By: Donny Porcaro
The Date is June 9th, 1986. A day before, the Boston Celtics had just won their 16th title in franchise history, carried by Larry Bird who finished the season averaging 26 points, close to 10 rebounds and 7 assists. In the middle of his prime, it seemed Bird was poised for another championship run the following year. Two days prior, the Boston Bruins acquire up and coming star Cam Neely from the Canucks. With an already star powered team led by Ray Bourque, it seemed the Bruins were on a hunt to snap their 14 year championship drought.
The New England Patriots, coming off their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history had things going in the right direction for them as well. In the loss, they fell to the 85’ Bears who are still to this day considered one of the great teams in NFL history. New England had a bright future, and fans were hopeful they would find themselves in another Super Bowl sometime soon. Finally, the Red Sox. Widely considered one of the top teams in the league going into the dog days of summer, Sox fans were hopeful they could break the 68 year drought of a World Series Championship. Everything was looking up in the Boston sports world as it seemed all four teams were close to a championship. Little did fans know, this was the beginning of the most disappointing 15 years of Boston Sports history.
June 17th, 1986. Draft night. The Boston Celtics are 9 days removed from an NBA championship and officially own the second pick in the NBA Draft. After the Cavaliers took UNC Center Brad Daugherty, it was obvious who Boston would take. Len Bias, the basketball phenom out of Maryland became Boston’s second overall pick and the future of the team. Celtics fans drooled over his scoring ability and athleticism. Learning from the likes of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, he was going to be the next star of the NBA. Hours after being drafted, Bias goes to party with his friends and overdoes on cocaine. He is pronounced dead a day later as of Boston and Maryland mourns the loss of a great player and an even greater man. This was the first of many heartbreaks Boston would face in the coming years.
October 25th, 1986. It’s the Bottom of the 10th inning in game 6. Boston has a two run lead and were one strike away from a World Series Victory. Finally Boston is going to get their first World Series championship since 1918. What happens next seems to be the forgotten curse that some say doomed Boston in typical Red Sox fashion. By a mistake by the TV producers, the words “Congratulations Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions” flashed across the television screens of Millions of Americans. It was the jinx that all of Boston was expecting eventually and the rest is history. Ray Knight singles to knock in a run, and Mookie Wilson steps up. After a wild pitch that scores the tying run, Wilson hits a ground ball that goes famously through the legs of Bill Buckner. The famous call by Vin Scully “Little Roller up along first, Behind the Bag! It gets through Buckner, Here comes Knight and the Mets Win it!!” Game 6 belonged to the Mets and so did game 7. The Sox lost the series and would not find themselves back for a long time. Was this the beginning of years of agony for Boston sports fans?
What came next was years of consistent heartbreak. The Bruins, with high hopes, finished the 87’ season by getting swept by hated their rivals in Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. The following year they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, bringing some hope to the fan base. Unfortunately they were heavily outmatched by Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers failing to win one game. It seemed the next two years repeated the last two. The 88’ season ended with another loss to Montreal, this time in 5 games and once again the 89’ season ends with a loss to Edmonton in the Finals. This time the Bruins made it to 5 games before getting eliminated. The rest of their seasons would finish with early round playoff loses or not qualifying for the post-season at all.
Similar to the Bruins, the Celtics found themselves facing their rivals in the playoffs. Also similar to the Bruins, they ended up on the losing end. The 87’ season for the Celtics ended once again with the deep heartbreak of Boston fans. A loss in the NBA Finals in 6 games to Magic Johnson and rival Los Angeles Lakers left Celtics fans shocked. After that series it seemed the Celtics were rolling downhill at a rapid pace. They went from a loss in the conference finals in 88’ to commonly losing in the first round as they approached the early 1990’s.
The Patriots and Red Sox took their losses much worse. After losing Super Bowl XX to the Bears, things took a turn for the worse. In fact, New England did not win a playoff game for 10 years after that Super Bowl. The Red Sox followed suite. In the 13 year playoff drought, Boston had a Cy Young, MYP and Rookie of the year winner on their team at different times, and still could not win one playoff game. The curse was in full swing and Boston sports were a laughing stock amongst their high profile opposing cities such as Los Angeles and New York.
July 27th,1993. Older Celtics fans know this as the saddest day in Celtics history. This is the day fan-favorite and up and coming Celtics star Reggie Lewis tragically died at the age of 27. Two months after collapsing on the court during a playoff game against the Charlotte Hornets, Lewis once again collapsed on the Celtics practice court. This time it was fatal. As if the death of the star wasn't horrible enough, court cases followed by scandal came with it. Accusations of Lewis being a recreational cocaine user became popular headlines. Lawsuits followed and the whole situation turned into a huge mess. The Celtics missed the playoffs 8 out of the 9 seasons following Reggie’s death.
