OK, how do you like the 21st century so far? Sports-wise, I mean.
Oh, sure, we could have done without this past September, and we’d all like to have the final minute or so of Super Bowl XLII as a do-over - Eli hasn’t escaped anyone in that manner since then, and Tyree never made another catch - but the fact is, Boston has been the most fortunate sports town in America these past 11 years, and that’s before even considering the four national championships in college hockey won by Boston College (2001, ’08, ’10) and Boston University (2009).
Of course, we are getting a little tired of waiting for another professional sports championship. What’s it been, six months? I mean, geez. They should have the Duck Boats dried off by now, dontcha think?
As always, in the annual State of the Teams treatise, the local professional sports clubs will be addressed in alphabetical order.
Hey, Detroit, listen up: There is only one Hockeytown, USA, and it is most definitely NOT located in the state of Michigan. Get that?
Yeah, baby, the Stanley Cup is back, where it belongs. No other locale in America can come close to matching Boston’s overall hockey history, or its love for the sport, and, as we’ve always known, whenever the right Bruins team presents itself, the fans know how to embrace it.
That little 10-game burp at the start of the season aside, the Bruins are the same team that won the Cup last June, only better: deeper, quicker, and still in possession of two veterans at the top of their game in Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins are neither too old nor too young, and their whopping best-in-the-league goal differential, created without anyone near the top of the scoring race, speaks to a complete team commitment to the principles of their coach.
2012 championship chances: As good as anyone’s.
Let’s get right to it. No one should expect this team to win it all. But no one should declare the task to be Mission: Impossible, either.
The Big Three remain a treasure. Kevin Garnett is a pivotal figure in basketball history, first because of the way he has altered the concept of what a 7-footer might be; and, second, because by challenging the system and coming directly out of high school to become an immediate success, he is the toothpaste that could not be put back in the tube, affecting both college and pro basketball forever. Ray Allen, it can safely be concluded, is simply not human. And Paul Pierce is 2012 going on 1958 with the basketball in his hands.
Rajon Rondo may not be the very best point guard, but he is among ’em, as Ol’ Diz might say. With this core four, and assuming reasonable health (Yes, I know that’s asking a lot), no April, May, or June foe will be saying, “Aren’t we lucky? We’re playing the Celtics.’’
The bench? Even without Jeff Green, it might be better than you think. And suppose, just suppose, one of the rooks - probably E’Twaun Moore - is ready to make a contribution. What would you say then?
2012 championship chances: Top six.
Can’t prove it. Can only infer it. But something tells me that when Coach Bill jots down his memoirs, the 2011 team will get a special salutation, no matter how things go from here on out.
Of course, he’d like a better defense. But he can’t blame anyone else for the faulty grocery shopping. He leaves the moaning and groaning to the rest of us. He continues to approach every opponent as a new and fascinating problem to solve, and he has indicated all season that he appreciates the way this group has responded to coaching.
It would be very nice for them to win a playoff game or two this year. Meanwhile, please reflect on the sheer volume of pleasant Sundays, Mondays, Saturdays, and Thursdays Belichick teams have provided New England sports fans this century. This is the ninth straight double-digit victory season and 10th overall since Belichick took over in 2000.
Every once in a while, I become aware that at some future date a quarterback other than Tom Brady will take snaps for the Patriots. I then lie down and take a nap.
2012 championship chances: Wouldn’t surprise anyone.
Oh boy, has the landscape changed. It’s no longer about the Red Sox and the Yankees in the AL East. It’s about the Red Sox and the Yankees. And the Rays. And even the Jays. And from what we saw during the infamous month of September, perhaps even the Orioles.
The Red Sox have missed the playoffs two years running. A team that looked darn near invincible on paper last April now faces a crisis year, with a new manager and new general manager, and it will start the season with its All-Star closer gone bye-bye and with a lot of “???’’s where its starting rotation used to be.
Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington have a lot of work to do. This is one time no one will be saying that spring training is too long, not with the questions surrounding the pitching staff, and not with right field a big mystery. Bobby V must win over a group that had gotten quite comfy with Terry Francona. Lord knows what propaganda the agents have fed these guys about the new skipper.
2007 now seems like a very, very, very long time ago.
2012 championship chances: Not so hot.
Turns out soccer is no different than any other sport. Steve Nicol loses his job and then winds up as a talking head. In case you were wondering.
The new coach is a great story. He is Longmeadow’s own Jay Heaps, and he was a Revolution mainstay for many years. He is also the only coach in MLS history to have the personal endorsement of Mike Krzyzewski, for whom he played as a Duke walk-on many years ago.
He inherits a cupboard that needs a whole lot of stocking. There is no other way to put it, other than to say that the Revs were bad last year and need a thorough rebuilding. When you have the second-worst goal differential in the league, it’s a safe statement to say you need, well, everything.
Even staunch soccer fans will not be able to identify all the new players without a scorecard. But one fact remains: The most intriguing player on the team is Diego Fagundez, who had two goals and an assist as a 16-year-old last year. It will be interesting to see how the new mentor handles this talented young lad.
2012 championship chances: Nil.