Forget Hot Stove League. Thats so last century.
No Hot Stove League in this town. No, no, no. Here in Boston, USA, and throughout New England, we play in the Blast Furnace League.
Last offseason we had the Red Sox general manager leaving the building in a gorilla suit sorry, Theo, youll never live it down and this offseason we had Dice-K Mania. For decades the local journalistic catchphrase has been God and the Red Sox shall provide, and its never been more true than during this current administration, where something is always going on, whether its Thanksgiving dinner with Curt or slapping seats atop the Monstah or throwing bazillions of yen at a 26-year old righthanded pitcher. The Red Sox just keep on making as much or more news when theyre not playing as when they are.
All of which irritates certain custodians of a local professional football franchise. They continue to provide you and yours with a highly competitive team, and they should be commended. But they seem to have people down there in Foxborough measuring column inches and counting newspaper words in the hopes of demonstrating a Red Sox media bias. The truth is they seem to go out of their way not to make news. They just keep winning football games. Now, if theyd like to become the Cowboys or the Giants, I guess we could accommodate them.
The Red Sox and Patriots tower over our other local franchises. If youre in your 20s, the idea that Once Upon A Time the town crackled with nightly excitement in November, December, January, February, March, April, May, and even June seems like some kind of urban myth. Did I say 20s? Youd have to be 34 to have been alive when the Bruins last won a Stanley Cup. The Celtics last won in 1986, pre-cellphone.
The scary thing is this: the way things are now, people dont need the Celtics and Bruins. The handoff from the Super Bowl (if) to Pitchers and Catchers can be as brief as two weeks. The longest it can be is six weeks. That doesnt leave the winter boys much time to get our attention.
As always, I shall address the State of the Teams in alphabetical order.
Attention, Fallen-Away Bruins fans: these guys arent bad.
Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard have proven to be worthy signings. Tim Thomas has been more than adequate in the goal and the lads seem to be responding to the Dave Lewis approach to hockey. If only people cared ...
Wait. Perhaps they still do. For whatever reason, people trooped into the TD Banknorth Gahden last Saturday night and a flashback to the Big, Bad, Bruins broke out. A rare sellout crowd created an old-fashioned Buzz and the teams put on an old-fashioned Bruins-Canadiens game, replete with equal amounts of skillful maneuvers and rock-em, sock-em hits. It may have been the best night of professional hockey in the 11-year history of the joint.
Not having professional hockey for a full year hurt everyone. No doubt some people swore off forever. But the additional problem here is the notorious stewardship of Jerry Jacobs, whom much of the potential fandom long ago identified as a Taker, not a Giver. Cup-wise, he is 0 for 31, and the perception is that it really doesnt bother him very much as long as he sells the hot dogs and beer that give him a livelihood. He has put his affable son Charlie in charge, and he is trying very hard to erase the sins of the father, even though he would never phrase it that way.
If youre a hockey fan, this is a team worthy of your attention. Making the playoffs and getting at least one series win might be all it takes to make this the certified Hockey Town it once was.
In the NBA, you are successful when a little bit of youthful exuberance augments experience lots and lots of experience. The last successful team that did it by reversing the procedure was the 1977 Trail Blazers.
So right away you know where Im going with this one.
The Celtics are way too young to be really good. You might justifiably say to Danny Ainge, Danny, what exactly were you thinking? How do you expect a coach to win when 10 of the 15 guys on your opening night roster are 25 and under?
Back at prediction time, I took a shot. I boldly predicted 43 wins. Aint gonna happen. It doesnt look like theyre going to win any more than 30 and they arent going to make the playoffs. (You might justifiably say to me, Bob Ryan, what exactly were you thinking?)
Ill tell you what I wasnt thinking. I wasnt thinking they would be so frequently careless with the ball. I wasnt thinking they would take so little advantage of a favorable November and early December schedule. I wasnt thinking I would dislike Sebastian Telfairs pardon the expression - game as much as I do.
I still like Al Jefferson. I still like Delonte West. I still like Ryan Gomes (who could be dropped into the Spurs lineup tonight and flourish, even without a single practice). I am very impressed with Tony Allen. I am surprised that I like Rajon Rondo, who, crummy shot or not, so often has a direct effect on the game with his speed and aggressiveness on defense.
