Bob Ryan

All is not lost for fans

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 19, 2011

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It’s still too early to stop wearing black. I realize that.

Losing when you were 14-2 with the top seed, and when you had defeated each of the remaining teams in the NFL’s Final Four, well, that really hurts. Losing to the damnable J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets and that Ralph Kramden of a coach — who among us wouldn’t like to send him to the moon? — really, really, really hurts. I realize that.

But is it OK if I ask you to make at least a teeny-weeny attempt at looking at the, ahem, Big Picture? To me, one of the great things about living in these here parts is the undeniable fact that we are not usually one of those dreary, one-sport, one-dimensional, 24-7-365, and there-ain’t-nuthin’-else sports towns.

I mean, come on, about 18 hours after the depressing happenings in Foxborough, the Bruins were laying a 7-zip hurtin’ on the Carolina Hurricanes (featuring a career-first hat trick for Big Z), and four hours after that, the Celtics were looking sharp, defeating the formidably restocked Orlando Magic in a high-level game that surely had the cigar-smoking patriarch beaming from his luxury box in the sky.

(And this is the customary place to reference pitchers and catchers.)

It strikes me that one reason it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself in the wake of a devastating pigskin loss longer than in days of yore is the fact that we now know too much. Oh, people here always knew their baseball. Things in baseball are pretty much what they seem. You didn’t need a PhD in Diamondology to know that Bill Lee threw the wrong pitch to the wrong guy when Tony Perez hit that changeup halfway to Nova Scotia. People realize the Celtics lost Game 7 last year to the Lakers because they were destroyed inside. And who even wants to dissect the blow-by-blow of the Bruins’ colossal collapse against the Flyers last spring?

Years ago, when a football game was over, there were some obvious things to discuss (e.g. a bogus, game-changing roughing-the-passer call on Sugar Bear Hamilton), but when it concluded, we wallowed in generalities.

But now those who chronicle the game have access to a vast amount of factual information. They have seen the tape and they have broken down the game. We know how many times the Jets did what from which formation, and vice versa. We know what the Jets did that others didn’t, and we know it in minute detail. We know where to point fingers. Fans can beat up on the players, coaches, and, by extension, themselves.

So I know it will take a while for things to simmer down, but when they do, the good all-around sports fans in our midst — please, someone, assure me they constitute the majority — should have no trouble settling into the rhythm of both the NBA and NHL seasons, in which the local entries are having their say.

Let’s be honest. The Bruins are good, but they remain a pretty long shot. They are peripheral Stanley Cup contenders, and the main reason they can even dream about hoisting their first cup since 1972 is the presence of the single most important ingredient a hockey team can have, and that is a goalkeeper capable of carrying 17 other guys to victory, night after night. At least that’s the way Tim Thomas has been playing.

But a shot is a shot, and they have a shot. Crazier things have happened.

The Celtics have more than a shot. They are among the very best candidates to win the 2011 NBA title, right there with the Spurs, Lakers, Heat, and, I say as a reluctant convert to the cause, the Magic. The pre-Nowitzki injury Mavericks were right there, and we’ll see how things go now that the great man has returned. Potentially troublesome playoff teams include the Bulls and Hawks in the East and the Jazz (what else is new?), Thunder, and Hornets in the West.

I’m leaving out the Nuggets, because I do expect Carmelo Anthony to be dealt to the Knicks or Nets, and we don’t know what they will look like come playoff time. The Knicks are the pre-Daly Pistons, circa 1984; that is to say, a marvelously entertaining up-and-down team not constructed for playoff success. Yet.

What no one wishes to see is a repeat of the 2009-10 season, when the Celtics peaked at 23-5 and went a maddening 27-27 in the remaining 54 games. Given that they came within four disastrous possessions covering 94 seconds (up 3 to down 6) of a Kendrick Perkins-less road Game 7 from winning a championship, they might well argue that they know what they’re doing, so stop worrying. But that was living on the edge.

They got off to another 23-4 start this time, surviving an injury to Rajon Rondo near the end of a 14-game winning streak, but then were forced to huff-and-puff their way to a 6-4 record, commencing when Kevin Garnett was injured Dec. 29 in Detroit.

Anxious fans need further proof the team is both sufficiently deep, and, even more importantly, sufficiently committed to bang out a 60-win season that could possibly give them a Game 7 at home, if needed, against a Miami, Orlando, or, yes, Chicago. They really can’t worry about the West.

It is a quite reasonable premise to suggest that the Celtics can be a truly great team when fully assembled. Add Perkins and the versatile Delonte West to a team already featuring Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rondo, Shaquille O’Neal, Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, and Nate Robinson could provide Doc Rivers with a dream mix of veteran experience, flexibility, a pair of dynamic young legs attached to Rondo and even an explosive Mr. X in any playoff game (Robinson). I would be happy to take my chances with that bunch.

I know, I know. You can’t get over seeing Tom Brady look so confused and you can’t get that doomed fake punt out of your mind. You cannot begin to imagine what the New York Post will do if the Jets actually win the Super Bowl. You’re barely over Super Bowl XLII.

You’re entitled to a full week of mourning. But after that, snap out of it. You have basketball. You have hockey. Wait till you see Gonzalez put dents in that wall. Wait till you see Crawford and Ellsbury double-stealing on A.J. Burnett. The Combine and the OTAs will come and go, and you won’t even know it.

Bob Ryan can be reached at

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