Just being a sports fan in New England, we all know there is plenty to be thankful for this holiday season.
Take a look around and you realize as much.
The Bruins are on a 10-game winning streak after starting their Stanley Cup defense 3-7-0. They clearly have their mojo back and look poised to make another run deep into the spring. They have revived hockey in Boston and the franchise is in great shape for years to come.
The Patriots: Well, they still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and they play in the crumbling AFC East, factors that all but guarantee their place in the NFL tournament come January.
Belichick is still at the top of his coaching game. All you need to see for proof is what he has done with a makeshift secondary that consists of Kyle Arrington, Phillip Adams, Antwuan Molden, James Ihedigbo, Sterling Moore and Ross Ventrone. That six-pack has picked up the slack for the injured Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung and the released Leigh Bodden.
Yes, the last two wins have come against quarterbacks who have had ratings under 80.0. Yes, the defensive line has had a lot to do with it by placing great pressure on the quarterback. But what Belichick has done with this secondary is nothing short of miraculous.
As our own Jerry Thornton pointed out this week, though the Patriots are ranked dead last in the NFL in yards allowed, that means little if anything. The points allowed do. Belichick's team is 7-3 and figures to coast to its 10th double-digit wins total in the last 11 seasons.
Tennis elbow or not, Brady is still throwing touchdown passes and winning games. And as long as he has Rob Gronkowski doing somersaults over defenders into the end zone with his head still screwed on and he has Wes Welker taking hits over the middle and holding onto the ball, the best quarterback the Patriots have ever had is as good a reason as any to think that the Patriots can end their three-game playoff losing streak and make a run in the postseason.
As for the Red Sox, they still have the resources and the cachet to remain among the elite teams in baseball. Yes, they are going to answer question after question about 7-20 in three months in Fort Myers. But, they will do so with a fresh face and voice in the dugout and clubhouse.
The resources will give them the chance to keep Jacoby Ellsbury. Their cachet will give them the chance to put Bobby Valentine in charge on the field. If it’s Valentine, as is presumed by now, everyone knows he won’t tolerate the complacency that was evident among a significant portion of Red Sox uniform personnel in their historic collapse.
Be thankful, Red Sox fans, that you have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester coming back. Be thankful you have Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez.
But most of all, be grateful that baseball has chosen to once again dilute its playoff pool by adding an extra wild-card team in each league. The Red Sox don’t figure to be AL East favorites right now based simply on the number of questions in the wake of 7-20. But they do have the resources to make many moves that other teams can’t make in the midst of the season.
With all of that as a backdrop, there are still things to wish for on the holiday gift list of any New England sports fan:
For the Bruins: I would wish for Tim Thomas to stay healthy, Milan Lucic to play with the fire and determination he showed in the last two weeks, Tuukka Rask not to be traded, Tyler Seguin to continue his rise to stardom in the NHL and for Claude Julien to continue pushing all the right buttons, keeping his team hungry in its defense and on course for another run into June.
For the Patriots: I wish for the wrap on Tom Brady’s right elbow to magically heal what’s been ailing him. I wish that simple maintenance of his right elbow is all that’s needed for him to keep performing at a high level. If he can’t, it’s not really breaking news that the Pats aren’t going to be headed to John Cougar Mellancamp’s home in early February.
I wish for the Patriots to find a running game, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis leading the charge, with Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk and Shane Vereen all finding their place and making an impact so Brady can take a deep breath once in a while and hand off the ball to get a first down.
Side note here: It’s always a slippery slope to make too much of how an athlete looks, or even his body language for that matter, but Brady in the last two wins did not have the body language that exudes confidence.
When he walked into the room after the win over the Jets and the Monday night mauling of the Chiefs, he had the look of frustration. He had that look again on Wednesday when he met with the media in his weekly pregame gathering with the media.
