The best sports events of the decade in some order… Please keep in mind I have no interest in (or feeling of some authority for) doing a list of sports events that is anything but a matter of personal taste… Meaning yeah, they’re all pretty much Boston sports related.
1. The 2004 ALCS – The Red Sox always let you down. This was common knowledge. There is some debate among sports fans about what kind of dynamic is worse, when the team you love is a constant bottom dweller who can’t muster together a payroll or any substantial interest, OR when a team you love constantly gives you hope then always (and in heartbreaking fashion) ends up letting you down and playing second banana. I’m really not sure. But for 86 years the 2nd banana routine of the Boston Red Sox really sucked. Sure I was only around for like 22 of those crappy years, but still, no one ever let you forget. It permeated everything. Way-too-angry and bitter dads would coach you into thinking a ball going between your legs was the most unforgivable thing in the universe. I watch grown men chew little children out over this on more than one occaision (the underreported aspect of the Buckner fallout). Bostone was defined by this kind of losing and anger. Seriously. The most happy go lucky player could come into town and within weeks, the attitude seeped into them. Everything thinks we can’t win when it matter. They’re here. They’re cheering. The love us. But they hate us too. The don’t think we can’t win. It was a disease of expectation. The Red Sox always let you down.
So what has to happens to reverse all that? To literally turn around the fortunes of an entire city?
How about the greatest comeback of all time? This may seem to be hyperbole at first glance, but I am fairly confident that this is an unquestionable fact. In the history of American sports there has only been two teams who have come back from 3-0 to win a seven game series. One of them was the Boston Red Sox in 2004 (the other occured in professional hockey with the 1975 New York Islanders). What’s more significant is that it was done against the perennial franchise enemy and part of the most popular rivalary in all of professional sports. The comeback was executed in the most spectacular fashion possible with two games all-time great games (game 4 and 5) and two excellent games to finish the series. Most of these single game comebacks were made against the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, and those who think he bested him in his twilight years it was 5 years ago and he just had another dominant performance this last season. The series made an absolute star out of David Ortiz and it cemented the Red Sox as a nationally beloved team for the next several years on. It was one of those truly great sports moments not just of the decade, but in the history of sports. And it was defined not by a singular blink-and-you’ll-miss-it occurence within the game, but a story of micro-evolotion over the course of a week or so. It was long but graceful pendulum swing of a series, defined by a fulcrum moment in which Dave Roberts executed a hair-line must steal to turn the tide of game 4. It’s a singulary small moment that encapsulates a change in flow. Everything that happened after was purely a result of that successful steal. Somehow, everyone seemed to understand it at the time. There’s something innate and palpable in the air. An energy. Everyone instinictively understood what this meant. And it would be echoed in the years that followed. We were the red sox “and then Dave Roberts stole second”… I watched every single second of this series (even ducking out of much-anticipated concert to see game 6), and it was truly an experience.
It will forever define my love of sports.
2. The 2002 Superbowl (for 2001 season): remember when the Patriots were the good guys? The scrappy underdog who bested the Greatest Show on Turf with an absolutely improbable win? The team that symbolically represented the country (e.g. “Patriots”) in the wake of the greatet modern national tragedy in 9/11? Remember that team? Seems like a long time ago. But it should be noted that this win was far more significant for Boston than it often gets credit for. It sort of gets lumped in with the other two super bowl wins and Adam’s other great winning kicks, but for Boston sports fans of a certain age (late 20’s, like me), it defined the first championship moment of our lives. We were very young for the Celtics champtionships, too young to fully understand them. I was fully cognizant for the team’s waning years, when they was ailing and injured and simply too old to win it all. So for all intents and purposes, 01-02 Patriots suberbowl win was my first real championship. It was pure elation. I had no idea what to do with the feeling, so I just went nuts and ran around my college dorm a lot… which is exactly the reason that so many people love sports. It gives normally level-headed and carefully constructed people the ability to get outside themselves and participate in a completely unfiltered moment of total joy. And there’s nothing better than that.
