Touching All the Bases

There's Still Time (and a Team) to Celebrate, So Don't Call 2014 a Championship-Free Season Yet


Perhaps there will be champagne tonight -- or perhaps there was champagne last night, if you're coming across this during the opening scenes of 2015 rather than during the closing credits and blooper reels of 2014.

Champagne, of course, has been the celebratory beverage of choice and tradition for a remarkable number of Boston sports champions since 2001, when the Patriots kicked off this extraordinary era in the city's sports lore with its victory over the Rams.

Boston has been the home for eight pro sports champions during that stretch -- those 2001 Pats, the '03 Patriots, the '04 Patriots and Red Sox, the '07 Red Sox, the '08 Celtics, the '11 Bruins, and the '13 Red Sox.

So by my quick accounting, that's seven times in the past 14 seasons the city has hosted at least one parade. During this still ongoing run, Boston teams have added essentially one new glittering piece of hardware to Boston sports' collective trophy case every other year.

And on four other occasions, one of the Big Four (apologies to the Revolution, who have five unfulfilled trips to the MLS Cup, including this year) has lost in the championship game or series. No rehash of those opportunities lost is required here, but getting there is a feat in itself even if the outcome remains difficult to swallow.

I bring this up now for a couple of reasons. This is the time of year when old acquaintances should never be forgot -- as if we need the calendar and familiar custom as an excuse to acknowledge the great and admired teams of recent past.

But the main reason is this: As we close the book on 2014, let's remember that there remains a few open and blank pages to write an epilogue. Right now, it seems like 2014 was one of those championship-free seasons. But there may be a 2014 title in the making yet.

Should the Patriots defeat the Green Bay Packers or Seattle Seahawks on February 1 in Arizona, that counts as a 2014 championship, yes? Sure, the clinching victory will have occurred in 2015. But the dozen regular-season victories that will have carried them a great distance along the path to Arizona will have been secured in '14.

Based on how the NFL handles such matters, this would count retroactively, right? The Patriots can be the 2014 Super Bowl champions even though Super Bowl XLIX is a 2015 production.

We don't call the 2001 Patriots the '02 champs even though Adam Vinatieri's winning field goal happened in February.

It's different in the NBA -- I think of the Pierce-KG-Allen Celtics champion as the '07 team even though it's recorded for history as the '08 champion. Same for the 2010-11 Bruins.

But the Patriots? I say they can make 2014 a championship season in Boston sports even though the year is going, going, gone.

Of course we need the Patriots to actually win the thing before we can continue this goofy debate regarding the technicalities of the calendar. I like their chances of at least reaching the Super Bowl even given the relative struggles of the offense -- and particularly the offensive line -- over the last few weeks.

This is the first Patriots team since -- well, I'd say 2004 -- in which the defense is fully capable of locking up a win on a day when Brady and the offense aren't operating at maximum efficiency.

I still say there's no way Bill Belichick is losing a big game to Pete Carroll. Anyone who remembers Carroll's reign here cannot fathom such an outcome, as talented as his team happens to be.

By recent standards, I suppose 2014 wasn't a totally fulfilling sports year around here. But that context must be acknowledged, because all things considered, it was still a very good year, one most sports-mad cities would accept if not outright envy.

Our generational bookends, Tom Brady and Big Papi continued to thrive deep into their 30s, legends in their own time whose time is not yet over. Rob Gronkowski, impossible not to like, returned to health -- and remained in good health.

Patrice Bergeron remained a rock for the Bruins to lean on, even as the season ended abruptly to the rival Canadiens in the second round. As for this year? Let's just say they're glad the calendar is turning.

The Celtics? Well, you know. The ping-pong balls were unkind again, though fearless Marcus Smart at the No. 6 pick looks like a keeper. The long rebuild -- or accumulation of assets, if you prefer -- continues. Be patient, and keep imagining how all of those first-round picks from the Nets in the coming years will be spent.

There were some welcome arrivals, starting with the man who changed that Patriots' defense, the superb cornerback Darrelle Revis, but not excluding teammates Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell. Young Patriots Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins emerged just when they were needed most.

Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Rusney Castillo gave the Red Sox, who have gone from worst-to-first-to-worst in the three seasons since 2012, the promise of talented youth. And Ben Cherington has already bolstered the remade '15 roster with the two best hitters on the free agent market, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

Sure, some favorites departed. Jon Lester was traded to the A's, then detoured to Wrigley Field just as we thought he may return to Fenway.

Rajon Rondo, occasionally electrifying, occasionally an enigma, always interesting -- is now a Dallas Maverick, a nice match of team nickname and player mindset.

And we cannot forget that popular and steady Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk was dealt to the Islanders because of a salary-cap crunch.

Three different players, three different personalities, three different teams, one unifying commonality: All know what it meant to win a championship in Boston.

Perhaps the 2014 Patriots will know the same feeling. Even if the championship victory actually comes in the new year.

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