In fairness, the circles under his eyes may be nothing more than fighting off the bugs that go around the locker room at this time of year. Or maybe he’s just simply tired of saying, “I feel great” or “I feel fine” like he did Wednesday to a report by the Herald’s Karen Gueregian that Tom Martinez – his longtime quarterback guru in California – believes Brady doesn’t look the same and is having trouble “warming up” this season.
Then came the report later in the day that he is fighting “tennis elbow,” a condition that doesn’t require any surgery, just rest and rehab, something that’s a little hard to do in the midst of a run to the playoffs.
But if the way Brady looks and holds himself is apparent to the media, then it certainly is to his teammates. And there’s nothing to think in his interviews with Dennis & Callahan that it’s all that different.
Even with his team 7-3 and several layups on the schedule in the final six weeks, these are very trying times for the best quarterback of his generation.
For the Red Sox: I wish for a steady diet of feel good stories this winter to lay the foundation for what figures to be a spring filled with constant questions. I wish for David Ortiz to come back at the right price and not leave a gaping hole in the middle of the order behind Adrian Gonzalez. I wish for Clay Buchholz’s back to completely heal from the stress fracture he sustained midway through 2011.
I wish for Daniel Bard seamlessly to fill the void left by Jonathan Papelbon’s departure. I wish for Bobby V. to smile his charismatic smile every time he gets asked about the lineup in January, every time he gets asked about his bullpen and every time he gets asked about the vibe he feels in his clubhouse.
For the Celtics: I wish NBA Commissioner David Stern and NBA player reps Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher could sit down and hammer out a new deal, giving NBA fans not just a season but one final run for Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. You can’t have one without the other. If there’s no season, it’s unlikely the three come back together in 2012-13. If the “Big 3” can’t muster enough energy from a shortened season, a lot of Celtics fans will wonder why the league even bothered at all.
I’m not going to waste my time wishing for anything more than that since the NBA executives haven’t exactly inspired optimism or shown the public that they’re desperate to save the season. Sad.
For Boston College: I wish for mercy from the football and basketball recruiting gods. Both programs are in serious trouble and in dire need of an infusion of blue-chip players to restore the school’s standing in the ACC.
This figures to be the last season of the Frank Spaziani era, one that began under difficult circumstances with the sudden departure of Jeff Jagozinski after two years at BC.
Dave Shinskie didn’t exactly pan out and Chase Rettig hasn’t made his mark yet. If the Eagles are to rebound, they’re going to need a true playmaker at the quarterback position to re-energize the program the way Matt Ryan and even Chris Crane did in the mid-2000s.
Side note, part II. Anyone notice how Jeff Jagodzinski’s career went nowhere quickly since leaving BC after the 2008 season? Or more like everywhere, quickly. He was fired a day after interviewing for the Jets head coaching job that went to Rex Ryan. He landed in Tampa Bay where he was hired as Rahim Morris’ offensive coordinator but didn’t even make it to the regular season as he was fired the day before the preseason finale. He eventually landed in Omaha of the UFL where he lasted exactly one season and was fired after a 3-5 season. His replacement was the chairman of TD Ameritrade, based in Omaha.
Steve Donohue’s challenge is even bigger inside Conte Forum. He’s been handed the reins to the men’s basketball program and asked to procure talent in the ultra-competitive ACC. His team’s 82-46 loss to UMass Monday night speaks volumes to the massive undertaking that lies ahead.
And it came on the heels of an 86-64 home court loss to Holy Cross.
Long gone are Jared Dudley, Tyree Rice, Biko Paris and Reggie Jackson. All of them were big-time playmakers who could take over a game. Now in his second season, Donohue has to prove that after 11 seasons at Cornell, including trips to the NCAAs in his last three, he can recruit to compete with the Dukes and North Carolinas of the ACC.
Oh well. BC still has the winningest coach in Division I sports in Jerry York and a college hockey dynasty.
And for fans everywhere: I wish for glasses that help them see the greatness in college sports, blocking out the ugly glare from story after story about Penn State and Syracuse.
The holidays are a feast of sports, and the best time to enjoy them. This is the perfect time to remember they’re still among the greatest gifts we have.