The Boston sports scene was abuzz in 2012. While there were no duck boat parades to celebrate a major championship, there was lots to celebrate (and lament) among local teams. And the Red Sox’ struggles certainly rank high on the list as we look back on the 10 biggest Boston sports stories of 2012:
The optimism that accompanied the start of the Bobby Valentine era faded quickly, and after the final loss in New York, there was only despair. The Red Sox went 69-93, finished in last place in the AL East, and represented the worst Red Sox team since 1965. Out of playoff contention for weeks, Boston lost its final eight games and 12 of the final 13. The Red Sox were 26 games behind the Yankees after their archrivals swept them in the season finale. The embarrassments along the way were many: players and coaches feuded with Valentine; an ineffective Josh Beckett refused to entertain criticism for golfing on an off day after missing a start; Daniel Bard flopped as a starter; David Ortiz, before suffering a season-ending foot injury, railed about his contract and being considered a “leader”; and in September, Valentine threatened a radio host and complained about having the “weakest roster” in the history of baseball. It all added up to dysfunction, and a team that caused fans to turn away from the Red Sox both at Fenway Park and on their TV sets.
Tom Brady appeared primed for another Super Bowl title that would elevate him into the elite pantheon of quarterbacks with four championships ... until Eli Manning and the Giants crashed the Patriots’ coronation again. Manning engineered a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Patriots 21-17 and claim a second Super Bowl victory over New England in five seasons. “I’d rather come to this game and lose than not get here,” a disappointed Brady said after the loss. The similarities to the Giants’ win in Super Bowl XLII were large, with Manning’s pose -- throwing his arms up to celebrate a game-winning touchdown -- eerily similar. The loss left Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots as the team with the longest championship drought in Boston (seven years).
GM Ben Cherington made a bold move reshaping his roster by dealing Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers -- after the non-waiver trade deadline. The Red Sox unloaded two expensive free agent additions that had yet to pan out in Gonzalez and Crawford and one of their most polarizing (and underachieving) players in Beckett. The kicker was that the cash-flush Dodgers picked up about $264 million of the $275 million owed to the players. The Dodgers sent back veteran James Loney, plus a package of prospects in pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster and infielders Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus Jr. The deal signaled the Red Sox’ intent to focus on 2013, and to rebuild their organization more through scouting than free agency.
It’s not hyperbole to say that Valentine’s one season leading the Red Sox was a disaster. He never seemed to gain the trust of players. His April comments calling out Kevin Youkilis backfired, and his problems seemed to spiral as the Red Sox players continued the sorry performance that had led to Terry Francona’s departure in 2011. Valentine became a symbol for an unlikeable Red Sox team that was worse than many of the franchise’s fans had ever seen. So when John Farrell arrived as Valentine’s successor in late October he made clear the culture is going to change. He said he will run a team that is aggressive in all corners of the field, and he will make clear to players through “tough conversations” that that they will be accountable to him.
The Celtics’ three straight wins to claim a 3-2 series lead seemed improbable after they lost a bitterly disappointing overtime decision in Game 2, with complaints about officiating popping up. But the 94-90 win in Miami in Game 5 gave the Celtics a chance to eliminate LeBron James and the Heat at home and clinch a berth in their third NBA Finals in five seasons. But James had other plans. He scored 45 points in the Heat’s 98-79 Game 6 romp, then added 31 in a 101-88 Game 7 victory. The Celtics held a couple of fourth-quarter leads in Game 7, but James elevated the Heat with 11 points in the final frame. James, whom the Celtics were able to tame in the postseason when he played in Cleveland, helped Miami eliminate the Celtics for the second straight season en route to beating Oklahoma City for his first-ever NBA title.
The Bruins had extra time to mourn their overtime loss in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series with the Capitals in April since a labor standoff led to the shuttering of much of the NHL’s 2012-13 season. Team owners imposed a lockout in September, and while some expectations were that the sides would find resolution fairly quickly, the work stoppage slowly eliminated milestones like training camp, opening night, the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game. It marked the second major work stoppage for the NHL in eight years, and left hockey fans out in the cold.
Allen’s five-year tenure in Boston ended when he opted to join the Heat as a free agent. The guard spurned an offer with more money from the Celtics, and his departure showed the fractured relationships that Allen left behind with some of the Celtics. Allen helped the Celtics win the 2008 NBA title and was an All-Star three times in his five years here. His departure for the team that ousted the Celtics from the playoffs two months earlier ended the “Big Three” era that began when he and Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce in 2007. “I’m just disappointed, he should have stayed,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
The Bruins won a division title and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, but that was where the celebration stopped in the 2011-12 season. The Stanley Cup champions ran into a red-hot goaltender in Washington’s Braden Holtby in the playoffs. He locked them down just a little tighter than Tim Thomas was able to do to the Capitals. In a seven-game series in which each game was decided by one goal, there were four overtime contests, one of which went to two overtimes. The Bruins simply were outmatched by a hot goaltender, which brought their one-year reign atop the NHL to an end.
Pierce climbed into second place on the Celtics’ all-time scoring list when he passed Larry Bird in a Feb. 7 win against Charlotte. A 3-pointer in the third quarter gave Pierce 21,792 points, which elevated him above Bird and placed him second only to John Havlicek (26,395 points). “Larry Bird is probably one of the most important players to ever play in this franchise. To have your name up there with him is a great honor,” Pierce said. Pierce accomplished the feat in his 13th season. Bird played 13 total seasons in his career.
Spaziani was fired one day after closing a 2-10 season, the first time since 1978 that the school lost 10 games in one year. BC’s record regressed in each year of Spaziani’s four-season tenure, during which he went 21-29. Though loyal to BC, Spaziani’s teams lacked spark and ultimately lacked competitiveness, with a loss at Army in October illustrating how low the program had fallen. Spaziani was fired by new athletic director Brad Bates, who then hired Steve Addazio away from Temple as his new coach. Said Addazio, “I’m here for the long haul and here to win championships.”
Other moments to remember: