How might it possibly get any better for New England sports fans? Both the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots are the reigning world champions in their respective sports and, after Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi, and the rest of the supporting cast took care of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the mighty Pittsburgh juggernaut, they are off to their third Super Bowl in four years with loud whispers of dynasty heard almost everywhere you go. Let’s not forget that the University of Connecticut is home to the reigning NCAA men’s and women’s basketball champions and that the current Boston College men’s basketball squad is undefeated as of this morning (17-0) with just over a month to go before tournament time. Heck, witness even the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, who won the Eastern Conference Finals before losing a three-game championship series to the Seattle Storm.
2004 seemed like a turning point in the recent fortunes of New England teams, although we can’t ignore other championships sprinkled here and there in recent years. The Connecticut basketball program also produced a men’s champion in 1999 while the women’s squad has claimed five of the last ten championships. The BC hockey team won the NCAA Frozen Four tournament in 2001. Of course, there was also the very first Super Bowl championship won by the Patriots, a surprising 20-17 victory in 2002 over the St. Louis Rams, who entered the game as 14-point favorites. The victory parade that followed two days later in Boston made people wonder just how crazy it would be if the Red Sox ever turned the trick.
Despite feeling to the contrary, it’s really hard to successfully argue about a lack of success in sports for New England sports teams, especially at the professional level. You have the Celtics with 16 championships, the Red Sox with six, the Bruins with five, and the Patriots with two. Compare that to Cleveland, for example, which has not seen a champion in major professional sports since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964. What about Seattle, who has one professional sports title (the 1978 NBA title) on its resume, not counting the aforementioned WNBA championship?
Still, with all the accolades over the years, the area has never been the hub of the sports universe. Before 2004 began, the most well-known fact about professional sports here was that the Red Sox had not won a championship since the club shipped Babe Ruth to the Yankees around the time that my grandfather was ten. The Patriots, of course, never seemed to get it right; who could forget the embarrassment of watching them fumble and stumble through Super Bowl XX against the powerhouse Chicago Bears, who had cut a swath of destruction on their way to the title that year?
All of the sudden, the national focus in sports has turned its eye to this tiny northeast corner of the country where the summers are hot and sticky and winters find us buried under three feet of snow. The Red Sox are enjoying the sudden attention that comes with winning a World Series and gearing themselves for another run this year. The Patriots have won 33 games in the last two seasons and are poised to repeat what they accomplished in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
I realize that this run of good fortune will not last forever; it may even come as early as next Sunday in Super Bowl XXIX against Philadelphia if the Patriots come up short against the NFC champion Eagles. Brady may suddenly descend to the rank of mortal men and opposing teams may start to pick apart whatever Bill Belichick throws at them. As for the Red Sox, even with a championship in its back pocket, the team might stumble out of the starting block and never recover or, as has been the case before, play well for most of the year and then fall apart at the end; then it might be another few years before they return to glory. Even some great sports dynasties of the past, like the Dallas Cowboys, the Celtics, the New York Yankees, and the Montreal Canadians, have eventually crumbled, and there will be a day when the local sports media will return to reporting despair and misery, a pastime in its own right.
Nevertheless, there has never been a better time for fans in New England to enjoy watching its teams play. For all those years that I stayed loyal to these teams despite the struggles and misfortunes, the last year has been more than satisfying. For once, I feel a sense of elation, almost euphoria, and I plan to enjoy that sensation for as long as it lasts.