It was a day like few others, but each game wasn't exactly unique.
You'll remember Oct. 13 because it all came together in just a few hours. You may not remember the details of how the Patriots got the ball back from the Saints with just under a minute to play, but you'll never forget the touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins. No play better illustrates Tom Brady's accuracy, touch and almost preternatural calmness. It was the next chapter in his storied career full of command performances and improbable comebacks.
You may not remember how Will Middlebrooks doubled into the left-field corner, Jacoby Ellsbury walked, Shane Victorino struck out, or Dustin Pedroia went to right for a single to load the bases, but you sure as hell won't forget the image of Torii Hunter tumbling over the bullpen wall as bullpen police officer Stephen Horgan raised his hands in glee and all of Fenway exploded at once. You'll always remember that it was the next chapter in David Ortiz's magical career of late-game heroics and exhilarating moments.
The day was special because it all happened in one region, to one combined fan base, on one television network on one fall day.
But if these two great games had been played months apart, they would simply stand as the two latest notches on the ever-expanding belt of Boston sports miracles.
In the last 12 years, this city has seen:
• Brady granted new life in the snow due to an unknown “tuck rule” followed minutes later by two of the best clutch field goals anyone will ever see.
• Brady's daring last-minute Super Bowl drive, capped off by yet another Adam Vinatieri boot.â¨
• Brady's sublime finishes with the intentional safety in Denver, the late bomb to Troy Brown in Miami, and the fantastic finish in Chicago.
• The 2003 Red Sox Cowboying Up to win three straight against Oakland with Trot Nixon and then Derek Lowe memorably staving off elimination.
• Days later, that team brawling with the Yankees and losing perhaps the most frustrating game since 1986.
• The 2004 version fighting with the Yankees again but winning on the strength of a Bill Mueller hit, a perfect foreshadowing of what was to come on four epic nights that October.
• David Ortiz cementing his legacy as an all-timer with walk-off winners on consecutive nights in the ALCS.
• The Celtics battling back from 21 down against New Jersey.
• Years later, the C's coming back again, only this time en route to a championship and coming against the Lakers.
• The Bruins winning three Game 7's, including one in overtime against their arch-rival, to win their first Stanley Cup in a generation.
• Two years later, those same Bruins completing a comeback for the ages with Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and company combining to stun the Maple Leafs and keep the core of the team together.
• The Mother's Day Miracle, Josh Beckett in Cleveland, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez taking turns burying the Angels with walk-off winners, Troy Brown playing defense and forcing a fumble to beat San Diego, Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison picking off Peyton Manning, and other great games that escape me right now.
Not every one of those games led to a titles, and the two we witnessed on Sunday might not, either. But the vast majority of them were great wins (as opposed to epic losses) and many came during championship seasons. The last decade or so has been magical in Boston as we've experienced a run unlike any other. It's easy to sit back and enjoy it, but I can't help but wonder.
Why are we so lucky?
There is no definitive right answer to the question and I can't prove any theories with science. But I like to think that there is a reason why one city and four pro sports franchises have combined for such incredible drama in such a short amount of time. Ultimately, I believe there are two primary reasons.
Say what you want about the importance of players, coaches and general managers in sports, but ultimately there has to be someone at the top with a desire to win. In this realm, there can be no doubt that Boston is blessed. It's been so long since we watched (sometimes willfully) incompetent ownership that we forget how horrible it is.
Think of the Miami Marlins, the Arizona Cardinals or the Kansas City Royals, and the long list of problems starts with their owners. If you own a team because your No. 1 goal is to make money, you are probably counting your millions while your fan base suffers. Jeffry Loria, the Bidwell family and David Glass may be the extreme examples, but there are plenty of less obvious ones. The best owners act in the best interest of their fans. They own on behalf of the public. They can make their money elsewhere but they are drawn to franchises because they want to do something good for their community. They generally want to be liked, and that desire makes them put the product above the bottom line.
Robert Kraft has made the Patriots a success because he was a fan and still, at some level anyway, continues to be one. Same with John Henry and Wyc Grousbeck. No one begrudges them their profits because they continue to invest in the product. They are actively involved, but they have learned not to overburden the personnel decisions of their franchises. They create an environment conducive to success, pressure their employees to achieve greatness, but generally stay out of the day-to-day decision-making. None are perfect and all walk that fine line between pushing for profit and meddling in operations, but all have done more good than harm.
It took Jeremy Jacobs longer to learn these lessons, and while you might still question his motives, he has at least changed his methods. When he decided to empower his son, relegate the old guard and bring in creative and competitive thinkers like Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli, things improved in a hurry.
And yes, Sox ownership may have lost its way at times. When you think about the sheer number of people who rely on Sox fever to make their money, you can see how Feeding the Monster became a common term. Did the owners drift too far toward the need to keep the image of the Red Sox afloat and away from the dedication to winning that helped build that fervor in the first place? Maybe. But credit them for recognizing the mistake and correcting it. Fans can excuse hiccups. They can't get over a consistent lack of commitment to winning.
If good ownership breeds successful seasons, then the opportunities are there for dramatic games. Why have Boston teams experienced so many great moments? The teams have played in so many big games that the quantity alone has led to greatness.
But the importance of ownership goes beyond that. Good owners not only foster a competitive atmosphere, they know how to retain it. They know the importance of having the right people in place, and when their GMs get their hooks into players like Brady, Ortiz, Chara and Bergeron, they are empowered to keep them.
And why wouldn't stars like that want to stay? That leads us to the second reason.
Is it possible that the fans are partially responsible for the drama that sent themselves in a frenzied state on Sunday? Well, maybe not directly. You may think that sitting in your favorite seat, chanting the same thing on third downs or wearing your Ortiz jersey creates the right karma for the magic moment, but you know that's not really the case. Still, that doesn't mean you can't affect the game.
And I don't just mean in the obvious way. We've seen what a home-field advantage can mean in every sport. The energy at Fenway Park can intimidate visiting ballplayers; the weather in Foxboro has been known to bother more than a few dome-centric quarterbacks. But plenty of cities have louder stadiums, and plenty of these great moments occurred on the road.
But beyond the ability of fans to make noise at the right times, Boston fans are renowned for the level of accountability they demand of their athletes. No fan base (including, by the way, New York and Philadelphia) has a greater capacity for venting its frustration. And that reputation can be a double-edged sword. Clearly, there are those who can't handle the environment -- they get eaten up by the pressure. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are the obvious examples, but there have been others.
The fan base in Boston might eliminate a small number of players from the universe of potential stars. In theory, that should hurt a general manager trying to build a competitor. But what if we think of the Boston gauntlet as a way of whittling down the pool of players to only ones who can handle pressure of the grandest scale?
Remember, we're trying to determine why Boston has seen so many dramatic games. Drama, by it's very nature, tends to occur when players respond to difficult circumstances in extraordinary ways. What better way to determine which players are capable of those huge pressure moments than by weeding out those who can't handle the daily pressure of playing in Boston?
Ultimately, I don't exactly know why we've seen more than our fair share of dramatic victories in the last decade or so. Stumbling into all-time greats like Ortiz and Brady sure hasn't hurt. But with a rabid, demanding fan base and four owners seemingly committed to winning, I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of them, either.