We are into the second full sports cycle without the Duck Boats on parade. It feels all so, well, ordinary.
We loved it, didn’t we? We relished it. We thought all those championships and all those parades were our birthright. Who better than us? Who could possibly deserve it more? We’re Boston! We’re The World’s Greatest Sports Fans!
Hold it. Have I implied that it’s kaput, finis, Yogi Berra Over Because It’s Over? Not true. Simply not true. We still have Belichick and we still have Brady, and as long as those two gentlemen are in place, there is always a chance we will need to haul out those Duck Boats.
But the giddiness accompanying multiple parades is gone, if not forever, then for a long, long, long, long time. What we had for a brief period was a sports fan’s fantasy, an unprecedented moment in American sports history. Prior to Terry Francona’s messy exit from the scene, we were the first and only municipality in which there was, in simultaneous residence, four coaches/managers who had won a championship. It is very likely the 21st century will end without that happening again.
So now we are very much back in the American mainstream. We have one team (the Patriots) with a legitimate shot at a title. We have another (the Bruins) not far removed from a championship, with enough of a nucleus that it will begin its next campaign — whenever that will be, who knows? — as a contender. We have a third team (the Celtics) that may have seriously overrated itself and will do well simply to make the playoffs. We have a fourth (the Red Sox) in what perhaps can be best described as a reinvention mode. And we have a fifth (the Revolution) that, having bottomed out, will appreciate any small triumph that comes its way.
As always, we shall examine the state of our teams in alphabetical order.
Let’s get right to it. Who knew the goalie was such a whack job?
But Tim Thomas will be missed. Tuukka Rask might turn out to be very good, but his best won’t match Thomas’s Vezina and 2011 Stanley Cup best, so let’s remember to be understanding when he has a rough night or two. Whenever that is.
It was a tough ending in 2012, losing in the first round to Washington at the end of a season in which the Bruins had the best goal differential (plus-67) in the league. There’s still plenty to like about this team: Big Z, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, David Krejci (some nights), etc. It would be nice to know whether Nathan Horton will ever be the player he was before his head injury.
There is no one in the league the Bruins must fear or can’t play with. That Capitals series featured seven one-goal games. The Bruins easily could have advanced. And advanced. And advanced.
The team appears to be in good hands. The Cam Neely-Peter Chiarelli-Claude Julien management trio knows what it’s doing. The Bruins have been one of the best teams in the league for two years, and that shouldn’t change.
The history Danny Ainge hoped to avoid may very well be repeating itself. Year 6 of the Three-Year Plan isn’t going so well.
Two decades ago, Dave Gavitt was unable to keep the W’s coming as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish aged and eventually departed. Reggie Lewis was going to be the transition player of note, and we all know what happened.
Now the prime-of-life star is Rajon Rondo, who, for all his flashy assist numbers, does not appear to have the requisite leadership skills one would expect from a player who regards himself as the best point guard in the league.
Meanwhile, the Celtics as a whole have had trouble rebounding, defending, and, sad to say, even competing on some nights.
But no one has a right to feel greedy. Since the first night of the 2007-08 season, the Celtics’ achievements include winning a championship, losing a tough Game 7 in the Finals, losing a playoff series when forced to play without Kevin Garnett, and taking a 3-2 lead over a great Miami team in a conference final. There are innumerable franchises for which this would represent a Golden Era.
As far as I know, Doc Rivers re-upped for five years at the conclusion of last year’s playoffs with his eyes wide open. He had to know that both Garnett and Paul Pierce would need lots of playing-time TLC. He had to know that integrating nine new players would be a challenge. He had to know, probably as well as anyone on earth, that Rondo’s essential nature was not going to change.
This team is going to make Rivers earn every penny.
Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, will be the 11th anniversary of Super Bowl XXXVI. You know, New England 20, St. Louis 17.
The Patriots could spend that anniversary in New Orleans, site of Super Bowl XLVII.
What are the primary constants over those 11 years? That would be the owner, the coach, the quarterback, and a phenomenal offensive line coach (Dante Scarnecchia).
Appreciate it. Please.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are among the handful of great coach/QB partnerships in the history of the NFL. The coach should be the more grateful of the two, since he knows all too well what life can be like in this league without proper quarterbacking. Brady, who has never played for another NFL coach, could flourish under anybody. That’s my view.
This edition of the New England Patriots is not perfect. But that’s OK, because there are no perfect teams. They are good enough to beat any team, anywhere, now that the defense has materialized into a pretty decent unit. It’s not elite, but it now has some playmakers and a sense of common purpose that was lacking earlier in the season.
The Patriots also have a weapon no one else will have when the playoffs begin, and that is Rob Gronkowski. I’m not calling a Super Bowl, but I will go so far as to say that a playoff loss is going to hurt. Somebody is going to have to play pretty well to beat the New England Patriots.
Best fifth-place team in the recorded history of mankind, or at least the American League East? It’s possible.
It was just two years ago that people were identifying the Red Sox as a super team. And now they would surprise us all by making the playoffs. That’s a very jolting elevator descent.
The atmosphere on Yawkey Way is very different these days. No one knows where John Henry’s ownership head is. We don’t really know what to make of Ben Cherington. Can John Farrell manage? People in Toronto don’t think so. Could/should they have gotten Josh Hamilton? Can John Lackey ever remotely justify the salary? What’s up with Jon Lester?
Is Xander Bogaerts really that good? Same goes for Jackie Bradley Jr. Will Big Papi stay in shape and replicate 2012 (before he got hurt, that is)? Will the Red Sox ever admit a game really isn’t sold out? Questions, questions, questions.
Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and Ryan Dempster may be the answer to somebody’s questions, but perhaps not ours.
This may be the year when the 101-year-old ballpark really does have to be the star.
At 9-17-8, the Revs were ninth in the Eastern Division.
But there shouldn’t be any heat on coach Jay Heaps because he spent the year figuring out what he did and didn’t have. A 10-game winless streak was tough to endure, I’m sure, but it was all part of the process.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber, a player of some prominence, was shipped to Sporting Kansas City, but he brought two draft picks (plus some cash) in return, and now GM Michael Burns has four picks in the first two rounds. He signed midfielders Kalifa Cisse and Andy Dorman, the latter a onetime Revs teammate of the coach. Lee Nguyen has promise as a goal scorer.
Unburdened by great expectation, the Revs like to feel that 2012 was a necessary shake-out year as they reorganize and regroup.
Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at email@example.com.