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Boston, city of champions

Posted by Adam Kaufman  November 1, 2013 07:49 AM

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June 13, 2001.

Don’t be alarmed if the significance of that date doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but it is memorable.

It had been 15 years since Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish captured the Celtics’ 16th NBA title and, at that time, it was the last for Boston’s professional sports scene.

On that beautiful summer day at City Hall Plaza, Mayor Thomas Menino and more than 15,000 passionate Bruins fans stormed the streets of Boston to honor longtime legend Ray Bourque for winning his coveted Stanley Cup.

With Colorado.

That was what it had come to in Boston sports. Our favorite sons were distinguished for ending their years of futility in Boston by achieving immortality elsewhere. Wade Boggs did it, as did Roger Clemens. Jim Plunkett, too.

Boston wasn’t the place you went to win. It was the place you left.

That all changed just 225 days later, and life has never been the same.

On February 3, 2002, the Patriots shocked the Rams and the rest of the world when they won Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome on the shoulders of a fresh-faced kid named Tom Brady and the right foot of Adam Vinatieri. Back home, a parade followed.

Saturday, the city of Boston will celebrate its eighth championship parade in the span of a dozen years, courtesy of three titles for Bill Belichick’s Pats, one for each resident of Causeway Street and, now, three for a ball club that was said to be cursed for 86 years until a bunch of Idiots in 2004 altered course.

Contrary to what young fans today can’t help but believe, it’s not supposed to be this way.

Since the turn of the century, which includes the 2000 Super Bowl victory for the Rams against the Titans, one fan base has had all four of its major sports franchises deemed the best in their respective games, and you know who you are.

Only the state of Florida can make the same claim, thanks to the Buccaneers (’03), Marlins (’03), Lightning (’04), and Heat (’06, ’12, ’13), but Tampa Bay and Miami are more than four hours apart.

Saying you root for the Red Sox and Jets would be more regional.

How about the number of titles?

Boston’s eight is matched only by California’s Los Angeles area market, where the Lakers (’00, ’01, ’02, ’09, ’10) have won five times, the Angels (’02) once, and the Ducks (’07) and Kings (’12) hold one apiece. Of course, that includes two hockey teams.

Add in the Giants’ two World Series victories, and that state has garnered 10 titles. Then again, it also has 15 organizations chasing the opportunity.

Wondering about New York/New Jersey? Six championships. Pennsylvania, encompassing Pittsburgh and Philadelphia? Four. That’s the same for Texas, with Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

Obviously no true fan is a state-wide sports supporter, but only having four teams with a chance in your state magnifies the point.

These are our teams, and we are embarrassingly lucky.

More impressive, while we’ve been fortunate to celebrate eight rolling rallies, four other teams – the Patriots twice, and Celtics and Bruins each once – have fallen just short.

That means that in 12 years, we’ve had 12 teams not just contending but competing for a world championship. Two alone have come since I started writing this column on May 1.

Astoundingly, six others could have joined the fold, had they not been eliminated in their respective conference finals – some of those in more dramatic fashion than we’d care to revisit. Besides, good luck finding someone outside this market who would listen without a tiny violin.

But this time around was extra special.

Brady wasn’t supposed to win when he took over for injured franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe in 2001. The unknown sixth-round pick would have been lucky to win a few games, we thought. In the years since, victories in Foxborough have become the expectation, even to the point where there was disappointment when Matt Cassel couldn’t guide the Pats to the postseason when Brady suffered his own injury. With Belichick as the coach, we’ve decided, excuses don’t matter.

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen were united to win. Maybe not in Year One, but certainly in general. In fact, many would tell you that a mere one Larry O’Brien trophy in five years with that trio wasn’t sufficient.

The Bruins are young and experienced, and have annually contended in the postseason under the pairing of general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien. With depth at every position, there’s no surprise when that team makes a run – unless it comes courtesy of a three-goal, third period rally in a Game 7.

And the Red Sox of the last decade have largely been loaded because they’ve put themselves in a financial position to compete. Prior to 2004, we often felt they were talented, just unlucky. Tragically unfortunate.

In 2013, though, we thought the bridge-year Sox weren’t good enough. A competitive payroll aside, the roster was littered with capable but underperforming, health-challenged holdovers with questionable attitudes, complemented by other teams’ castaways and spare parts.

Then the Sox defied the odds. Heck, they laughed at them.

No roster of the eight winners, other than that first Pats group in 2001, was more doubted, and that includes the four squads that fell just short. In a heartbreaking coincidence, that New England club reminded a healing country that we are all Patriots, while the 2013 Sox were an on-field version of what it means to be Boston Strong, but the two will forever be linked for so many other improbable reasons.

In between, we’ve had the privilege to watch a pantheon of all-time greats, Hall of Fame caliber or simply in Boston sports lore.

Names like Brady, Bruschi, Law, and Vinatieri. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen. Martinez, Ortiz, Pedroia, Ramirez, and Schilling. Bergeron, Chara, and Thomas.

Moments fueled by the Tuck Rule and choosing to be introduced as a team. A steal, a bloody sock, and shots of Jack Daniels. Ubuntu, and a water bottle filled with melted Garden ice.

Other cities and fan bases have their stories, but they don’t have these, and not all within the span of a dozen years.

It’s easy to understand why others hate us. We’d hate us, too. A run like this has never existed in sports history, not when you consider expansion and the parity there is today. To call us blessed would be an understatement.

Amazingly, it’s possible, with a few more years of Brady, a young core of B’s locked up for at least two more seasons, and a financially flexible roster of Sox, that we may not be done celebrating. And that still gives the rebuilding C’s a chance to recover.

For now, our attention turns to Saturday, where a bearded bunch of goggle-wearing, comeback kids who allowed us to have fun again will flock together to board Duck Boats and tour the city while the fake-beard donning, high-fiving faithful look on from the streets. Look carefully at the back of the procession, and you may even see a truck holding Jose Iglesias, Bobby Valentine, Magic Johnson, and Theo Epstein. After all, you’re bound to catch a glimpse of Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey.

If you’re there, thank them all. If you’re not, thank your parents for raising you here or as fans of these teams. Tell your kids who think it’s always been this way and forever will be, “You’re welcome.”

When Bourque spoke to the gathered masses on that June day in 2001, he said, “I really do think you guys are going to experience this, and you deserve one.”

One. Imagine that.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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