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These are the glory days
A review of Boston's top 10 teams since '01 reminds us it's been an amazing run
By David Lefort
The panelists pick which recent championship resonantes with them most. Watch
We've spent the last two weeks recognizing the best athletes in the history of Boston sports, but to put a cap on the grand opening of the ESPN Boston Hall of Fame, we want to shift our focus to the best teams the region has seen.
Specifically, we're choosing the area's top 10 pro teams over the last 10 years, the most prosperous time any region has enjoyed since ... well, maybe ever. Since 2001, we've had seven victory parades (excuse me, rolling rallies) through the streets (and waterways) of Boston.
In a span of the last six years, all four pro teams in the area have won titles. That's the shortest span for any city/region to complete the proverbial Grand Slam, and by a wide margin. The next-closest is New York, which saw all four of its pro teams win championships in a span of 24 years from 1973 to 1994.
One disclaimer to note: For purposes of this list, we're not counting the 2011 Red Sox. While they certainly look like World Series contenders, there's still a lot of baseball to be played (sorry, Tito).
Without further ado, here is our list, ordered chronologically (Click HERE to rank them):
Joe Robbins/US Presswire
The Cinderella season of the 2001 Patriots resulted in this town's first championship in 15 years and started a decade of dominance.
In the fourth quarter of the second game of the season at the Meadowlands, Drew Bledsoe was hit hard by the Jets' Mo Lewis at the sideline and was knocked out of the game. Tom Brady entered and the rest, as they say, is history. Brady didn't put up stunning numbers (remember when he was a game manager?), but he nevertheless led the Patriots to an 11-5 record (including six straight wins to end the regular season) and a stunning upset in Super Bowl XXXVI over the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams. Along the way, kicker Adam Vinatieri became a New England hero and "The Snow Game" and "The Tuck Rule" entered the New England vernacular.
The last Red Sox team to break our hearts, the Cowboy Up crew got within six outs of vanquishing the Yankees in the ALCS and reaching the World Series before Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in a little too long. Pedro surrendered a three-run lead in the eighth inning in Game 7 and Aaron Boone drove in the dagger three innings later. It's easy to forget that this team was an offensive juggernaut. Six players (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek) had 25 homers or more, the AL batting champion (Bill Mueller) hit eighth in the lineup, and the team led all of baseball with 961 runs scored and an .851 aggregate OPS.
The Patriots' 14-2 regular season was highlighted by LB Willie McGinest stuffing the Colts on the 1-yard line with 14 seconds left in Week 14, a 38-34 victory that ultimately determined the site of the AFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning struggled in that conference title game in the Foxborough cold, throwing four interceptions (three to Ty Law). A couple of weeks later, Tom Brady (354 yards passing) and Deion Branch (143 yards receiving) won a Super shootout against Carolina. Vinatieri's field goal with 4 seconds left secured New England's second title in three years.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Red Sox ended 86 years of heartbreak on a clear St. Louis night in October 2004.
Dave Roberts' steal. Big Papi's back-to-back walk-offs. Johnny Damon's Game 7 grand slam. Curt Schilling's bloody sock. The first three-games-to-none comeback in baseball history. And all of that was just over a two-week span against the Yankees in a magical October. We get goose bumps just thinking about it. After beating the Yankees in the ALCS, the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in four games to win their first World Series in 86 years.
The Patriots won 17 of 19 games that season and postseason, and along the way they set a new NFL mark for consecutive victories (21). They edged the Eagles in the Super Bowl for their third championship in four years and sparked talk of a dynasty on Route 1. Brady improved to a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs, and Bill Belichick was officially proclaimed a genius (to those who hadn't already acknowledged it). The victory came just more than three months after the Red Sox's World Series win and is celebrated as the height of the golden age of Boston sports.
Another championship run highlighted by an ALCS comeback, the 2007 Sox rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Indians to reach the World Series and sweep the Rockies for Boston's second title in four years. Josh Beckett had a postseason for the ages (30 innings pitched, 4 earned runs) and Mike Lowell (120 RBIs in the regular season) was the World Series MVP.
The first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season, the juggernaut Patriots featured the most prolific offense of all time. Brady broke the all-time mark with 50 touchdown passes and Randy Moss did the same with 23 touchdown receptions. However, a close call against the Giants in Week 17 would prove prophetic, as New York would upset New England in the Super Bowl thanks to David Tyree's miracle catch in the desert and Eli Manning's scoring strike to Plaxico Burress soon after with a helpless Ellis Hobbs trailing. What could have been.
Less than a year after Danny Ainge pulled off a managerial miracle by landing both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to form, along with Paul Pierce, the new Big Three, the Doc Rivers-led Celtics cruised through the regular season, staved off a couple of close calls in the playoffs, and ultimately vanquished the rival Lakers in six games to win Boston's first NBA title since 1986. The Finals were highlighted by a 24-point comeback in Game 4 and a 39-point blowout win to clinch the title. Anything's possible, indeed, KG.
The Celtics were a broken-down, mediocre team from Christmas to the end of the regular season, but they flipped the proverbial switch in the postseason. They ended the LeBron era in Cleveland by schooling the Cavs in the second round before stomping the Magic in the conference finals. In a memorable Finals against the Lakers (again), the Kendrick Perkins-less Celtics had a double-digit second-half lead in Game 7 before running out of gas down the stretch and falling to Kobe and Co. We can still see the purple-and-gold confetti falling from the ceiling while the exhausted Celtics stagger off the court. Ouch.
The Bruins penned a Cinderella story similar to that of the 2001 Patriots and 2004 Red Sox. They exorcized their playoff demons by first vanquishing the Canadiens in Round 1 (after trailing two games to none), sweeping the Flyers in Round 2 (avenging their historic collapse from the year before), edging the Lightning in a thrilling conference finals (winning 1-0 in Game 7) before beating an enigmatic Roberto Luongo and the Canucks in seven games (an upset that triggered riots in Vancouver) for Boston's first Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years. Goaltender Tim Thomas will never pay for a meal in this town again after his performance in both the regular season and playoffs.
David Lefort is an editor for ESPNBoston.com.