Paul Pierce? He doesnt park cars, but thats about all he hasnt done this year. Leave him alone.
And the same goes for Doc. Hes not the problem.
Hate to tell you, but its wait till next year. Or the one after that. Or...
Ive told you before and Im telling you again. In terms of football bliss, these are the Good Old Days.
Ask any Celtic fan who still weeps when he thinks of Larry, Kevin, and Robert. In 20 years, Patriots fans will weep when they think of Tom, Tedy and Richard, not to mention the local treasure known as Troy. The parallels are intriguing. The current Pats are the 88 Celtics, still dangerous, but probably at the top of the second tier, rather than still ensconsed on the first.
But please, Im begging you, enjoy them, cherish them, and, most of all, appreciate them. Win or lose tomorrow, do not take that 12-4 or 11-5 for granted. You must put it in the context of the whole, placing it alongside the 58-22 regular-season record of the previous five seasons (featuring back-to-back 14-2s). This is a six-year run that will not be duplicated.
This is a funny New England team, because after 15 games we still just dont know. The Patriots could be a one-and-done playoff loser, or they could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They tease us with great road performances and they puzzle us with lackluster outings like that annoying loss to the Jets at home. They can be as good a running team as weve ever known here, and they can be as ineffective a passing team as weve seen in the Brady Era.
Ah, the receivers thing. Messrs. Pioli and Belichick (and Kraft, for that matter), owe you, and Tom Brady, something of an apology. If youre going to hardball Deion Branch, then you must have a suitable Plan B. OK, boys, were waiting, and so is your QB. When this is all over, and assuming it doesnt end with smiles all around Feb. 4, well expect you three to be fessin up like men. And well accept your apology, because youll all have earned that Mulligan.
And you did give us Laurence Maroney. We wont forget that.
4. RED SOX
Im gonna guess they didnt like finishing out of the playoffs.
Call these guys the anti-Jacobses. Theyve got us afraid theyve spent too much money.
It is almost impossible to digest the full scope of what the John Henry-Tom Werner-Larry Lucchino regime has done in just four years. No offense to John Harrington, a truly good and decent man, but his was a horse-and-buggy administration compared to the Escalade the Red Sox have become. The ballpark isnt the same and the franchise operation isnt the same, either. Im not saying theyre infallible far from it. But these people are amazingly creative. Its pretty evident they go 24/7/365 thinking about, well, everything: from how to squeeze every last dollar out of the ballpark to where they can find one more player who might help win the I should say another World Series.
Be honest. None of us could have remotely imagined that Red Sox interest could get much higher than it was in 2002. Who would have believed the Red Sox would themselves have become Evil Empire II by spending $51.1 million just to talk to a Japanese pitcher, or that people would be paying 100 bucks to sit in a glorified bleacher seat on top of the left-field wall or that they would sell out every game? You cant take that for granted. It wont always be like this, but, right now, in 2007, theyll most likely sell out every game for the third consecutive season.
The team? I dont know whos going to close games, but I have a feeling theyll make the playoffs.
If the Red Sox or Pats had ever lost a championship game the way the Revolution did to the Houston Dynamo, thered already be three books on the market (e.g. The Curse of Walter Zenga). Ahead by a 1-0 score on Taylor Twellmans goal in extra time, they were tied less than a minute later when a deflection off a New England defender led to a Brian Ching header that found the half-inch it needed to make its way into the net. The Revolution would then lose on penalty kicks, 4-3.
The Horror ...
That was championship game loss No. 3 since 2002. But the big difference is that this time, New England was almost undoubtedly the better team, and most (not all) of the key people are back, most notably Twellman and coach Steve Nichol.
Nichol is a big-timer who makes the Revolution credible all by himself. An English soccer mainstay, most notably for Liverpool, he now has vast MLS experience and has proven the perfect fit for the franchise.
The Revolution are here to stay. The only question is just exactly where theyll be hanging their hats in, say, 2010. They need what six Major League Soccer teams already have, and what several more are getting, and that is a soccer-only stadium located where more of their fan base can get to the games, and which will provide a better soccer atmosphere than the comfortable, but cavernous, Gillette Stadium.
Is that Boston? Is that farther south, between Foxborough and Providence? No one is sure. What we do know is that when theyre ready to move, the league will be ready to help broker the deal.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.