A team-by-team look at
Boston’s pro sports franchises
by Josh B. Wardrop
If during your visits to our fair city you’ve ever been cornered by a Boston sports fan with an opinion to share, happened upon a sports radio station on the dial or just observed the sheer volume of grown men and women walking the streets of the Hub clad in team jerseys, you’ve likely stumbled upon Boston’s not-so-secret secret: we’re a sports town. Bostonians can’t hide their love for the Sox, the Pats and all the rest—in fact, they do just the opposite, fanning out across the country to join their teams at away games and sharing their exuberant love of the Hub’s star athletes sufficiently enough to make nicknames like “Yaz,” “The Chief” and “Big Papi” part of the national sports lexicon. Here in 2008, there’s never been a better time to be a Boston sports fan—the Celtics’ 2008 NBA championship just the latest in a recent run of successes helping to stoke fan fervor. Here’s an up-to-the-minute “state-of-the-state” examination of New England’s pro baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer teams during this, the veritable Golden Age of Boston sports.
Boston Red Sox
These are the good old days for Boston’s beloved Olde Towne Team, as decades of frustration, crushing defeats and talk of “curses” have given way to World Series victories in 2004 and 2007, playoff appearances in five of the last six years and a Major League Baseball record 468-game sellout streak. Red Sox Nation has expanded across the nation and around the world, as players like Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon and Kevin Youkilis led the team to a 95-67 record this season, resulting in the team winning the American League Wild Card. This being the Sox, it hasn’t been a drama-free year: the team dealt with injuries to core sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Lowell and key pitchers like Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling (who never threw a pitch in what was supposed to be his swan song with the Sox), and in July they bid adieu to ever-erratic slugger Manny Ramirez, trading him to the L.A. Dodgers. Still, at the time of this writing, the Sox are about to take on the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series in the hopes of booking their first back-to-back World Series appearances since 1915–1916.
HUB SPORTS HISTORY ON DISPLAY
If you’ve always wanted to see Larry Bird’s sneakers or Tom Brady’s game jersey—but drew the line at breaking into the jocks’ bedroom closets—there’s one spot in Boston guaranteed to thrill you: The Sports Museum, located on the 5th and 6th floors of TD Banknorth Garden.
Established in 1987, the Sports Museum is a repository for all things pertaining to New England athletics: everything from memorabilia and artifacts associated with pro sports franchises like the Red Sox and Celtics, to exhibits dealing with the region’s many collegiate, Olympic and Special Olympic heroes dating back to the turn of the 20th century.
“The Garden is a great home for us,” says Associate Curator Brian Codagnone of the museum’s base of operations since 1999. “People can not only see the exhibits, but they can get a bird’s eye view of the Garden floor—see the parquet, or maybe the ice. It’s exciting.”
Codagnone considers the Museum’s standout pieces to include the actual old Boston Garden penalty box (loaned to the museum by ex-Bruins player and coach Terry O’Reilly); the amazingly lifelike wooden sculptures of Bird, Carl Yastrzemski and Bobby Orr carved by artist Armand LaMontagne; and the seats in the Boston Garden Theatre, all authentic folding chairs from the old Garden itself.
“The assortment of cool stuff we have is just endless,” he says. “The original home plate from the old Boston Braves field…the actual ball that hit Tony Conigliaro in the eye... we even have one of Paul Newman’s racecars—but there’s no room here to display it!”
Visitors can witness the full historical scope of Boston sports not just through the authentic artifacts, but also by viewing original artwork. Two separate murals depict sports heroes from Babe Ruth to Bill Russell to Doug Flutie, and one prominent wall display features three-dimensional works that bring classic Boston sports moments to life, aided by an interactive display that allows fans to hear the actual annnouncers’ calls—like Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most’s unforgettable “Havlicek stole the ball!”—at the push of a button. It’s the kind of exhibit Codagnone expects the Sports Museum to develop more of as it continues to expand and attract Boston sports fans from the unlikeliest places.
“We get Australians coming here to see the parquet floor,” he says. “Slovakians who want to see where [Boston Bruins captain] Zdeno Chara plays. We have people from around the world, and from our backyard—little kids and the ‘Gallery Gods’ from the old Garden. We really think we’ve got something for everyone who love sports and what it stands for.”
After two decades of diminishing returns, the NBA’s winningest franchise returned to a place of prominence in 2008, as the Boston Celtics won their first NBA championship since 1986 in June, defeating their longtime rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. The key ingredients for the title run were forward Kevin Garnett and guard Ray Allen, both acquired in trades by general manager Danny Ainge to team with Celts captain Paul Pierce as modern-day successors to the Green Team’s “Big Three” of the 1980s (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish). During the summer, the Celtics lost key sixth man James Posey to free agency and veteran backup center P.J. Brown to retirement, but retained key role players like Eddie House and Tony Allen, while adding youngsters like Patrick O’Bryant, Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens to a solid core that includes breakout starters Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. Coach Doc Rivers and the Celtics raise championship banner number 17 to the rafters and kick off their title defense at TD Banknorth Garden on October 28 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
New England Patriots
Things with the New England Patriots have been so good recently (Super Bowl victories in 2002, 2004 and 2005) that one had to expect a stumble was coming—and when it came, it came spectacularly. First, in February, the Pats lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants in the game’s closing minutes, coming up just short of the NFL’s first perfect 19-0 season. Then, when the team reconvened over the summer, the Pats went winless in four pre-season games played without star quarterback Tom Brady, who was nursing a leg injury. Finally healthy for the season opener on September 7, Brady lasted roughly six minutes before suffering a hard hit that resulted in a season-ending knee injury which put the Pats’ fortunes in the hands of rarely-used backup Matt Cassel. Despite the huge setback, the Patriots have started the season 3-2, and still look likely to be in contention for a return trip to the postseason. The next obstacles in their way? The Denver Broncos on October 20 and the St. Louis Rams on October 26, both at Gillette Stadium.
A 35-year drought between Stanley Cup wins (and an 18-year drought between Finals appearances) has sapped some of the popularity of Boston’s once-proud ice hockey team—one of the NHL’s “Original Six”—especially with the recent championships won by the Hub’s other pro franchises. However, last season offered signs that the Bruins may be on an upswing. After missing the playoffs entirely in 2005–06 and 2006–07, the B’s took their old rivals the Montreal Canadiens to a full seven games in the first round before being eliminated. With a roster of talented players like Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel, Marco Sturm and team captain Zdeno Chara, Bruins fans are confident that the team is close to a return to greatness, beginning with the 2008–09 home opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Banknorth Garden on October 20.
New England Revolution
It may only get a fraction of the ink that its longer-pedigreed sports peers receive, but since its inception in 1995, Boston’s Major League Soccer franchise, the New England Revolution, has been steadily winning more and more American converts to the world’s most popular spectator sport, soccer. What hasn’t hurt is that the Revs have assembled a roster of top players—ranging from forward Taylor Twellman to goalkeeper Matt Reis to midfielders Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph—who have brought the team close to the promise land, if not all the way there (MLS Cup runner-ups the last three seasons). This year, the Revs wrap up the regular season at Gillette Stadium on October 25 versus the Kansas City Wizards, and have clinched a playoff berth for the seventh consecutive season, meaning that when the playoffs begin October 30, the Revs have the chance to finally get over that hump and bring New England its sixth major sports championship in the last five years.