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Bountiful riches for New England sports fans

BY CHRISTOPHER YOUNG

IS THIS WHAT it was like in Pittsburgh in 1979? In January of that year, the NFL Steelers erased a three-year title drought by defeating the hated Dallas Cowboys, 35-21, in Super Bowl XIII; a year later, the Black and Gold successfully defended by beating the LA Rams, 31-19. Sandwiched in there was a remarkable performance by the teamís baseball entity, the Pirates, who rallied from a 3-1 World Series deficit to stun the Orioles in seven games to claim the Steel Cityís last baseball championship.

That had to be a fun time, but it can hardly match up with the glee that local fans are experiencing over their world-championship-tandem teams, the Red Sox and Patriots. Both times the Patriots won their Lombardi Trophies, they were invited to opening day at Fenway to strut their stuff in pre-game ceremonies; on Sunday night, there were some of the Sox, showing off their latest acquisition by parading around the Gillette Stadium turf with the World Series trophy. Patriots fans whooped and hollered, and there was indeed joy in Mudville and beyond, for two of pro sportsí most coveted postseason awards were held simultaneously by the local franchises.

The World Series trophy has been wending its way throughout the region, and it has shown up seemingly everywhere there are fans needing to be cheered up. There it was on Bob Lobelís Sports Final show; there it was at the Red Sox Hall of Fame dinner (where attendees paid to have their picture taken with it, as if it were mascot Wally the Green Monster); there it was on opening night for the Celtics at the FleetCenter; there it was in Providence for a noontime rally; next thing you know, itíll be hoisted at the North Attleboro Garden Club meeting and waved by Santa as he flies over your home on Christmas Eve.

Still, it just doesnít matter whether the golden flag-holder is becoming ubiquitous or even overexposed. I would have to believe that this particular trophy has never even come to Boston for a visit, much less made its home here. After all, the award handed to the 1918 world champs likely was made of tin or even wood, given the materials shortage experienced during World War I. Now the reward for emerging as Fox Sportsís "Eight Teams, One Champion" is here to stay, and everybody wants the opportunity to touch it or just get close to it.

Meanwhile, the Patriots still have their pair of Lombardis stashed away in stadium HQ, and what theyíre doing this season in defense of that hard-earned hardware is worthy of laud and admiration. People around here have been in a good-enough mood anyway, given the recent turn of sporting events, that even the rude interruption of the Patsí 21-game win streak two weeks ago was not enough to send folks scurrying for their anti-depressants. Nope, the team came right back from that loss in Pittsburgh to dismantle a pretty good Rams team last week, and on Sunday throttled a Buffalo Bills squad that had won three of four coming in and loomed as a legitimate threat to deal the locals their second loss in the past 24 contests.

Instead, the Brady-Belichick-Brown-Bruschi AC was up to the task, and only a special-teams breakdown on a third-quarter punt return prevented the Patriots from shutting out the reportedly potent Bills offense for the second time in three meetings. As has been the norm since he left town, Drew Bledsoe was befuddled and bewildered, throwing for just 70 yards before mercifully being lifted late in the game. Willis McGahee, who entered the game as the NFLís next big deal, was held to just 37 yards rushing as the Bills were continually stopped short as drives unfolded.

Perhaps you even laughed out loud, as I did, when wide receiver Troy Brown ó again playing some cornerback because of injuries to the regulars ó picked off a Bledsoe pass in the fourth quarter to put a reverse exclamation point at the end of Bledsoeís ghastly evening on ESPNís grand stage.

The 8-1 Patriots along with the 8-1 Steelers are clearly the premier teams in the league right now, and everyone else is a fraud or a pretender. The Jets, Colts, Jags, Ravens, Broncos, and Chargers are next-best, at 6-3, but all of them have mystifying losses or difficult upcoming schedules. The NFC is veritable joke, with only Philadelphia, at 8-1, representing a distant hope for a legit Super Bowl foe. Everyone else in the conference is either significantly flawed or hovering around .500.

And don't forget the other good tidings swirling around us New Englanders: Boston College is on the fast track for a Big East football title and an elite BCS bowl berth; its hockey team is number-one in the nation; UConn has the defending NCAA basketball champions on both the men's and women's side; the WNBA's Connecticut Sun reached the league finals in just their second year of existence; the Revolution soccer club reached the MLS conference finals for the third straight year; and the Celtics are (for now) in first place in the NBA's Atlantic Division. Not to mention that the Boston Bruins have yet to lose a game. . . .

Happy days are indeed here again, and even a mid-November blizzard cannot remove the warmth that New Englandís sports fans feel right now. Itís bliss, pure and simple, and frankly, itís a bit of an unfamiliar emotion.

In another month, local citizens will again be singing "Joy to the World," but it may have little to do with elves, mistletoe, or presents. This year, the pair of glittering trophies that dot our sports landscape provide the gift that keeps on giving.

Sporting Eye runs Mondays and Fridays at BostonPhoenix.com, and Christopher Young can be reached at cyoung@phx.com


Issue Date: November 15, 2004
"Sporting Eye" archives: 2004 | 2003 |2002
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