Neil Diamond’s hit single “Sweet Caroline” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1969. Thirty-three years later, in a 2002 development that seemed both organic and downright inexplicable, it became a nightly singalong tradition in the eighth inning of Red Sox games at Fenway Park.
All these years later of its odd ubiquity, and never has it made more sense as an anthem of Boston sports fans than now.
Good times never seemed so good? Got that right, Neil. And the good times are poised to last.
The Red Sox advanced to the World Series Thursday night with a 4-1 victory over the defending champion Houston Astros. It’s the fourth trip to the Fall Classic for the Red Sox since 2004, when they swept the St. Louis Cardinals to exorcise all ghosts and lift all curses. The Red Sox have been champions in ’04, ’07, and ’13. The change in centuries really has worked out quite well for them.
But this latest visit to their sport’s championship round enhances an even more impressive tale: The staggering 21st century success of Boston professional sports.
Since the 2001 Patriots ended a 15-year title drought in Boston sports by stunning the St. Louis Rams (a 14-point favorite in Las Vegas), 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI, this city hasn’t just been the home of champions. It’s been the home of contender after contender after contender, from the Patriots to the Red Sox to the Celtics and Bruins, across all seasons, for practically a full generation of fans now.
Consider this breakdown, courtesy of the invaluable Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) Twitter account:
Beginning with the 2001 Patriots, there have been 67 separate seasons among the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins. (The 2004-05 Bruins season was lost to an NHL lockout.) In that time, 51 teams have made the playoffs, 39 have reached the final eight teams playing, 26 have reached the final four and 16, with the Red Sox being the latest, have made the championship round.
The 2018 Red Sox are four victories from being the 11th Boston team to win a championship in 18 years, and their fourth. The Patriots have won five in eight visits to the Super Bowl. The Celtics and Bruins each have made the Finals twice in that span, coming away with a championship apiece.
Know what qualifies as the bad old days during this sports century? The seasons 2005-06, the only consecutive years that Boston – gasp! – didn’t have at least one team reach its sport’s final round. The Celtics have the longest championship drought among the four teams at 10 years, having last won a title in 2008 (they lost in seven games to the Lakers in 2010). And they are a trendy pick to dethrone the champion Warriors this year.
Much to the annoyance of the rest of the sports world, Boston teams remain positioned to contend for years to come. Perhaps the window could close soon on the Patriots, the greatest prolonged dynasty in the history of the NFL, with five Super Bowl wins in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. After all, Belichick – who was a relatively young coach at 47 when the Patriots hired him in January 2000 — is now 66, while Brady is 41, an age at which most accomplished quarterbacks have long since moved to the front office or the broadcast booth.
The Patriots do have young talent on the roster (running back Sony Michel is 23, guard Shaq Mason and defensive end Trey Flowers are 25) and the coaching staff (offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who backed out of taking the Colts head coaching job to remain with the Patriots last offseason, is 42). And their veteran core – Brady, 32-year-old receiver Julian Edelman, and 29-year-old tight end Rob Gronkowski among them – remains as dynamic as it is accomplished.
There is no doubt the Patriots have created the championship blueprint that the other Boston franchises follow, beginning in 2001: draft and retain the best of a home-grown core, surround young talent with bright, innovative and communicative coaches, mix in the right accomplished players via free agency and trades, tweak the recipe here and there, then be ready to handle success, because it’s going to come.
There are common threads among the four teams. Many of the best veteran players on Boston rosters were homegrown: Brady, Edelman and Gronkowski with the Patriots and Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand with the Bruins. Others have come via free agency: Zdeno Chara with the Bruins, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward with the Celtics, J.D. Martinez and David Price with the Red Sox, Stephon Gilmore with the Patriots. There have been savvy trade acquisitions across teams, among them Tuukka Rask (Bruins), Kyrie Irving (Celtics), and Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel (Red Sox).
Belichick is a legend in his own time, but the other coaches on Boston’s scene are making their own names. Brad Stevens took the Celtics to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last year despite the absence of Hayward and Irving, arguably his two best players. Cassidy led the Bruins to a 50-20-12 record in his first full year on the job. And Cora led the Red Sox to a franchise-record 108 wins and a World Series berth in his first year as a manager.
Other fanbases aren’t going to care to hear this, but the greatest evidence that these good old days can last even longer is the caliber of young talent across the rosters right now. Celtics budding star Jayson Tatum is just 20, younger even than this year’s first-round pick, Robert Williams (21). Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy is 20, Brandon Carlo is 21, and there are several blossoming 22-year-olds, among them David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, and Ryan Donato. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers both turn 21 on Oct. 24, and Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is 24.
As for Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, well, their joints must crackle and creak when they get out of bed in the morning. They both turned 26 this month, the same age as Irving.
In the final episode of the television show “The Office,” the character Andy Bernard, played by Ed Helms, had a memorable line: “I wish,’’ he says, “that there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.”
Boston’s sports teams have been living in the good old days for more than a decade now. We know we’re in them, and one never can be sure, but we also think we know this:
They sure don’t look like they’re going to end anytime soon.