all four teams are going to win championships this year: in fact, our spoiled city could go a year without a title. But as Kevin Garnett put it best following the Celtics’ NBA title victory in 2008, “Anything is possible!”
-Ryan Hartley and John Calabro