The championship days may be over. We’ve had it too good for too long, and in recent days things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. The Patriots just had their earliest playoff elimination in 10 years and Tom Brady might be done in New England. The Red Sox are a mess, suspected of cheating, with no manager, and Mookie Betts might be on his way out of town. The Celtics don’t have the size or skill to go all the way, and the Bruins lost another shootout the other night when one of their best players whiffed on his attempt.
I have a theory of when everything changed. And I am by no means picking on Brad Marchand, one of our town’s toughest and best performers.
I believe everything changed for us in the final seconds of the first period of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues way back on June 12. The Bruins were trailing, 1-0, as the clock ticked toward zero in the first. The Bruins were playing at home — the Cup was in the house — and we all figured they would take charge and win the Stanley Cup over the final two periods.
Then came the moment — the Boston sports equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
In the “meaningless” closing seconds of the period, Marchand — gassed at the end of a long shift — made a half-hearted effort to check Blues winger Jaden Schwartz, then skated off to the Bruins’ bench. While the Bruins were unexpectedly short a man, Alex Pietrangelo took a pass from Schwartz, skated free toward the net, and potted a backhander past a defenseless Tuukka Rask. All this eight seconds before the horn sounded.
That was it. The oxygen was sucked from the Garden. The blood drained from our faces. It was 2-0 instead of 1-0 after one, and hearts sank around New England. It was clear in that moment that the Bruins were not going to win the Stanley Cup on their home ice for the first time in 49 years. After eight weeks of pulsating playoffs, they limped to a 4-1 loss in the biggest game of most of their lives.
And much as I hate to say it, that might have been the beginning of the end of Boston’s 21st century, chest-thumping, duckboat-rollin’, sports high renaissance.
In a weird way it reminded me of the interminable wedding scene from “The Deer Hunter” when the bride and groom attempt to sip wine together from a common container without spilling. Folklore holds that they will have good luck if they can drink without spilling. No one seems to notice when a few drops of wine faintly fall onto Angela’s gown . . . or maybe everybody pretends not to notice.
The wedding celebration resumed, but the damage was done. The juju was forever changed. Angela and Steven were bound for bad times.
This is Boston sports since Marchand’s careless little play. We’ve endured seven months of bad stuff and bad luck with no championships in sight.
One year ago, we were at the summit. The Red Sox were 119-game winners, one of the greatest teams of all time. They were so good they were comfortable going into 2019 with almost the exact same team. The Patriots were about to win their third Super Bowl in five years and provide us with the 12th championship parade of the new millennium. Kyrie Irving had promised fans that he was going to stay with the Celtics and predicted great things for the 2019 playoffs. The Bruins were on their way to a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 at the Garden.
In that moment, the possibility existed that Boston could be the home all of sports major championship simultaneously. No city had ever done it.
Even when the Celtics famously flamed out in the 2019 playoffs, Boston still had a chance to hold three titles at once, and that dream was very much alive in mid-June when the Bruins came home for Game 7 against the Blues.
But there was no Hub hat trick of hardware. No Big Wheels With Spoked-B’s Turning on Boylston Street.
And it’s been a slog ever since.
Kyrie left and torched the Tobin on his way out of town. Al Horford bolted for a hated rival. The cocky Red Sox failed to prepare in Florida and got off to an abysmal start. They fired their president of baseball operations in September and finished out of the playoffs, a whopping 19 games behind the Yankees. In the offseason, the Sox announced a goal to cut payroll while raising ticket prices and doing little in the way of player acquisition. And now they have fired a disgraced Alex Cora while asking everyone to “reserve judgment” as they await penalties for their own cheating scandal that has tainted the 2018 championship.
Oh, and did I mention Tom Brady might be leaving?
It all goes back to the Lil’ Ball O’ Hate and his decision to bolt for the bench with a few seconds left in the first period of Game 7.
I approached Marchand last October to ask about it.
“I’m not really talking about that anymore,’’ he answered politely. “We’re moving forward.’’
Yes. We are all moving forward.
But it feels like the best times are behind us.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.