It’s been two weeks since the Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, which means there’s been plenty of time to think about where this championship ranks among the nine others we’ve witnessed since Adam Vinatieri split the uprights on February 3rd, 2002.
Ranking championships isn’t easy, but it’s a task that we’re extremely fortunate to be faced with. Naturally, the latest one feels the best. But we have to remember how they all felt when they happened.
Number one is the only no-brainer. Numbers 2-5 could be in any order and you wouldn’t be wrong. Same with 6-10.
So here it is. A list of the 10 championships during the greatest stretch of professional sports dominance that any city has ever experienced, ranked by their significance:
10. 2007 Red Sox
Let’s make one thing clear: there’s no such thing as a bad championship. It was tough trying to decide which one would fall to the 10 spot because they were all exciting in their own way. I mean, think about all of the sports fans who would kill just to see one of their teams win one championship before they die and here I am trying to explain why one of our 10 in the last 15 years was the least significant. Cleveland fans would puke if they read this article. With that being said, the reason I picked this one is pretty evident. Nothing could ever top 2004. Red Sox Nation waited 86 years to see their team win it all and only had to wait three more to see it happen again. We had just finished celebrating 2004 and all of a sudden we were back on top. Of the Sox three World Series teams in recent memory, this was probably the most talented roster on paper. But Boston fell so madly in love with that 2004 team that we had barely moved on from them by the time ’07 came around.
9. 2004 Patriots
By the time the Pats won Super Bowl XXXIX over the Eagles, winning Super Bowls had become somewhat of a habit. It was their third in four years and cemented their place as one of the NFL’s all-time great dynasties. Out of the four Super Bowl teams during the Brady/Belichick era, this one was arguably the most dominant. They finished the regular season with a 14-2 record and pretty much breezed through the playoffs, holding Peyton Manning’s high-powered offense to just three points in the divisional round and putting up 41 points on the Steelers’ top-ranked defense in the AFC Championship. The Super Bowl was a bit closer as they edged out Philly by three points, but this team was clearly destined to win it all. They just went out and did what they were expected to do. A great win, but no surprising underdog story so it falls to number nine. Also, this is the Pats’ only Super Bowl in which Brady didn’t win MVP. Not to take anything away from Deion Branch, but I know Pats fans would like it if the golden boy had one more under his belt.
8. 2003 Patriots
This is when we really started to realize that we had something special. This one put to rest any notion that 2001 was a fluke, and of course there were a lot of people who thought that after the Pats missed the playoffs in 2002. Those critics had even more to talk about when we got blown out 31-0 by our old friend Lawyer Milloy and the Buffalo Bills in week one of the 2003 season, but the doubt stopped there. Brady and Belichick’s Pats got their shit together as they always do and ended up finishing the regular season at 14-2, which fittingly was capped off by a 31-0 payback win against the Bills in week 17. The playoffs included a three-point divisional round win over Tennessee in sub-zero temperatures and an AFC Championship in which the Patriots picked off Peyton Manning four times, including three from Ty Law. The Super Bowl was a classic as Adam Vinatieri’s last-minute field goal lifted the Pats over the Carolina Panthers.
7. 2011 Bruins
The B’s lone title in Boston’s recent run of success was their first since 1972. It featured a 46-25-11 regular season record followed by a thrilling playoffs that included three series’ that went the full seven games, highlighted by a first round victory over the rival Canadiens. Tim Thomas turned in one of the all-time great playoff performances by a goalie and the Bruins were able to outlast the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals, sending the city of Vancouver into full riot mode. The B’s were the last of Boston’s four major sports teams to win a title in the 21st century, and their victory made Boston the first city in history to win a championship in all four major sports within a 10 year span.
6. 2008 Celtics
The C’s finished off the 2006-07 season as the worst team in the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-58. At the time it seemed as though their only hope was to grab either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in the draft and begin looking towards the future. Unfortunately, the ping pong balls didn’t bounce their way and they fell to fifth in the lottery. Luckily, Danny Ainge pulled off a miracle in acquiring two more future Hall of Famers (Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) to play alongside Paul Pierce and the C’s completed the biggest turnaround in team history. They finished the 2007-08 season with the best record in the NBA at 66-16. The playoffs included a battle for the ages between Paul Pierce and LeBron James in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semis and the greatest comeback in Finals history in game 4 against the rival Lakers, a game in which the Celtics overcame a 24-point second quarter deficit. Despite being underdogs in the series, the C’s closed it out in game 6 with a 131-92 thrashing to win their 17th title, more than any other team in the NBA.
5. 2013 Red Sox
This one came out of nowhere. The Sox choked away the 2011 season with one of the worst Septembers in history and followed that up with the Bobby Valentine year in 2012 where they finished with their worst record since 1966. Needless to say, no one in their right mind had them picked to win it all in 2013. But that’s the beauty of sports. The Sox shocked the baseball world by starting off hot and maintaining the best record in the AL throughout the entire season, finishing at 97-65. It was their first playoff appearance since 2009 and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the city of Boston. While everyone was still grieving over the tragic events of the Boston Marathon, the Sox were slowly redirecting everyone’s attention towards baseball and giving us all something to be happy about again. Thanks to the acquisitions of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Koji Uehara as well as a vintage playoff performance by Big Papi in which he posted the highest batting average in World Series history, the Sox finished off the Cardinals in six games to capture their third World Series title in nine years.