January 26th,1997. The New England Patriots reach the Super Bowl for the second time. Out of all teams, the lowly Patriots carried Boston sports fans on their back. With all 3 other teams failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1950. There was slight hope going into New Orleans as the Patriots squared off against the Green Bay Packers and prolific QB Brett Favre. A win in this game would surely change this sports city around. But as the streak went, hearts were broken and a good thing turned bad quickly. Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe threw 4 interceptions and the Patriots defense allowed an 81 yard passing touchdown along with a 99 yard kick off return for a touchdown. Once again the Patriots got routed in the Super Bowl and New England fans continued to starve for a championship. Things did not seem to be getting any better.
September 23, 2001. Boston continues to fall. The teams are not good, arenas begin to seem empty and it doesn't feel like there is much fixing. The one bright spot seemed to be the Patriots defense, mixed with quarterback Drew Bledsoe who seemed to be getting better by the year. Week 2 of the regular season, facing off against rival New York Jets. With less than 5 minutes left in the game Bledsoe scrambles down the sidelines and gets leveled by a Jets defender. As he lay helpless on the sidelines, all of New England held their breath. As if things weren't bad enough, their star quarterback is down and doesn't show many signs of coming back soon. In comes a scrawny no-name quarterback from Michigan to lead this Patriots team. After failing to lead a comeback the Patriots end up loosing 10-3 and start the season 0-2. It was at this point, what seemed like the lowest point in Boston sports history, that would start a rise greater than any city has been apart of before.
September 23rd, 2001. Yes the same date that was at first a Boston fan’s nightmare turned into the start of a dynasty for not only New England, but for all of Boston sports. Enter Tom Brady. At the time, Brady was nothing more than a young back up quarterback who was a short term replacement until Bledsoe gets healthy. Tom was never supposed to be the starter. He was never supposed to be a long term solution. And he certainly was never supposed to win 5 Super Bowls. Bledsoe’s unfortunate injury opened the door to Boston’s rise to being considered once again the greatest sports city in the world.
February 3rd, 2002. The Patriots are in the Super Bowl for a third time in franchise history. Their opponent? The “greatest show on turf” St. Louis Rams who were favored by 14 points. Led by an inexperienced Tom Brady, the Patriots would go up against an offensive juggernaut led by Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce. However, the Patriots found themselves locked in a tie with less than a minute left and on their own 20 yard line. What happened next was the official break through of the 15 year drought. Brady leads his team 50 yards to set up Adam Vinatieri to kick a 48 yard field goal straight through the uprights as time expired. Finally the Patriots are Super Bowl Champions. The first of any Boston team since 1986, and this was only the beginning.
October 17th, 2004. The Patriots had come off their second Super Bowl and in 3 years and had brought hope the Boston fans. These hopes however, were on the verge of getting crushed as the Red Sox found themselves down 3-0 in the ALCS 7 game series and were 3 outs away from getting swept against their hated rivals. Facing one of the greatest closers of all-time in Mariano Rivera, it seemed Boston ran out of luck…Enter Dave Roberts. After Kevin Millar walked to lead off the inning, Roberts took over as the pinch runner. After a few pick-off attempts, Roberts committed one of the greatest robberies in Boston history. Stealing second off of Rivera, even with a laser throw from catcher Jorge Posada, brought all of Fenway to their feet. The Red Sox had life. a Bill Mueller single brought home Roberts and the game was tied. As the clock struck midnight, the Red Sox were locked into a tie with the rival Yankees. This is when David Ortiz took his first step into Red Sox greatness. in the 12th inning Ortiz blasted a ball deep into the bullpen leading to Joe Buck’s famous call “We will see you later tonight!”. The reason for that call? Being one o'clock in the morning , the Red Sox played again later that night in a Game 5 matchup. Well, after another Ortiz walk off, a dominant Curt Schilling performance with a bloodied sock and a game 7 blowout, the Curse of the Bambino was falling and Boston was headed to a World Series. About a week later, the Red Sox officially broke the curse and won their first world series in 86 years. Boston was finally starting to turn around.