3. Pedro Martinez in 2000 – This would technically include his 1999 year as well, but watching Pedro during these two years will go down as the sing most exhilarating individual performance I have ever seen from an athlete. Unreal. JUST UNREAL. Look at those seasons. A 1.74 ERA and a .71 whip IN THE STEROID ERA. And the guy is, like, my size. I’ve detailed my love for him a bunch of times on this blog, but all of it is deserved. For a few years he was doing something no one else could do on the planet. And everyone knew it. Before the days of the non-stop sell-outs getting tickets for a Pedro game was the thing to do in Boston. It was the best example I can ever give where watching sports felt like an actual privledge. Unfortunately, everyone knew it couldn’t last. Pedro’s frame was never meant to handle that kind of torque and absurd arm positions (try throwing a curveball like he does with any kind of effectiveness. I’m convinced it’s impossible for anyone else). No matter what, I will always remember Pedro’s years of dominance as the greatest singular performance of the decade.
4. The 07-08 Celtics Part I: The Kevin Garnett Cavaclade – Basketball has maybe become my favorite sport. (I’m really surprised how much PED scandals have diminished my ability to enjoy the Baseball. I did think it would matter. Turns out it did. Likewise with sabremetrics. They were fascinating at first, but have gotten so accurate and telling in their analysis that they have literally come to define the game for all intents and purposes… it sort of ruins the fun. Think I’m joking? The NBA changed the hand-check rules because of it and viewership instantly shot up as a result). But oh yeah basketball. I loved it as a kid and teen, but fell out of love with it post-jordan as the league’s young superstars got paid too much too soon, and defensive dominance became the standard of the league (note: you want defense to the be the hallmark of a few teams, not the entire league. Play and functionality suffer in that scenario). The fact that the Celtics continued to be unfathomably terrible just helped ensure my growing disinterest. Anywho, fast-forward to 2007 and I begin watching basketball again as the arrival of foreign players made it terribly exciting, the suns were fun as all hell, and I get to watch Kobe operate in total dysfunction. To boot, the atrocious celtics were finally in the running for kevin durant sweepstakes (I never understood the Oden love. Even then. Durant was always going to be THE GREAT one of the two. Why it was even a debate was beyond me). So the warriors have an amazing upset over the mavs, we’re treated to some excellent textbook basketball from the spurs, and ping pong balls go and the celts don’t get a shot at durant. So they put their chips all in and manage to aquire ray allen and Kevin Garnett. Well now then… The great thing abouts sports is we get to talk about intangibles and how important they are to impossible legnths (watch espn. 90% of what they’re talking about is completely circumstantial and prognostication and it’s still pretty fun). So getting to see Kevin Garnett bring a host of intangibles to a team of veterans and young guys was just exhilerating. The buzzwords used were “he changed the culture.” It went beyond that. He changed how his teammates played the game. He changed their focus. He changed the reasons WHY they even played. It it brought the team just an excellent championship. I’ve maintained that certian hallmark teams of a sport should always be good. Not necessiarly win it all, but should always be good. The Yankees should always be good. The Canadians should always be good. The Steelers should always be good. They’re institutions of the sport and should always be represented as such. They’re there to be beaten. To be an obstacle. To be the standard bearer. And for nearly two decades on of the NBA signature fanchises was a complete and total joke. No one felt good about it… Until Kevin Garnett changed it all just by showing up and being himself.
5. The 07-08 Celtics Part II: The Pierce/Lebron Duel – Part of the 2008 playoff run. Game 7 of the 2nd round. The game came down to who would outperform who down the stretch. These are just the best part of basketball. And Pierce, one of the great underrated scorers of all time (not that he’s known as being under-rated but that he’s under-rated for his relative offensive greatness) had his moment to show that he was one of the NBA’s elite. He would carry it into the finals to earn Final’s MVP. Watching him toil on those shitty Celtics teams then get his moment to shine was just a joy.