4. 2016 Patriots
It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the Patriots didn’t win the Super Bowl in 2016, although I can’t imagine the end of the world being much worse. After Brady managed to avoid a four-game suspension in 2015, Roger Goodell ultimately proved that he has the power to do whatever he wants, forcing the greatest quarterback of all-time to miss a quarter of the 2016 regular season due to an alleged equipment violation. The only option for Brady at this point was to trust in his teammates, then come back in week 5 and rip through the NFL on the way to his fifth ring. After Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett led the Pats to a 3-1 record, TB12 did just that. The Patriots went 15-1 the rest of the way, capping off their roller coaster of a season with the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and providing Patriots fans with the opportunity to boo Goodell off the stage as he presented Robert Kraft with the Lombardi trophy. Not to mention that anyone who wants to argue that Brady isn’t the greatest of all-time no longer has a leg to stand on after this win. Seven Super Bowl appearances and five rings combined with his disgustingly high career winning percentage in both the regular season and playoffs and countless fourth quarter comebacks. He officially cannot be touched. Kick rocks, Joe Montana.
3. 2001 Patriots
This is the one that started it all, and it was the definition of a Cinderella story. The Pats had never won a Super Bowl in their 42 years of existence. They finished the 2000 season last in the AFC East and there was little hope for improvement heading into 2001. When they lost in week one to the lowly Bengals and then went on to lose their Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe in a 10-3 loss to the Jets in week two, the expectations were about as low as they could possibly be. Nobody would have been surprised if they ended up being one of the worst teams in the NFL. They were 0-2, coming off of a 5-11 season, and their fate now rested on the shoulders of some scrub backup quarterback named Tom Brady. But then something weird happened. The New England Patriots started winning football games. The Brady kid led the Pats to a 5-2 record over their next seven games before losing to the St. Louis Rams, aka “The Greatest Show on Turf”, on November 18th. That loss would be their last of the year. They went on to win the last six games of the regular season, sneaking into the playoffs with a record of 11-5. Their divisional round match-up against the Oakland Raiders, otherwise known as “The Snow Bowl” or “The Tuck Rule Game”, was one of the greatest football games ever played and included two of the most impressive kicks you will ever see, courtesy of Adam Vinatieri. Did the Pats get lucky with the tuck rule call? No, they didn’t. It was the right call. A shitty rule, but the right call. The AFC Championship against the Steelers consisted of a minor Tom Brady injury and a quality backup performance by the quickly forgotten Drew Bledsoe, which led to a rematch against St. Louis in the Super Bowl. Everybody and their mother had the Rams picked to win, but Brady, Belichick, and the Pats’ hard nosed defense had other plans. They pulled off the upset, winning 20-17 on a last second field goal by Vinatieri, giving the franchise their first Super Bowl and bringing Boston their first title since the 1986 Celtics.
2. 2014 Patriots
A lot of people would probably put this one behind 2001, but here’s the difference. 2001 was completely unexpected. It was a great win and a great story, but I don’t think anyone would have been terribly disappointed or surprised if the Pats didn’t win the Super Bowl that year. The 2014 New England Patriots HAD to win the Super Bowl, and for the first time in ten years, they got the job done. Brady NEEDED that fourth ring, and after years of almost getting it, he finally got it. The way the season unfolded just added to that pressure. Losing to the Dolphins in week one, barely beating the Raiders, getting blown out by Kansas City on Monday Night, Trent Dilfer along with most of America believing that the Patriots were “not good anymore.” What did the Patriots do? They ignored the noise and moved on to Cincinnati. They dismantled the 3-0 Bengals on National television and never looked back, losing only two more games the rest of the season and claiming the top spot in the AFC East for the 11th time in 12 years. In the divisional round they battled a team that had eliminated them from the playoffs twice in the last five years, outlasting the Ravens 35-31. Then there was the 45-7 slaughtering of the Colts in the AFC Championship that began the whole deflategate mess, leading up to a classic Super Bowl. Until two weeks ago, Super Bowl XLVI was hands down the greatest football game I had ever watched. This year’s Super Bowl passed it, but Butler’s interception remains the single most exciting play I’ve ever witnessed/experienced.
1. 2004 Red Sox
No brainer. Eighty six years is a long, long time. Being 23 years old, the only real crushing loss that I experienced before they finally won it all was the 2003 Aaron Boone homerun in the ALCS. My father, however, has been a Sox fan since the 60’s so I know all about the history. The Impossible Dream of ’67, the series against the Reds in ’75, Bucky Dent in ’78, and course Bill Buckner in ’86. Since their last World Series title in 1918, Red Sox nation had suffered more heartbreak than they’d care to talk about. After coming within a game of the World Series in ’03, the addition of a new manager in Terry Francona and the acquisition of ace Curt Schilling made the Sox legitimate contenders in 2004. But when all you’ve experienced is disappointment for 86 straight years, it’s hard to be optimistic. Boston had an up and down regular season for the most part, but found themselves playing their best baseball in late August and September when it really counts. They ended up winning the Wild Card, finishing three games behind the Yankees after being more then eight games behind in July. After a clean sweep of the Angels in the Division Series, it was a rematch against New York for the American League pennant, which seemed like it would be exciting until the Sox got pounded 19-8 at Fenway to go down 3-0 in the series. No team had ever come back from down 3-0 in the history of baseball and it seemed as though all hope was lost. Then in game 4.. well, you know what happens. Rivera comes in, Roberts steals, Mueller drives him in, Papi hits a walk-off in extras. After another Papi walk-off in game 5, a heroic performance from Schilling in the bloody sock game in game 6, and a 10-3 blowout in game 7 at Yankee Stadium, the Sox had completed arguably the greatest comeback in the history of professional sports. Compared to the ALCS, the World Series was pretty uneventful as they swept the Cardinals in four games to capture the team’s first title since before Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, giving most Sox fans something they had been longing for their entire lives.
So there it is. The last 15 years in Boston sports. Enough excitement for a lifetime squeezed into a decade and a half. Fifteen years, 10 parades, and countless reasons for the rest of America to hate our guts.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour