When you’re a sports blogger and you’re aware of the fact that your target demographic is (slightly) younger than you, you think twice before you write anything that says things were better back in the day. Especially in Boston, where the position of 'Sports Columnist Who Can’t Go a Week Without Mentioning “No No Nanette”' has already been filled.
And to be fair, things weren’t always better long ago. Every human endeavor evolves. Complex systems tend to improve over time. Life mimics the stock market; it has peaks and valleys, but over the long term progresses with an upward trajectory. I mean, old-timers like to take it as a given that life was better back when they were young. Well of course it was ... for them.
Their eyes were better, their hearing was better, they weren’t cold all the time and could approach the speed limit when they drove. All the parts below their belt worked without having to consult a doctor. But that doesn’t mean everything else in this world was the berries. I mean, the old fart who writes the “Other Side of the Hill” column in your town newspaper has never written one about how much he misses polio.
So, like I said, no matter how much the Grandpa Simpsons of the world want to convince us otherwise, things weren’t always 23 skidoo. But still, there was a time long ago, when the Boston sports scene reached its peak. A magical, golden age when anything seemed possible. Today it sounds like a fantasy. The stuff of legend. Something too wonderful to be real, like Atlantis, El Dorado, or the Playboy Mansion. But it was real. I know. I lived through it.
America was a different place back then. We’d elected a president who was a big-eared, naïve outsider who promised to change the tone in Washington but quickly proved he was in over his head. A gallon of gas cost $1.60. “American Idol” was the top TV show. Kids were into playing video games. Will Ferrell was cranking out three comedies a year. The popular musical acts of the day all had silly, trendy names that were so cool then but sound ridiculous now. Names like “The Dave Matthews Band.” Yup, a fan from the Golden Age of Boston sports time traveling forward wouldn’t even recognize the world today.
It was the decade of the 2000's. And if I hadn’t lived through it and seen it with my own eyes, I’d never believe it could have actually happened.
In the 2000's, the world was our oyster. Everything was ours for the taking. It was like we were living the first half hour of a “VH1’s Behind the Music.” Championships. Acclaim. Records. Awards. Magazine covers. SI Sportsmen of the Year honors. Fame. And an endless, steady, unbroken line of championship parades that stretched on forever. The Patriots Duckboats followed by the Sox followed by the Celtics, in a continuous tape loop of rolling rallies that seemed to encircle the Earth.
To be a Boston sports fan back in those halcyon days felt like you were Jim Carrey in “Bruce Almighty.” You had complete omnipotence and you could make your every wish happen. You could make Walt Coleman reverse the fumble call in the snow. John Kasay kick the ball out of bounds in the Super Bowl. The umps to reverse the call on the A-Rod ball-slapping play. Kevin McHale to give in on the Kevin Garnett trade. Jennifer Aniston’s boobs to get bigger. The Randy Moss deal happen. It was magical.
Some kind of incredible, inexplicable alchemy happened. Nobodies like David Ortiz, Mike Vrabel and Kendrick Perkins turned into stars. Role players like Mark Bellhorn, Troy Brown and Glen Davis stepped up in big moments. And superstars too numerous to mention played like superstars when it mattered most.
Our coaches were infallible. Every lever they pulled came up three cherries. Bill Belichick’s “It is what it is,” Terry Francona’s “We went out and competed” and Doc River’s “Ubuntu” were the kind of can’t miss mantras that sells management books and $25K speaking engagements to mutual fund managers while they’re lighting cigars with your 401K money.
The world hated us and envied us at the same time and the only question we asked was which felt better. We banged out our own ballparks and swarmed other teams’ stadia in droves and there was nothing they could do but take it. Long before Shaq turned it into a song, we were the ones asking the world “How’s my ass taste?” We didn’t walk with a swagger. We bestrode the narrow world like a Colossus.
And just as satisfying as our success, was the utter failure of our enemies, which way back in the 2000s was almost a guarantee. ARod would always say or do something to make Yankee fans hate him. Peyton Manning would call out his teammates. Pau Gasol or some other oily Eurotrash on the Lakers would sob into a towel on the bench. And always, always, when those guys you hated most needed to step up in the clutch in order to beat us, they’d panic like Alan, Stu and Phil finding a tiger in their room at Caesar’s and stress vomit all over themselves.
And yet, to continue the “Behind the Music” metaphor from earlier, just when life seemed to be reaching its peak for the Boston fan, things began to fall apart. But unlike when a band breaks up, we can pinpoint the precise, singular moment our world came crashing down around us -- The David Tyree catch from 'The Super Bowl That Shall Not Be Named'.
That miserable, horrifying, gut-wrenching play ... I swear to you, I haven’t watched it again since the moment I saw it live. But I can remember every frame of that mental motion picture like it was the Zapruder film. Eli, the runt of the Manning litter, being swallowed up by the pass rush, then stepping out of the pocket still in the grasp but getting the ball away and Tyree, with Rodney Harrison all over him like a conjoined twin, pinning the ball to his helmet, then putting two hands on it as he came down. It was the Icarus moment of the 2000's, when we got close enough to immortality that the sun melted our wings and we crashed to the ground.
Ever since then, we’ve basically been stumbling through life like Martha Coakley supporters. Dazed, befuddled and wondering how it all went so bad, so fast. Sure, there’ve been some minor victories. A division here, a playoff round there. But really, ever since that play it’s all been one endless series of setbacks that all bleed into one. Kevin Garnett’s knee. Josh Beckett’s shoulder. Tom Brady’s knee. Mark Teixeira leaving the Sox at the altar. Dice-K’s… everything. Big Papi’s age. Big Papi’s steroids. Phil Kessel’s departure. Randy Moss’ motivation. Marc Savard’s foot. Wes Welker’s knee. Conquest, war, famine and death.
And while all this has been going on, we’ve had to sit there and watch helplessly while the people we revile most have turned themselves into beloved paragons of clutch play. And worse, true champions. A-Rod, the two Mannings, Kobe Bryant. In this past year alone, the Lakers and Yankees have won titles. And the Pats' most hated rivals, the Jets and Colts, are facing off the AFC Championship Game. This isn’t “Curse of the Bambino” type suffering. It’s Book of Revelations stuff.
And it’s not at all like those misty water-colored memories of the way we were. Back when we were on top of the world and everything went our way. So forgive me for living in the past for a minute here. I know the 2000's ended three weeks ago, and the Golden Age of Boston Sports ended a whole two years before that, but I still remember them like they just happened.
Jerry Thornton is a stand up comic who’s been working the Boston club scene since Steve Phillips’ mistresses were very homely babies. He’s also appeared on HBO and you can read him daily on Barstoolsports.com.