Best non-Boston sports moments:
-2001 world series – Diamondbacks beating the yankees. Symbollically one one level it sort of sucks: a flash in the pan midwestern expansion team beats the standard-bearer of the sport… On the other hand, it proved great pitching truly does win in the post season. It won two all time great starters their first ring. And it overthew a dominant team from a recent string of titles. A great series. (I was obviously less-happy w/ the marlins result… though it did get the Red Sox as shot at Josh Beckett.)
-Warriors and their round one upset of the Mavricks 2007 playoffs – perfect storm of nellie-ball, beards, and uncalled-for MVPs.
-Texas/USC, 2006 Rose Bowl – I was in LA for this one. What a doozy.
… There’s a bunch of others I’m going to leave off this list, because they will be mentioned below and I don’t want to double up on anything.
The Best Athletes I loved watching:
1.Watching Pedro Martinez in 2000 – Mentioned above.
2. Watching Peyton Manning/Tom Brady (tie) – I fully admit that over the last four years the story has changed on this one. It used to be that manning was the great performer who couldn’t win the big one and Brady was his foil. Now it’s seemingly the opposite. They two are still the greatest quarterbacks of our era and part of a wonderful, intrinsic rivalry. Even though he’d still be one superbowl shy, if Manning wins this year he will be the greatest quarterback of all time. His performance and value is immersurable.
3. Watching Allen Iverson – Wait, what? Iverson? Yeah. Iverson. Why him? Because he was the most exciting offensive player to watch this decade. LeBron is a better all-around player. I’d rather have KG on my team. But when it comes to watching from a non-fan distance, nobody had more insane and jaw-dropping moments then AI. He was a 6’1 skinny pitbull of ferociousness. Yes he took a lot of shots, but he also never had a supporting cast (people seem to forget how good Pippen was because of his 2nd banana status. Some people argue he was the 2nd best player of the Dream Team). Well AI made it to a finals when he was the only good guy on the team. Good for him. He had a crazy persona sure, but a lot of antiquated folks had a problem with his thug style first and foremost. He about the fact that he wasjust exhilerating to watch.?
4. Watching Roger Federer – wait, WHAT? Tennis? Yeah. Tennis. I don’t really watch it. But when I do, I stop to watch Federer. He’s nearing the waning days, but for a good solid run he was the best there was and maybe the best there ever will be (considering his ability to stay healthy in a converse relationship to modern tennis). Check out this amazing DFW article on him.
5. Watching Manny Pacquiao – There hasn’t been a boxer this exciting since young Tyson. I’ll stand by that. De La Hoya was (and Mayweather is) a wonderful technical fighter, but none of them can match paq man’s sheer ferocity, spirit, and determination. The guy is an animal. But unlike most bruisers, he (like Tyson) can focus into a singluar moments of sublime combat. And unlike Tyson, he has speed, durability, vitality, endurance, and a rocky-like sense of invincibility and hard headed-ness. Yikes… Go back and watch him in the Cotto fight. Every significant Cotto punch was countered not just with an excellent shot, but an almost taunting-like resolve from paq man egging him on. Can’t wait for Paq/Mayweather.
6. Watching Kobe in 2009 – This is by far kobe’s best season. Why? Cause he finally gets that basketball dominance is about taking over only when you really need to. Congrats to Kobe. The best player in the league in 2009. There I said it.
7. Watching Usain Bolt – Usain scares the shit out of me. Why? Because he hasn’t started trying yet. Really. I have yet to see him finish one of his world record setting runs IN FULL SPRINT AT THE END. He trails off cause he’s already dominating. It’s ridiculous. True, I’ve often been quick to downplay his achievements as world records in olympic events get broken constantly. His records won’t last too long and it’s part of an evolution, but that’s all just in the grand scheme of things. The fact of the matter is that he’s breaking by such alarming margins and not even really trying yet… frightening.
8. Watching Tiger Woods – Sure he’s the most dominant and amazing athelete of the decade. He should be at the top of this list… I’m just not crazy about watching golf. I like golf. I like playing golf. I like watching him play. I just can’t sit there and watch him play all day long. Hence, he’s lower than the rest of these guys. Which is more a function of my enjoyment of TV golf and not Tiger.
-And not watching Lance Armstrong… good for him and all, I just can’t get into cycling.