There was no shortage of big Boston sports moments in 2017.
From the Patriots’ Super Bowl comeback (and the ensuing “28-3” jokes) to Chris Sale’s 300th strikeout to the Isaiah-Kyrie trade, 2017 was a full, exhilariting, and sometimes confusing year.
That makes the jobs of the Globe’s digital sports staff – reporting the news and delivering it to you in ways you hopefully enjoy – a lot of fun. We’ve compiled a taste of our experience covering Boston sports, with links to stories we liked working on, and the best things we read elsewhere.
Favorite story to cover: There were more important stories this year, but my favorite story to cover in 2017 was Tom Brady’s 40th birthday. The idea to blow out coverage of some dude’s bday was met with a bit of eye-rolling, but Brady is undoubtedly the most important figure in Boston sports, and it was a big milestone. We ended up doing one big story ahead of time (”40 things you might not know about Tom Brady”), then covered the day like we might cover an important game, writing about tributes from teammates and family, Brady’s brilliance, and the real goats the Patriots brought to practice that day.
We showed readers Brady’s career in 100 photos, then curated it to 12 (naturally) in a Facebook post. In the end our instincts were right: people lapped up the stories, shared them on social, and used it as a chance to recognize and appreciate one of their favorite athletes on a milestone day.
Favorite thing I wrote: Ahead of what turned out to be a blockbuster Celtics offseason, I wrote about the Celtics’ 2007 trade for Ray Allen, talking to Danny Ainge, Paul Pierce, and others about what was then an unpopular move but ultimately led to a franchise transformation. In the process I also got Pierce to open up on his fractured relationship with Allen by showing him this photo and talking about what it meant to him.
Best things I read:
I’ll give two:
1. This NYT profile on Barstool Sports, which does a good job taking us inside the exploding sports entertainment brand, down to the details of what’s on Portnoy’s desk.
2. This tragic but important story from the New Yorker about college hazing, which wasn’t specifically about sports but can be, and which was hard to read as a father of two young boys.
Favorite story to cover: Boston has no shortage of successful sports franchises to cover, but my favorite story to work on this year didn’t immediately involve one of the four major teams. Sportscaster Chris Berman graciously gave me an hour of his time to talk about his experiences at ESPN. As a recent college graduate new to the industry, I found our discussion particularly interesting. Boomer could probably talk about any topic, and I’d find it engaging, but to hear his thoughts on sports media was really special to me. Plus, when I told him that my voice-recorder was dysfunctional, he proceeded to speak at the perfect speed for me to transcribe his comments. There was nothing overt about his intentions to slow things down — no extended pauses, no drawn out words — yet he did. It’s a little difficult to concisely articulate why I found that skill so impressive, but it certainly blew my mind.
Favorite thing I wrote: In addition to Berman, one of my other favorite interviewees from 2017 was Julian Edelman. Leading up to Father’s Day, I spoke to the Patriots wide receiver about the influence of his dad, Frank. Much of what he shared with me was later communicated in his memoir, Relentless. It was cool to revisit some of the themes we touched on, via the more detailed anecdotes in his book. Edelman was also my first-ever one-on-one interview, which makes it a very fond memory. I’m grateful for his warm and friendly personality that helped put my nerves at ease.
Best things I read: Like Gary, I’ll give two.
1. Lamar Odom’s Players’ Tribune piece: “Done in the Dark.”
2. This recent story on Joel Embiid, by Ramona Shelburne for ESPN The Magazine: “The Greatest Story Ever Trolled.”
Favorite story to cover: The first NBA games I covered were doozies: Games 3 and 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Celtics and Wizards. There was a fight. There were ejections. There was a buzzer-beater. But along with the stories I wrote off the games, I spent many hours inside the Wizards arena before tipoff, watching the crews that get the place spick and span for the games. This is my bread-and-butter: Go somewhere, watch with a keen eye what happens, and write about it. And that’s what I did. (Runner-up: I spent time in the Patriots’ visiting locker room after they beat the Jets in October. It was my first time covering an NFL game, and I wanted to bring the reader inside the locker room with me to show the chaotic but happy scene that unfolded.)
