Commentary

Year of tragedy and triumph

With a newly determined spirit, Boston's teams helped heal a city's broken heart

Updated: December 23, 2013, 7:50 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

The scorecard that we would typically employ to review the year in Boston sports fails us in 2013. There are no columns for bombings and murder alongside the usual checklists of championships won and lost, feats of glory and acts of failure, departed stars and the fresh faces that replace them.

This was the year that we saw firsthand that a backpack, no different from the ones we routinely strap onto the backs of our children before they head off to school, can be an instrument of terror in the hands of those bent on inflicting evil in the heart of our city, striking at one of our most cherished traditions, rupturing that 26-mile woven thread of competition, community and celebration known as the Boston Marathon.

[+] Enlarge2013 Boston Marathon
AP Photo/Charles KrupaBoston will never forget the chaos of that sunny day in April when two explosions changed the lives of many.

Everyone knew someone -- a friend, a daughter, a son, a co-worker, a parent -- who ran in the race or planned their day around it. We would all soon know the names and the faces of those who lost their lives, or a limb, on an afternoon that had no precedent in our city.

We shuddered. We wept. We mourned. And yes, we were afraid, as an entire city went into lockdown until those believed to have brought mayhem to our doorsteps could be apprehended.

Another seismic shock soon followed: the arrest on murder charges of a much-admired football player, Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, led out of his home in handcuffs.

And then one more: Jared Remy, the son of a beloved Red Sox broadcaster, Jerry Remy, was arrested, covered in blood and later charged with the murder of the mother of his 4-year-old daughter. Jerry Remy, the agreeable and witty companion to our many nights of watching the Red Sox, fell silent on the airwaves, consumed by grief, his son in a jail cell, awaiting trial.

In the face of such tragedies, our city's sports teams played their games. A trifle by definition -- "games." Seemingly rendered even more meaningless by the scale of suffering endured, both on a personal and collective level.

Except that the opposite came to pass: In the aftermath of the marathon bombings, we needed our teams more than ever, and they responded in kind. It was the same in New York after 9/11, and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Our teams, imbued with more civic responsibility than simply wearing the name of our city while on their fields of play, became willing instruments of our healing, offering comfort to those who had suffered and their admiration to those who had responded in the hour of need.

Their arenas and ballparks became our gathering places to mourn the victims and salute the first responders and our law-enforcement protectors who wore their heroism lightly.

These ceremonies, and the games that followed, became our touchstones of faith that we could and would endure.

It was one of our own, New Hampshire poet Robert Frost, who once said: "In three words I can sum up everything that I've learned about life: It goes on."

The message resonated first, two nights after the bombings, at a Bruins game in TD Garden, where the electronic scoreboard flashed "We are Boston. We are Strong'' and Rene Rancourt, the flamboyant anthem singer, dropped his microphone and his panache to allow a sellout crowd of 17,565 to carry the tune in voices loud and proud.

A Red Sox equipment manager, Tom McLaughlin, with the help of players Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, would design a logo around the team's iconic "B" that conveyed the message for an entire region: "'B' Strong."

And then that Saturday, five days after the bombing and just hours after the game the night before had been postponed due to the manhunt sweeping the city, David Ortiz, marinated in the Dominican Republic but seasoned in New England, stood in the center of Fenway Park and girded an entire region with defiance and resolve:

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
George Rizer/Boston Globe/Getty ImagesThe sight of Patriots star Aaron Hernandez being led out of his home in handcuffs was both shocking and sad.

"This is our f---ing city,'' Ortiz said. "And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.''

And so they played. And we cheered. We marveled at the impossible comeback of the Bruins, three goals down and on the brink of a Game 7 elimination by the Maple Leafs, then sat in stunned disbelief when the Blackhawks scored twice in 17 seconds to end hopes of another Cup.

We said our reluctant goodbyes to Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce of the Celtics, and to Wes Welker of the Patriots.

We watched with growing admiration as the Patriots, even without Welker and Hernandez and an injured Rob Gronkowski and Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, week after week snatched unlikely victory in the final minutes of games seemingly lost.

We were impressed by the greatness of the unsung and humble Andre Williams, the Boston College running back who galloped into the record books and onto All-America teams.

And, most of all, we joyfully accepted the invitation to a party extended by the Red Sox, the bearded models of resilience in a summer in which they never lost more than three games in a row, then won a World Series at the end of a season that was both inspired and inspiring.

[+] EnlargeJerry Remy
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaRed Sox fans missed hearing and watching Jerry Remy, who took a leave from his broadcasting duties after his son was charged with murder.

"I don't think we put Boston on our backs,''  Gomes would say as Fenway Park hosted its first championship party in 95 years. "I think we jumped on their backs. They wouldn't let us quit.''

The Sox stayed on course to the very end, when the duck boat parade steered down Boylston Street, and Gomes and Saltalamacchia placed the World Series trophy and a "Boston Strong" team jersey at the marathon finish line. The only thing  missing was Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," the walk-up music chosen by Sox outfielder Shane Victorino and adopted by a fan base grateful to sing along with Marley's carefree lyrics:

"Don't worry about a thing, 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."

It was a Japanese poet, Mahoto Yoshimoto, who wrote, "Everything in life has some good in it. And when something awful happens, the goodness stands out even more. It's sad, but that's the truth."

And so it was that just a few days ago, we learned that James Costello, a marathon bombing victim who sustained serious burns on his arms and legs and needed surgery to extract bomb fragments from his abdomen, had become engaged to marry Krista D'Agostino, the nurse who guided him through his rehabilitation.

One couple's happy turn, of course, does not diminish the pain and suffering still endured by so many, just as a World Series trophy cannot obscure the awful night that fell in the middle of an April afternoon.

But it helps.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,'' Martin Luther King Jr. wrote. "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.''

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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