Boston Sports: Top 10 Most Heartbreaking Losses in a Decade of Dominance
2012 is officially upon us and while it may forever serve as the ominous prelude to the Mayan-inspired end of the world, 2012 does carry an extra hint of significance for the region-encompassing legion of devoted Beantown sports fans.
If we are actually just months away from the end of the world, it would signal the end of the most successful four-sport reign of dominance in a single city or town. Beginning with the New England Patriots' shocking 2001 Super Bowl run, the Beantown area teams began an unmatched run of seven championships in the 10-year span from 2001 to 2011.
Just to put that number in a modern context: There are 12 other cities or regions that boast at least one professional team in each of the four major American sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL). These 56 franchises from the 12 other cities account for 46 percent of the total franchises in major American professional sports. Yet they’ve combined to win just 16 of a possible 42 (or just 38 percent) championships during the same time span.
From a historical context, no city or town has ever come close to winning that many championships in a single decade without the benefit of a single dominant dynasty winning more than half of the championships.
For example, Pittsburgh won six championships during the 1970s. But the legendary “Steel Curtain” Steelers dynasty accounted for four of them.
Los Angeles won an incredible eight championships during the 1980s. But they had five franchises for a majority of the decade and the “Showtime” Lakers dynasty accounted for five of those championships.
Boston from 2001 to 2011 is the only four-sport city to feature a champion in every major sport during the course of the decade. Their most prominent dynasty, the Patriots, has accounted for less than half of their championships (three out of seven).
Conventional wisdom may state that the last 10 years have been nothing but a utopian roller-coaster ride for devoted chowdaheads. In reality, the Boston teams, by virtue of being at or near the zenith of their respective sporting outposts on a yearly basis, have actually suffered nearly as many heartbreaking losses in the last 10 years as gratifying victories.
Those heartbreaking losses are always the forgotten ugly stepsister that accompanies success. This is because, no matter how dynastic a franchise may be, it’s impossible for them to win the championship every single year, but they always come close.
The closer you come to winning the championship, the more it stings when you fall short. In the last decade, Boston teams have shockingly fallen short as many times as they’ve reached the promised land. With the Patriots back in the Super Bowl and their 2007 loss to the New York Giants still fresh in everyone’s mind, it’s time to count down the 10 most heartbreaking Beantown sports losses of the last 10 years.
10. Tom Brady's Knee Injury Ruins 2008 Patriots' Season
The first of three examples on this list of a Boston sports team being thwarted in its quest for a repeat primarily due to the absence of a cornerstone player (see “Kevin Garnett” 2009 or “Manny Ramirez” 2008).
This one is extra excruciating because it ended the hungry New England Patriots’ title hopes before they could even get started.
9. Kevin Garnett's Right Knee Sprain Ruins 2009 Celtics' Season
With the increased development of 2008 title variables Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, the 62-win 2009 Boston Celtics were just as much of an NBA force than the previous year’s title team, if not more of a force.
But all of that hinged on the suddenly gimpy knee of Kevin Garnett, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Contrary to Tom Brady, Garnett did play for about three quarters of the regular season. But his knee injury got worse as the long grind of an 82-game season ultimately forced the defensive dynamo to miss the entire postseason.
His absence left the Celtics' notoriously stingy defense vulnerable against prolific offensive rebounders like Chicago’s Joakim Noah and Orlando’s Dwight Howard (to whom the Celts eventually lost to in seven second-round games).
8. Bruins: 2002 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Against the Canadiens (4-2)
A lot of people forget that the early 2000s Boston Bruins were actually an up-and-coming team led by American stars Joe Thornton and Bill Guerin.
But a six-game first-round loss to a wildly mediocre eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens team was a sign of playoff failures to come…
7. Bruins: 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Against the Canadiens (4-3)
Prior to last season, the Boston Bruins owned the dubious distinction of being the only Beantown area team to not win a championship during the last 10 years.