July 31st 2007. A dynasty has already formed in New England. The Patriots have won 3 championships, The Red Sox have won a championship and go into the stretch run leading the AL. However, this day is better known for the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge pulls off one of the greatest trades in Celtic history. Boston Acquired Kevin Garnett in exchange for up-and-coming center Al Jefferson as well as Gerald Green and others. With an earlier trade for Ray Allen, Boston now had the official “Big 3” to start the season. Pierce, Allen and Garnett lead the team to the best record in the league and faced off against a familiar rival in the Finals. Once again, Boston finds themselves facing the Lakers just as they did over 20 years ago. This time, Boston came out on top in 6 games and the Celtics reigned once again as champions of the National Basketball Association. Things seem to be getting back to normal in the Bean.
June 15th, 2011. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Bruins vs Canucks. The third game 7 of the playoffs for the Bruins. After eliminating the rival Canadians in 7, sweeping the Flyers and finally taking care of the Lightning in 7 the bruins find themselves back in a familiar spot. Originally Boston found themselves down 0-2 and in some trouble. In game 3, Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome delivered a hit that would change the series. A completely dirty hit, left Bruins playoff star Nathan Horton down on the ice. After Horton was taken out on a stretcher, it seemed Boston was not going to let the Canucks live that one down. Boston completely dominated the next two games and ended up forcing a game 7 in Vancouver. During the pre-game broadcast, NBC caught an iconic image of injured Nathan Horton pouring out a water bottle on the Vancouver ice. This water was later discovered to be ice from the TD Garden as Horton went back to the locker room telling his team “This is our ice now.” Boston went out and played one of their best games of the season, dominating Vancouver in a 4-0 win to clinch game 7 and the Stanley Cup. The final team in Boston finally had a championship in the 21st century.
October 30, 2013. Just six months earlier, Tragedy struck the hearts of the people of Boston. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing tragically took the lives of 4 innocent Americans and left many others wounded. The city of Boston was devastated by the what had occurred that day. However, Boston was never the type of city to back down after adversity. The 2013 Boston Red Sox were a prime example of that. They now found themselves one game away from third world series victory in 9 years. This would also be the first time clinching at Fenway since 1918. With John Lackey taking the hill and David Ortiz continuing his usual post-season damage, the Red Sox were able to bring home yet another world series to Fenway.
February 1st, 2015. It’s 2nd and Goal. New England is up by 4 against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 49. With 50 seconds left, Russell Wilson drops back to pass from the two yard line and throws a strike to the goal line. It was in this moment that un-drafted rookie Malcolm Butler made a big name for himself. An interception at the goal line gave the Patriots their fourth Lombardi trophy and carried on the legacy of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The Patriots first championship in ten years. Boston was rocking and the nickname “Title Town” could not be held more true. 9 championships for the city in 13 years showed Boston was the clear cut king of the sports world. Even after the deflate-gate rumors popping up, New England was once again on top.
February 5th, 2017. The day that easily could have been the fall of Boston sports. After a long battle with the NFL over a relatively minor infraction, Tom Brady found himself sitting out the first four games of the 2016-17 season. Now down 28-3 in the Super Bowl in the third quarter, it seemed Roger Goodell, the NFL as well as all of the envious Patriot haters throughout the nation would finally get their way. Brady looked old and run down facing a fast and hungry Falcons defense. However, you can guess what happened next. Of course Tom Brady stormed back and led his team to score 25 unanswered points to force overtime. Then in overtime, Brady only needed one drive to pick apart the Falcons defense and get his team into the end zone. New England had completed the greatest comeback in sports history. For a 5th time, the Patriots were on top. Nothing shows being on top more than getting the Lombardi trophy handed to you buy the same guy who did everything in his power to try and ruin your season. The Patriots had not only defeated the Falcons, but the NFL as a whole. 10 championships in 15 years is a level of dominance no other city has every achieved. “Title Town” was now running away with the name along with the titles of all 4 major sports in the nation.
With all of this success in Boston, it leaves only one question. What does the future hold in store for these teams? Well Boston fans can take it how they choose. However it just seems early similar to 30 years ago in 1986. The Boston Celtics are in first place in the east, and have a guaranteed top 4 pick in this years draft. The Bruins are loaded with young talent and could be a proven force in the future. The Patriots are coming off a Super Bowl and have high expectations coming into next season. Finally, the Boston Red Sox have made some major free agent signings and are a favorite to make it to a World Series. Strangely enough, this was all said in 1986 about these exact teams. When it was said in 86’ Boston ended up going through their worst 15 year stretch ever. Will history repeat itself? Or will Boston continue their winning ways? Boston fans will have to wait 15 years to see if their karma has officially run out.
Photo: (Boston Sports Then & Now)