GLENDALE, Ariz. — Fifteen years. Nine Duck Boat parades. All four sports.
The New England Sports High Renaissance of the 21st century continues.
So many memories. So many datelines: New Orleans, Houston, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Denver, Vancouver, Glendale, and, of course, right at home in Boston.
No city has ever enjoyed a period of sports success like this. So let’s do what no one else can do: Let’s rank them.
This is combustible territory. How does any championship rank ahead of another? How do we come up with the ninth-best championship of this century? Talk about hardware gluttony!
The latest one always feels like the best one, but we have to resist that urge and try to imagine how these championships will be remembered in later years. Which champagne best stands the test of time?
For me, No. 1 is obvious and above argument. It’s the next four that are hardest to rank. Picks 2-3-4-5 could be in any order and I’d go along.
1. Red Sox, 2004 (St. Louis, Oct. 27) — Maybe it’s too far in the rear-view mirror. Maybe a new generation of fans has no idea why this was such a big deal. But this will always be The One.
It relieved 86 years of pain and frustration. And in the process, Boston’s greatest sports rivals, the Yankees, were defeated in an epic AL Championship Series. The Sox did something that has never been done before or since — recover from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game baseball series — and they did it against the team that tormented them for 8½ decades. And they finished them off in New York.
The Red Sox were playing for 60 years before the Patriots were born. “Epic” and “magical” are words we assign to championship rides. This one was Biblical. The greatest sports story ever told.
2. Patriots, 2002 (New Orleans, Super Bowl XXXVI, Feb. 3) — OK, some of you perhaps believe Sunday night’s amazing win in Glendale might be the best ever. No problem with that. A case can be made that XLIX is the greatest ever because of the restoration of the legacy and the pressure of Deflategate. Fine.
But take yourself back to the Superdome when young Tom Brady and the Patriot underdogs beat The Greatest Show On Turf on Adam Vinatieri’s last-second kick. That game had U-2 and names of 9/11 victims unfurled from the Dome ceiling at halftime.
It was the first Patriots’ championship and the first is almost always the best. The 2001-02 Patriots shocked the world. It was Boston’s first professional sports championship since the 1986 Celtics.
3. Patriots, 2015 (Glendale, Super Bowl XLIX, Feb. 1) — This might have been the greatest Super Bowl of all time. The Patriots and Seahawks both played great football. Brady pushed past Joe Montana with four touchdown passes and won his third Super Bowl MVP. Brady and Bill Belichick advanced their cases as greatest of all-time.
But it was the aftermath of Deflategate that made this one so special. It was, literally, New England against the world after the NFL leaked word that the Patriots were being investigated for playing with underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship game. Belichick and Bob Kraft submitted speeches backing the Patriot Way and daring the league to produce details of evildoing.
The Patriots recovered from a 10-point deficit with less than eight minutes to play and won it because Pete Carroll made the worst decision in the history of professional or amateur sports. Malcolm Butler became Dave Roberts.
4. Bruins, 2011 (Vancouver, June 15) — Winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years, the Bruins brought the magic back to Causeway Street.
The playoffs featured three seven-game series, including a Game 7 win over Montreal and a 1-0 Game 7 classic (zero penalties) at the Garden vs. Tampa Bay. Nathan Horton scored the game-winners in both of those Game 7’s.
The finals pitted the Bruins against the loathsome Canucks, and Vancouver folks set their city on fire when Boston took Game 7 in Vancouver, 4-0.
5. Red Sox, 2013 (Boston, Oct. 30) — The worst-to-first Red Sox helped the region recover from the April tragedy of the Marathon bombings and stayed true to their “Boston Strong” mission through the end of October.
Growing beards as the summer lengthened, the goofy Gomesmen of ’13 sliced through Tampa Bay, Detroit, and St. Louis in the postseason. David Ortiz’s grand slam in Game 2 against the Tigers changed everything for this team and cemented Papi’s legacy. Declaring, “This is our [expletive] city,’’ and hitting .688 in the World Series, Ortiz emerged as a statue-worthy figure on a par with Sam Adams and James Michael Curley.
One of only two of these Boston championship teams to win the title at home.
6. Celtics, 2008 (Boston, June 17) — The winningest franchise in the NBA went 22 long winters without a title until Danny Ainge assembled a New Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.
Recovering from the ashes of the Rick Pitino and M.L. Carr regimes, the Ubuntu Celtics were a wire-to-wire champion, and faced their toughest test when LeBron James and the Cavaliers took them to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics won Game 7 with Pierce and James both scoring more than 40.
The Celtics won the championship at home, routing the Lakers, 131-92.
Sunday’s win by the Patriots means that the Celtics now have Boston’s longest championship drought. Ouch.
7. Patriots, 2004 (Houston, Super Bowl XXXVIII, Feb. 1) — Time and distance have dimmed the memories, but this might have been the best Patriots team of all. They went 14-2, won the coldest game in Foxborough history against Tennessee to start the playoffs, beat the Peyton Manning Colts, 24-14, in the AFC Championship, then edged the Panthers, 32-29, in the Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium.
The Super Bowl was 0-0 after one quarter and the Patriots led, 14-10, after three. The fourth quarter was a 19-18 shootout, and the Patriots won on yet another walkoff field goal (41 yards with four seconds left) by Vinatieri.
8. Red Sox, 2007 (Denver, Oct. 28) — The suddenly corporate Sox won their second World Series in four seasons, overwhelming the Colorado Rockies in four relatively easy games.
The toughest test for the Sox came in the ALCS when they fell behind Cleveland, three games to one. Josh Beckett virtually carried the Sox through the postseason, and J.D. Drew had his finest moment in Boston, a Game 6 grand slam against the Tribe.
This was a terrific Sox team, but the postseason thrills do not compare with those of 2004 and 2013.
9. Patriots, 2005 (Jacksonville, Super Bowl XXXIX, Feb. 6 ) — Ho-hum, another year, another Super Bowl championship.
The Patriots beat the Eagles, 24-21, at Alltel Stadium. Mike Vrabel caught a touchdown pass and Deion Branch copped the MVP, catching 11 Brady passes.
These Patriots were almost too dominant for their own good, and the Super Bowls of 2002-05 began to blend together. This was New England’s third championship in four years, and remains the last back-to-back Super Bowl title run by any NFL team.
Perhaps it is the site of Super Bowl XXXIX that makes this the worst of our recent title moments. Jacksonville? The NFL would have been better off playing the Super Bowl in Worcester or New Bedford.
So there’s my lineup. Nine championships. Top to bottom.
Care to argue on the order of things?