As a matter of fact, they hadn’t even reached the Stanley Cup Finals. But with the flash-in-the-pan Tampa Bay Lightning and the old-enough-to-reside-in-a-nursing-home Philadelphia Flyers as their biggest Eastern Conference challengers, 2004 was their best opportunity.
Boston jumped to a 3-1 lead against the seventh-seeded (and still wildly mediocre) Canadiens before experiencing its second-biggest collapse of the decade. The B’s got outscored 12-3 in three straight losses to end the series.
6. Red Sox: 2008 ALCS Against the Rays (4-3)
The most overlooked cornerstone of the Boston Red Sox' recent success was the luxury of having perhaps the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history, Manny Ramirez, manning the middle of their lineup.
In four postseasons (from 2003 to 2005 and 2007) with Manny hitting behind him, David Ortiz batted .333 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI. In his first postseason without Manny, Ortiz hit just .194 with one home run and five RBI (three of which came on a single hit).
Jason Bay may have looked like a serviceable replacement during the Sox’ ’08 playoff run. But it soon became clear that he was merely benefiting from the hittable pitches that Ortiz used to see with Manny hitting behind him.
Yet Terry Francona’s team still fell only one win shy of reaching another World Series. It's a shame Manny couldn’t keep his head on straight. With a World Series win in ’08, the Sox would have been a dynasty.
5. Celtics: 2010 NBA Finals Game 7 Against the Lakers (83-79)
Blowing a 3-2 series lead against a proven champion like the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol Los Angeles Lakers is nothing to be ashamed about.
This is why: In this case, the series is not the source of the heartbreak. It’s what the series ultimately boiled down to that is: Game 7.
Holding Bryant to 6-of-24 shooting and still managing to lose is like tranquilizing the Pamplona bulls and still managing to get trampled.
4. Patriots: 2006-07 AFC Championship Game Against the Colts (38-34)
All the pieces were in place for Bill Belichick’s boys to join the '70s Pittsburgh Steelers as the only NFL dynasty to win four Super Bowls in just a six-year span.
They had an 18-point first-half lead against a team (the Indianapolis Colts) and a quarterback (Peyton Manning) they had owned for the past six years, and a looming Super Bowl date with the Chicago Bears and their hapless quarterback, Rex Grossman.
But then, for the first time (and certainly not the last, as you’ll soon read) in the Belichick-Brady era, the wheels fell off at the most important possible moment.
Manning and the Colts outscored New England 32-13 in the second half to complete the greatest comeback in conference championship history.
3. Bruins: 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals Against the Flyers (4-3)
Living, breathing proof that even the most extreme circumstances in life will eventually come full circle.
Just six years after the Boston Red Sox became just the third team in sports history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the 2004 ALCS, the Philadelphia Flyers became the fourth when they accomplished the improbable feat against the Boston Bruins.
Game 7 became a microcosm of the whole series when Philly turned a 3-0 second-period deficit into a fittingly dramatic 4-3 victory.
2. Red Sox: 2003 ALCS Game 7 Against the Yankees (6-5)
Similar to the 2010 NBA Finals, the heartbreak in this series boils down to a single deciding game.
It’s one thing for Grady Little to leave Pedro Martinez in the game when he barely had enough energy left to put Don Zimmer on his behind.
But replacing him with Tim Wakefield? Calling on a knuckleballer in the 10th inning of a Game 7 is like ESPN hiring racist, conservative bigheads (ahem, Rush Limbaugh) to analyze football.
It may have seemed like a calculated, even innovative decision at the time, but something just never felt right.
1. Patriots: Super Bowl XLII Against the Giants (17-14)
Prior to the 2007-08 NFL playoffs, Sports Illustrated's Peter King compared (h/t Coffeenerdness) the 2007 New England Patriots to the 1927 New York Yankees, saying the Pats could give the Yanks a game.
Damn, if only those Roaring Twenties sports fans could have seen David Tyree.