Humankind has always felt a deep need to chart the passage of time.
I’m a human.
That’s as much of a transition as you’re getting into my third annual review of the previous year in Boston sports, which in 2011 saw three teams win their division and one win it all.
• 2010-11 Final record: 46-25-11, Northeast Division Champions; defeated Vancouver Canucks in 2011 Stanley Cup, 4-3
The Bruins ended a 39-year championship drought on the back of Tim Thomas, who submitted perhaps the greatest single season in NHL goalie history. He set an NHL record for best save percentage, then won his second Vezina Trophy (top goaltender in the league), the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP of the playoffs) and, oh yeah, the Stanley Cap.
Before they could win the Stanley Cup, the Bruins would submit three spectacularly entertaining playoff series. They beat the Canadiens in seven games in the quarterfinals, overcoming an 0-2 deficit and winning three games in single or double overtime. They next swept the Flyers, flushing the bitter taste of the previous season’s blown three-game lead against them. Finally, the Bruins played a hard-fought, evenly matched series with the Lightning that culminated in a penalty-free, 1-0 victory in Game 7 at the TD Garden.
The Bruins’ blue-collar hockey succeeding against the much flashier Canucks validated Boston’s long-suffering Bruins fans. The 2011 NHL playoffs so entertained me that I can finally count myself among them.
• 2010-11 Final record: 56-26, Atlantic Division Champions; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals to Miami Heat, 4-1
The Celtics’ 2010-11 season started with the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal. Brought in to beef up the interior game and improve the team’s rebounding, O’Neal’s off-the-court antics quickly made him a fan favorite. Unfortunately, O’Neal simply turned out to be too old, never recovering from a couple of early-season injuries. The loss was emblematic of a team just too old to compete with the younger, more athletic teams in the Eastern Conference. The Heat bounced the Celtics in five games, running the Celtics up and down the court until they were too tired to do much of anything.
Still, the regular season had some high points, most notably Ray Allen becoming the NBA’s all-time three-point shooter on Feb. 10 against the Lakers. Rajon Rondo also took another step forward in his development, using his perfect body-control and court-vision to become one of the best passers in the NBA.
Rondo also became a local sports legend in Game 3 against the Heat. After suffering a dislocated left elbow, Rondo returned, picked Chris Bosh‘s pocket with his dead arm, then dunked on the fast-break.
Celtics fans will remember that play for a long time.
New England Patriots
• Lost to New York Jets in divisional round of 2010-11 playoffs; 13-3, AFC East Champions for 2011-12 regular season
The top-seeded 2010-11 Patriots ended their season in ignominious fashion, losing at home in their first playoff game to the trash-talking New York Jets. The 2011-12 Patriots have on offense exceeded even the lofty expectations placed on Tom Brady and his team: Brady passed for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career, while Rob Gronkowski set NFL single-season records for most touchdown catches and most total receiving yards by a tight end.
The defense, however, has fallen beneath the expectations placed on some high school teams. A weak pass-rush and an injury-riddled secondary has combined to play the statistically worst pass-defense in NFL history. The defense lacks both leaders and play-makers, and the best pass-rusher – Andre Carter – will miss the playoffs with an injured knee.
Conventional wisdom holds that defense wins championships. For the Patriots, Brady and the offense are the defense. If Brady can continue the Patriots’ lethally consistent offense, opponents will have a hard time scoring enough points to win. But if opposing teams shut Brady down, the Patriots’ defense won’t be able to stop anyone.
Boston Red Sox
• 2011 Final record: 90-72, 3rd in AL East
The 2011 Red Sox season started off 0-6 after spending hundreds of millions on players like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. They turned it around in May and for awhile looked like a lock for the playoffs. Then John Lackey and Jon Lester and Josh Beckett poisoned team morale by drinking and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse, and everything imploded. The Red Sox blew a historic Wild Card-lead in August and September, missing the playoffs by one game.
The true reach of the pitchers’ actions didn’t come out until the season ended, at which point both GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona left the team. The new administrative duo of Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentune have made few moves to strengthen the team, even as phenom closer Jonathan Papelbon left for a giant payday in Philadelphia. As a result, Red Sox fans have no idea what to expect when the 2012 season starts in April.
Following the Red Sox’s collapse and subsequent dismantling, Red Sox Nation is on shaky ground. A division or a World Series title may be the only ways left to restore the fan-base.
Let me end this review by congratulating two more teams. The Boston Militia – Boston’s women’s tackle football team, based at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville – won their second world championships in as many seasons in late July. And the Boston Cannons – Boston’s men’s outdoor lacrosse team, based at Harvard Stadium in Allston – won their first Steinfeld Cup in late August.