Favorite thing I wrote: This one is easy. I produce our NBA beat writers mock draft each year. This year was a particular thrill and here’s why: We had 100 percent participation from reporters of every team in the first round. I spend several weeks reaching out to NBA reporters to see who would be open to participating in the mock draft, trying to fill each slot of the first round. But of course, it’s the NBA offseason and anything can happen at any moment. So understandably, in the previous two years we have done this, a few reporters have been pulled away last minute because news has broken on the beat or there is last minute availability for coaches or GMs. In that case, we have Adam Himmelsbach or Gary Washburn pick in their place. But this year, every reporter was able to come through and make their pick, no pinch-picks needed. It made for that much better of a final story.
Best things I read: This one is not easy. In-house: Stan Grossfeld’s profile on Thea Hanscom, believed to be the only girl playing varsity baseball in Massachusetts. “I’m not intimidated by anyone,” she said. How can you not root for her? Outside: This feature on soccer players Bianca Sierra and Stephany Mayor, who played for Mexico in the 2015 World Cup. But after coming out as a couple, they have traveled far from home — to Iceland — to find acceptance. (Honorable mention: This B/R Mag profile on former NFL cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who has found his way as a film producer and actor.)
Favorite story to cover: Sent to Houston for the lead-up to Super Bowl LI, I found myself immersed in a string of unique events. I took in the circus-like atmosphere of “Opening Night,” watched Martellus Bennett play Vic Beasley in a game of Madden, and randomly walked into a room where Lady Gaga was giving her press conference. But my favorite (humorous) moment was when the media bus somehow received a motorcycle escort to the Patriots’ team hotel (done so the NFL’s perfectly synchronized TV schedule could stay on track). Houstonians, seeing only a bus with tinted windows and a police escort, might have mistaken us for the Patriots. Once at the hotel, I slowly made my way past a phalanx of TV cameras and fellow reporters to reach the players. I ended up with a few Tom Brady quotes that eventually led to a piece about his time at Michigan. And on our way home? We weren’t so lucky with the motorcycle escort again, and became well acquainted with rush hour in Houston.
Favorite thing I wrote: Not that long after I started at Boston.com, I stumbled on a very interesting headline while exploring a newspaper archive written shortly after Bill Belichick was hired. It read, “Patriots will regret hiring Belichick.” After initially writing about Belichick’s opening press conference, I was eventually able to get in touch with the writer who had originally formed the hot take about Belichick. He was not only gracious enough to answer questions looking back at the piece, but provided fascinating anecdotes about Belichick’s early time in New England, and why he wrote what he did. It’s by far my favorite piece that I was involved with in 2017.
Favorite thing I covered: Ted Donato entered the 2016-17 season having coached the Harvard men’s hockey team to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. His star pupil, Jimmy Vesey had returned to for is senior season and won the Hobey Baker Award in 2016 before turning pro. Yet as the Crimson’s season rolled into February, Donato acknowledged the frustration with the program’s disappointing performance in the Beanpot over the years. In fact Harvard had only reached the final once since Donato took over in 2004, so when the Crimson held on to defeat Northeastern in the first round, 4-3, it marked Harvard’s first trip to the title game since 2008.
In the final one week later, the Crimson led Boston University, 4-2, when the coach’s son, Ryan, a Bruins draft pick, streaked down the right side of the ice, eluding BU defenders en route to a nifty goal that gave Harvard a 5-2 win with 7:13 remaining. Harvard would go on to win, 6-3, to capture its first Beanpot since 1993. The Crimson also reached the Final Four that season, again for the first time since 1993. Harvard hockey was back.
Favorite thing I wrote: I first met Brian Mann when, in my first job out of college, I covered the Xaverian football team in 1996 and 1997, and he was the quarterback. About a decade later, our paths crossed again when he was in the Boston area, working on a movie. We connected on Facebook, typically just reaching out over the years on each other’s birthday. I didn’t really anticipate that we would collaborate on a story that would end up landing on the Front Page of the Globe.
