With all the success we’ve seen in the past two decades, I figured it would be nice to acknowledge the Boston athletes who have made the biggest impact during that time but walked away without a championship ring. Twelve parades in 20 years means it isn’t a particularly long list, but each of these guys left their mark despite never reaching the mountaintop.
Far removed from his superstar days in Minnesota, Moss was considered washed up when the Patriots finessed him for a 4th-round draft pick in 2007. He went on to have the greatest year ever for a wide receiver and lead the Pats to 18 straight wins before they fell short in the final game. He’s tied for the third most touchdown receptions in team history despite only being in New England for three and a half seasons.
The Patriots all-time leader in receptions played six seasons with Tom Brady, but it just happened to be in the middle of the the decade-long drought in which the Brady/Belichick Patriots didn’t win a Super Bowl. Like Moss, Welker arrived in ‘07 and was a star on one of the greatest offenses of all-time. From 2009 to 2012, he was Tom’s favorite target. Unfortunately, the most memorable play of his Patriots career was his dropped pass in Super Bowl 46. If he caught it, he wouldn’t be on this list.
The Celtics were 20-31 when they acquired IT at the 2015 trade deadline. He single-handedly turned the season around, leading them to a 24-12 record the rest of the way and a playoff berth as the seven seed. In 2015-16, he made his first All-Star team, led the C’s to 48 wins, and dropped 42 points to beat the Hawks in Game 3 of the first round. In 2016-17, he had arguably the greatest offensive season in Celtics history, averaging a franchise-record 28.9 points per game and finishing fifth in the league MVP voting. His 29 fourth quarter points against the Heat in December of 2016 was the second most in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain. His 53-point playoff performance against the Wizards in the wake of his sister’s tragic death was a moment that touched all of us.
At the turn of the century, Nomar was the biggest athlete in Boston and it wasn’t even close. Every kid wanted to be like number five. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000, hitting .357 and then .372, respectively. After missing the majority of the 2001 season due to a wrist injury, he returned to All-Star form in ‘02 and ‘03 but showed small signs of declining despite still being in his 20’s. On top of that, questions about his character and its effect on team chemistry came into play. The trade at the deadline in ‘04 that brought in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz shocked the sports world, but proved to be the right decision as the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Although it didn’t end well, Nomar at his best was an all-time great.
Mankins had the worst luck of anyone on this list. He played nine seasons with the Patriots. They won the year before he arrived, and they won the year he was traded. They did not win while he was on the team. He played as long as one could possibly have played during the Brady/Belichick era without getting a ring. He had been to five consecutive Pro Bowls before he was surprisingly dealt before the 2014 season.
Jumbo Joe made three consecutive All-Star teams with the B’s from 2002 to 2004 before being traded to San Jose in ’06, where he’s remained ever since. He was named the Bruins’ team captain prior to the ‘02-’03 season, a year in which he went on to finish third in the NHL in points with 101. Joe has continued to build a Hall Of Fame career with the Sharks, winning an MVP in ‘05-’06 (the year he was traded) and racking up the 14th most career points in NHL history. Safe to say that giving up on an all-time great in his prime didn’t sit well with B’s fans, and still doesn’t.
Antoine was the best player on the Celtics at the time Paul Pierce was drafted in 1998. Together, the two of them brought some life back to Celtics basketball. In ‘01-’02, his second All-Star season, he averaged 22 points, 8.8 rebounds, and played the Robin to Pierce’s Batman as the duo led the C’s to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 14 years. Walker made his third All-Star team in ‘02-‘03 before being traded to Dallas and then returning to Boston for a brief 24-game stint in ‘04-’05. The Celtics were a game under .500 when he arrived, but his 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds helped them going 18-9 the rest of the way, clinch a playoff spot, and push a good Pacers team to seven games in the first round.
Talib played four and a half seasons in Tampa Bay before joining the Pats in 2012, but he says his career didn’t really start until he got to New England. It was under Belichick and Co. that he made his first Pro Bowl in 2013, following a legendary season that featured one of the most dominant stretches for a cornerback in NFL history. Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Vincent Jackson, and Jimmy Graham (during his career year) are among the elite receivers who Talib locked down. There’s a good chance the Patriots would have beaten the Broncos in the AFC Championship had Wes Welker not taken him out with a blindside hit in the second quarter.
Guerin, a Worcester native, is a Hall Of Famer who played 18 years in the NHL and won two Stanley Cups with the Devils and the Penguins. He played 142 games with the Bruins over the course of two seasons (‘00-’01, ‘01-’02), and walked away with two All-Star appearances and an All-Star Game MVP. Up until David Pastrnak accomplished the feat in 2018, he was the last Bruin to record multiple hat tricks in a season.
Murray was drafted in 1991 and spent his first four seasons with the Bruins, but it was his second stint with the team in the early 2000’s where he made the most impact. After spending some time in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, he was traded back to Boston in October of 2001, where he would spend the last five and a half years of his career. In ‘02-’03, he racked up 92 points and led the NHL with 32 even strength goals. He made back-to-back All-Star appearances in ‘03 and ‘04, and was the last Bruin to score 40-plus goals in a season until Pastrnak hit that mark three months ago.
Beltre didn’t make his first All-Star team until he was 31 years old, and it was the one season that he played with the Red Sox. He stopped by for a cup of coffee in 2010 and hit .321 with 28 homers, 102 RBI’s, and a league-leading 49 doubles.
Martinez was also an All-Star on the relatively forgettable 2010 Red Sox. He was acquired in a trade with the Indians at the deadline in ‘09 and proceeded to hit .336 in 237 at-bats to close out the season. In 2010, his only full year in Boston, he hit .302 with 20 homers, 32 doubles, and 79 RBI’s.
Bay was the replacement for Manny, coming from the Pirates in the three-way trade that sent Ramirez to the Dodgers in 2008. In his one full season with the Sox in 2009, he hit 36 home runs, drove in 119 runs, and was named to his third All-Star team.