date published: April 11, 2005

With championships by the Patriots and Red Sox, and even a resurgent Celtics, Beantown is getting that winning feeling
by Christine Celli and Scott Roberto

Oh what a difference a year makes. Already known to be a sports-obsessed city, thanks in large part to the fanbase of its luck-less baseball team, 2004 saw Boston grow to be the veritable epicenter of professional sports. A hint of things to come could be felt as early as opening day at Fenway Park in April of last year. Red Sox fans, still weary from seeing their supposedly cursed team come within five outs of a trip to the World Series before bowing to the New York Yankees, watched as the New England Patriots emerged from behind a gigantic American flag strung from the Green Monster, 2004 Lombardi Trophy in tow. Perhaps it was the presence of pitcher Curt Schilling on the roster—the first time the team had a legitimate second starter in recent memory—but even as the Sox went on to lose the game to the Toronto Blue Jays 10-5, a change in attitude was somehow palpable throughout Red Sox Nation. This year would be the year things would change for Boston sports fans. And it was. Not only did the Sox finally claim their first World Series trophy since 1918, the Patriots, once the laughingstock of the NFL, won their third Super Bowl in four years in February, claiming what many refer to as dynasty status. And now as the NBA post-season approaches, the Boston Celtics—dynasty of old—are showing glimmers of their past winning ways, holding tight to first place in the Atlantic Division, rejuvenated by the return of former co-captain Antoine Walker. While the Bruins were forced to watch from the sidelines when a labor dispute cancelled the National Hockey League season, the rest of Boston’s professional sports teams stepped up to the plate and proved the city is the current Hub of the sports universe.
Monday, April 11 won’t be any ordinary opening day at Fenway Park. Not after last season, when the hometown team finally put an end to its 86-year-long championship drought. If you were lucky enough to score tickets to the game, team officials say be sure to get to the park by 2 p.m. in order to see the 2004 World Series banner raised alongside the now-infamous 1918 version. Also part of the scheduled events is the much anticipated ring ceremony in which members of last year’s roster receive their rings. Several classic Sox players plan to be in attendance in full uniform, including Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr. And a few players now with other teams—including the World Series-winning pitcher Derek Lowe—have indicated a desire to fly in for the occasion. Ticket-less fans can get in on the festivities by heading to nearby Boston Billiards (126 Brookline Ave., 617-536-POOL) where the Dropkick Murphys perform for free beginning at 9 a.m. The bar also offers a special menu of hot dogs, burgers and sausage throughout the day.
Apr 11 at 3:05 p.m. vs. New York Yankees
Apr 13 & 14 at 7:05 p.m. vs. New York Yankees
Apr 15 & 16 at 7:05 p.m. vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Apr 17 at 2:05 p.m. vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Apr 18 at 11:05 a.m. vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Apr 19 at 7:05 p.m. vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Many a sports writer theorized that if the Red Sox were to ever end their 86-year-long championship drought, things would never be the same. If psychiatry bills didn’t skyrocket from all the displaced anguish, Fenway Park would surely see a drop in ticket sales. Oh, how wrong they were. City officials barely had time to clean up the confetti from the team’s record-setting victory parade before Sox fans were planning trips to the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Florida. And tickets for the 2005 season were selling out before the first official games had even been played (only scattered seats and standing room tickets remain).

Some things, of course, have changed. The team’s general manager Theo Epstein, who may as well run for mayor based on his current popularity, put the final touches on his new roster, which saw the departure of several team leaders and fan favorites. It’s true pitching dynamo Pedro Martinez has packed his bags for the Mets and post-season hero Derek Lowe started the season with the Dodgers. In the new, “Epstein can do no wrong” version of Red Sox Nation, however, his acquisitions of veteran pitcher David Wells, former Cubs pitcher Matt Clement and Gold Glove-winning shortstop Edgar Renteria (who, coincidentally, was responsible for the last out of the 2004 World Series) have elicited barely a murmur of criticism.

Even when Curt Schilling returns from his infamous ankle injury of last year, it’s fair to say the pitching staff has its work cut out for it. But with the core of the team’s powerful offense still intact—from leadoff hitter Johnny Damon to the one-two punch of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez—there’s little reason to assume the Sox will not once again contend for a playoff berth.

And more changes are in store for the team’s storied stadium as well, including the addition of the Game On Sports Cafe at the corner of Brookline Avenue and Lansdowne Street. But the biggest change of all will take place opening day on April 11 when the team raises the banner commemorating its historic World Series win and receives their long-anticipated rings (see story, above). As luck would have it, the team in the visitors box will be none other than the New York Yankees. And you had better believe the payback will taste sweet.

The Super Bowl is arguably the biggest sports spectacle in the world, so by now even the Sherpas in the Himalayas know about the “dynasty” that is the New England Patriots. No sooner had the cheers died down on February 6 when the Pats defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX when the comparisons began to such era-defining teams as the 1990s Dallas Cowboys, the 1980s San Francisco 49ers and the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers. Winning three Super Bowls in four years tends to have that effect.

But it wasn’t always like this. In fact, for a time, the opposite was true. The franchise began in 1960 as the Boston Patriots, a charter member of the American Football League that played many of its early games at Fenway Park, before the team was re-named and moved to Foxboro in 1971. They had some high points in their first four decades as a franchise, but the organization was mostly synonymous with ineptitude.

That is until that fateful day in 1994 when current owner and local businessman Robert Kraft bought the struggling team, saving them from an ignominious relocation to St. Louis. Since then, the Pats have made four trips to the big game (with three victories under super-genius head coach Bill Belichick), built a state-of-the-art stadium (on Kraft’s own dime, no less) and established the modern-day model to which other sports teams can only hope to aspire. Now, Patriots fans are in the same position that Green Bay Packers fans were in back in the days of Vince Lombardi: they not only want to win badly, they expect it. And that’s definitely a welcome change.

Apr 15 at 7:30 p.m. vs. Miami Heat
Apr 20 at 7 p.m. vs. New Jersey Nets
Of course, the team that set the bar for dynasties in all of professional sports was the Boston Celtics in the 1960s, who, led by legendary coach Red Auerbach and Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, won nine out of a possible 10 championships that decade. These days, local basketball fans have been pining for a glimmer of hope since the Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish brought home the C’s 16th title in 1986. The closest the Men in Green have come since the halcyon days of the 1980s was in 2002, when the dynamic duo of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce led the Celts to the Eastern Conference Finals. A third consecutive trip to the playoffs last year, however, provided little enjoyment in Beantown as Team Green backed into the post-season with a sub-.500 record and were quickly dispatched by the Indiana Pacers.

Lately, however, things have decidedly been looking up. Former Celtics great Danny Ainge, now director of basketball operations, decided to take a mulligan when he recently re-acquired old friend Mr. Walker, whom he had traded away following the 2002–2003 campaign. The Celts promptly went on to win 11 of their next 12 games, including a seven game winning streak, to take control of the top spot in their division. Despite recent struggles, the team could still contend for the Eastern Conference championship and a trip to the National Basketball Association Finals. Could the Celtics be the next team to add to Boston’s already impressive winning streak? Only time, and the NBA playoffs, will tell.

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When Fever Pitch starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore opened in theaters nationwide, the entire country bore witness to Hollywood’s interpretation of Red Sox fandom. Based on a memoir by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), the original Pitch centered around the English author’s obsession with the oft-beleaguered Arsenal football team. The book has already seen the full film treatment once thanks to a U.K.-based version starring Colin Firth, but for the New England-raised Farrelly brothers (Shallow Hal, There’s Something About Mary), who acquired the rights for an Americanized retelling, the choice of sports teams was obvious. Co-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly have been Sox followers for some time now, but hometown reaction to their film has been mixed, despite its receiving favorable reviews from critics. The majority of complaints stem from Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, the night the Boston Red Sox finally defied history and won the championship. Because the victory altered the ending of a movie that was meant to be about a losing franchise, Major League Baseball allowed the directors to film a new ending during the Red Sox post-game celebration. One fan found the appearance of Barrymore and Fallon so offensive he created a “Boycott Fever Pitch” web site. Of course casting Fallon, a native New Yorker and self-proclaimed Yankees fan, in the lead hasn’t helped. Call 617-333-FILM for theaters and showtimes.