A boatload of championship possibilities
We ain’t won nothin’ yet.
Yes, yes, yes, it’s quite clear to one and all there is a very real possibility that Boston, Massachusetts, could become Parade City in 2011, perhaps as many as three times. The Duck Boats might get worn out. Police overtime could bankrupt the city. But, hey, it would all be worth it just to see the looks on the faces of all those damnable New Yawkers, wouldn’t it?
And, of course, we’d have to deal with those sad, confused people who, on the day of a championship parade, would be tapping one of us on the shoulder, saying, “Excuse me, but what exactly is going on here? Haven’t the Germans and Japanese surrendered already?’’
It looks good, all right. In fact, it is too-good-to-be-true good. The Patriots have dug out from that 33-14 playoff humiliation at the hands of Baltimore to become AFC/NFC equal-opportunity marauders. The Celtics are off to yet another rocket start in this Big Three era, and there is every reason to believe their best basketball is in a post-Perkins/post-West future. The Red Sox have reloaded with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, a development concurrent with the aging Yankees’ inability to help themselves.
Somewhere in here, is there not at least one championship team that will give everyone within 100 miles an excuse to blow off work to attend a parade?
You kind of feel sorry for the Bruins. They’re not bad, or embarrassing, or toxic, or anything like that. Golly gee, they’re in first place! But you don’t have to be Georges Vezina Jr. to know they’re not exactly primed to be a true Stanley Cup contender.
They’re a lot better off than the retrenching Revolution, however; I’ll give them that.
But, well, you never know. Funny things can happen. A star player such as Kevin Garnett goes down. A manager leaves a pitcher in too long. A quarterback who never escapes a rush escapes a rush and a guy who will never catch another pass in his life catches one on his helmet. And, ahem, a team finds itself with too many men on the ice. There are no guarantees.
As always, we examine the State of the Teams in alphabetical order:
Last championship: 1972
2011 championship possibility, scale of 1 to 10: 5.
The argument on behalf of the Bruins actually being Stanley Cup contenders is that they have a veteran goalie standing on his head every other night and they lead the league in fewest goals allowed. The counter argument is that they are (fill in the blank) major goal scorers shy of being able to scare anybody, period.
What’s scary is how old you have to be to have vivid memories of a Bruins captain skating around with the Cup. When the moment passes this spring, it will be 39 years since such an event took place. That’s bad enough, but watching hockey heathens in outposts such as Joisey, Carolina, Florida, and Texas celebrate has made it exponentially worse to bear. The horror!
The needs seldom change: a 40-goal scorer (or, God forbid, two). A “puck-carrying defenseman.’’ The fear now is possibly wasting Zdeno Chara’s prime years, although the way Big Z keeps in shape, he may play as long as Joe Paterno has coached.
They will make the playoffs, and then the fun will begin. Get ready. UP, 3-0. UP, 3-0, IN GAME 7. GREATEST COLLAPSE EVAH . . . EVAH!!! But that’s too bad. They did it to themselves.
Last championship: 2008
2011 championship possibility, scale of 1 to 10: 8
Holy Havlicek, it’s Year 4 of the Big Three era, and they’re still kicking butt. Far and away the biggest issue will be health, because if Doc Rivers has all the appropriate weapons at his disposal, he will lack nothing. In addition to a starting five that has yet to lose a playoff series when fully assembled, he’ll have a bench corps of Shaq, Glen Davis, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, and Nate Robinson, the latter four being multiposition players. I don’t care what the question might be. He will have an answer.
The big difference this year had been Garnett. He had regained the lost step from last season. He had been rebounding fiercely. Defensively, he’d been a combination nose tackle/middle linebacker/free safety. If he returns from this latest leg injury as last year’s Garnett, as opposed to the Garnett we’d been witnessing this year, there will be no need to trot out the Duck Boats for the Celtics.
By the way, I don’t want Los Angeles in the Finals. Been there, done that. I want San Antonio. The matchups would be epic (e.g. Garnett-Duncan, Rondo-Parker, Pierce/Allen-Ginobili). We’d even have Shaq vs. Little Shaq (DeJuan Blair). The whole thing would be a purist’s delight.
Last championship: 2005
2011 championship possibility, scale of 1 to 10: 9
When you clinch home field and beat the teams they have beaten, the bar has been raised to the top rung. If all the Patriots aren’t smiling broadly by 10:30 the night of Feb. 6, there will be a lot of unhappy people in New England.
But the events of Super Bowl XLII should sober people up. Some of these other guys can play, too. Someone could blow by an offensive lineman and get in Tom Brady’s face, causing him to throw a pass he doesn’t really want to, and it could turn into a disastrous pick-6. Could happen. A lot of things could happen.
But what a delightful bonus season this has been. The apparent defensive deficiencies, the questionable running game, the youth, and, most of all, the apparent killer schedule all pointed at something in the 7-9 to 10-6 range. 14-2? No bleepin’ way. Who knew Brady could get better? Who knew dumping Randy Moss would improve the team? And if you didn’t watch “Hard Knocks,’’ who knew Danny Woodhead existed?
Last championship: 2007
2011 championship possibility, scale of 1 to 10: 7.5
Here’s the deal: Josh Beckett and John Lackey must pitch to their salaries and presumed status. But Beckett, for whatever reason, has had only one great start-to-finish season (2007), and is otherwise a colossal tease. Lackey looked and sounded entirely too comfortable being barely OK last season. They worry me.
Now for the good stuff . . . over/under on Gonzalez doubles: 50. Start with that. We’ve never seen speed at the top of the order such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford possess. Dustin Pedroia is back. Kevin Youkilis is a masher. Jed Lowrie might surprise. J.D. Drew will again be J.D. Drew, whatever that means. There might be a slight market correction for Clay Buchholz, but Jon Lester is an A-list lefty starter. Theo Epstein has power-loaded the bullpen to spur Jonathan Papelbon into action here (or elsewhere). Another year of Jason Varitek is a plus.
And hear this: Terry Francona is the ideal man to manage this team in this town at this point in time.
Last championship: none
2011 championship possibility, scale of 1 to 10: 1
Is that too harsh? They do have a fine goalkeeper in Matt Reis, but they missed the playoffs for the first time in six years this past season and nothing that’s happened in the offseason portends great excitement for 2011.
Those four trips to the final (’02, ’05, ’06, ’07) are receding into memory. Average attendance has fallen by more than 4,000 a game since the 2008 peak of 17,580, and they are no different from most MLS franchises, in that soccer remains an acquired taste for the generic sports fan.
You can’t fault ownership here. The Krafts care deeply. Nor can you fault the coach. Steve Nicol is entering his 10th full season. You can argue that he’s the most important figure in the history of the franchise other than Taylor Twellman, who has been forced to retire after not being able to play for three seasons since sustaining a serious concussion in 2007.
Talk of a soccer-only stadium is ongoing.
Their season conveniently overlaps everyone else’s. Presumably, Nicol will give them time off to watch a parade or two.