Immediately after Super Bowl LI, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed at work, looking at everyone’s reaction to the Patriots’ improbable comeback, when I stumbled across a post from Brian.
It was a picture of him with Lady Gaga. He had thrown a football to her at the end of the halftime show. I showed the post to my boss, and he thought it would be a great story.
The Monday after the Super Bowl was spent trying to set up a time to talk to Brian. Texting back and forth with him while I was at the Beanpot, we decided to talk the next day. Perfect. That is, it was, until the Bruins announced they were firing head coach Claude Julien early Tuesday. In fact, the press conference would be scheduled for the exact time that I was supposed to speak with him.
So Brian graciously agreed to speak to me on Wednesday. But I was getting nervous. News stations in Houston, where Brian works in the athletic department at Rice University, were getting wind of the story and running it on local television. I could only hope that no one in Boston would make the connection.
On Wednesday, Brian and I finally spoke, It had been a few years, but it was like time had not passed at all. Brian provided excellent details around the halftime show, and he had a great story to tell. After a 30 minute conversation, I knew this could be special. I downplayed that to everyone else though, I wanted to see how it came out
It turns out, Mother Nature would intervene on my behalf. A storm was forecast for Thursday morning. My boss called me Wednesday night.
“How about you stay home tomorrow, and work on that story?” he said
Yes!! I really had no excuse now. I had to deliver, and I spent the entire day going over my notes, looking up stories that I wrote on Brian over the previous 20 years, and keeping my fingers crossed that no one in Boston caught up with him.
On Friday morning I came into the office, and sent the story to my boss. I felt pretty good about it, but wasn’t sure what others would think.
“This story’s (expletive deleted) great!” was the response.
The story, along with pictures provided by Mann, went up early on the web Friday. Soon it was the lead on the homepage on BostonGlobe.com, getting the most traffic on the entire site. It’s one of the more satisfying pieces of I’ve ever done.
Best thing I read: I am constantly amazed at the abundance of quality journalism I find every week, much of it right here on BostonGlobe.com. But my favorite piece from the last year is one that made me pause mid-article because I was laughing. David Fleming’s oral history of the butt fumble is ridiculous. The idea of devoting time to such a bizarre play seemed silly at first, and it certainly is just that. But it is also wildly entertaining. Although maybe not for Jets fans.
Favorite thing to cover: The past few years, interest in the NBA Draft has been over the top in Boston. Then Celtics won the lottery in 2017, immediately kicking off a debate about which player to choose at No. 1. So we enlisted the great Bob Ryan to help us produce a feature about the difficulty of making the top pick, and decided to do an interactive that presented readers with blind scouting reports on top players from drafts gone by.
We knew Bob would be perfect for this because of his comprehensive knowledge of the NBA, but we also got an unexpected lesson from the master. On the day of the video shoot for the feature, we gathered at his desk to game-plan, but before we got down to business, he threw down an old Globe newspaper, and said “Check this out, boys.”
It was from 1985, and featured a Bob Ryan column on the upcoming draft. The whole premise was blind scouting reports to illustrate the difficulty of making the top pick. He was light years ahead of us.
Favorite thing I wrote: They say write what you know, and one thing I know really well is skiing in New England. So it was a lot of fun to come up with something that flipped the script on all those silly ski resort rankings that flood the months before ski season begins and instead write about what really makes New England ski areas unique. “Most likely to make you want to go skiing? This list” was my superlative-driven feature for the Globe’s annual Chill winter travel section.
Best things I read: The Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach wrote the definitive profile of top NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz ... ESPN’s Baxter Holmes had a wildly entertaining feature on “The NBA’s Secret Addiction,” which happened to be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ... and the Globe’s Ben Volin had a brilliant look at what happens in the 40 frantic seconds between Patriots plays.
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