Imagine all four crowns

Local teams have a shot at an unheard-of slam article page player in wide format.
By John Powers
Globe Staff / April 14, 2009
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The mayor has a dilemma. The Celtics are defending their NBA title. The Bruins have their best team since 1972. What if they both win championships this spring? "Which parade do I have first?" Tom Menino wonders.

Boston hasn't had such a promising sports year since 1986, when the Patriots played in the Super Bowl, the Red Sox won the pennant, and the Celtics captured the crown. "All that's left is to win Megabucks," declared Ray Flynn, Menino's predecessor.

This time, though, the city's four major professional teams could pull off an unprecedented sports slam. Besides the Celtics and Bruins, who both begin their playoffs at home this week, the Sox have a good chance to return to the World Series, which they missed by one win last season. And the Patriots, with quarterback Tom Brady newly wed and rehabbed, figure to make the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.

"We're the No. 1 sports city in the country," crows Menino, who has presided over six championship parades in the last seven years. "It's a very special time."

Most mayors would kill just to have one celebratory parade. Dallas hasn't had one since the Stars won hockey's Stanley Cup in 1999. San Francisco's last title came in the 1994 season with the football 49ers, Houston's in 1995 in basketball with the Rockets. Washington hasn't popped a champagne cork since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in the '91 season. And Cleveland hasn't seen confetti since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964.

Boston, though, has been extraordinarily blessed for the better part of half a century. From 1957 to 1976, one of its teams won a championship or pennant 17 times, a dozen of them in a row. During the present decade, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls, the Sox two Series (both in sweeps), and the Celtics their first title in 22 years.

"My kid has been to any number of parades," says Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum of New England. "It's, 'OK, when's the next one?' "

It's not so much the celebration as it is the anticipation. Not since 1974, when the Celtics won the title and the Bruins made it to the finals, have both teams been on a simultaneous run. This season the buzz began in October, when both teams came racing out of the gate, and it never stopped. Now, one or the other could be playing virtually every night until the middle of May.

"The excitement builds," says Menino. "The momentum takes over the city, even with people who aren't sports fans. We all arrange our schedules so we can watch and everywhere you go they're announcing the score. It's all-encompassing."

So it was in Philadelphia in 1980 when the Phillies won the Series, the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl, and the 76ers played in the NBA Finals, and in New York in 1969-70, when the Jets won the Super Bowl, the Knicks claimed the NBA crown, and the once-pathetic Mets took the World Series.

When even one team is riding high, much less all four, the civic euphoria is contagious.

"What it does is, everyone feels good about the city," says Menino.

Especially when times are tough, as they are now. The Bruins won their first three Cups at either end of the Depression. When the Sox won pennants in 1967 and 1975, the city was in the midst of racial turmoil. And when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, it came less than five months after the 9/11 attacks.

"At this time in our country," said owner Robert Kraft, as he accepted the trophy, "we are all Patriots."

But the euphoria is fleeting. After the startling harmonic convergence of 1986, Flynn hung a banner from City Hall, proclaiming Boston the "sports capital of the U.S.A." Three years later, the Sox and Patriots missed the playoffs, the Celtics were swept on their home court by the hated Pistons in the first round, and the Bruins were knocked out by nemesis Montreal. For another dozen years, none of them won a thing.

"We were spoiled for a while," concedes Menino, "but we had a long drought."

The latest renaissance is into its eighth year now, and after an endless winter, spring begins in earnest this week. It's been 35 years since the city's basketball and hockey teams both played in the finals. The Celtics took down the Bucks (and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), but the Bruins were expunged by the Flyers, a defeat that still rankles.

"What they did to Bobby Orr was disgusting," recalls Johnson. "It was like that guy who took a hammer to the Pieta. That's the year we should have had it, but it was stolen from us by a bunch of thugs."

Apart from collecting all four titles, no city ever has won both the Stanley Cup and NBA crown in the same year. Even retaining their title will be a challenge for the Celtics, since they haven't won in Cleveland in five years and since big man Kevin Garnett has a balky knee. The Bruins, who haven't won a playoff series since 1999, will need impregnability from goalie Tim Thomas and favorable matchups (no Devils or Capitals, please). The Sox, outspent yet again by the Yankees, are relying on pitching and Papi. And the Patriots are hoping that Brady can stay in one piece until February.

In this Calvinist town, though, wondering about potential parade conflicts is a delightful luxury. Which of his confreres wouldn't want Tom Menino's dilemma?

"All of those guys are asking me, 'How do we get tickets?' " he says. "I had four mayors at the last meeting ask me, 'Can we see the Red Sox this summer?' "

John Powers can be reached at

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