What was the best year in Boston sports? There have certainly been a lot of outstanding years especially since 2001. Boston sports teams have won nine championships in the past fifteen years to go along with thirteen championship appearances. If you take a look at years prior to 2001, it’s tough to find years that really stand out considering that the Red Sox and Patriots didn’t win championships prior to that year. No, we’re not going back to 1918!
Here’s a quick look at two years, in particular, that stood out.
The Celtics were 54-28 in the 1975-76 season and won the NBA Championship led by Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and Jo Jo White. The Patriots were 11-3 with Steve Grogan behind center. They lost in the AFC playoffs to the Raiders. The Red Sox were 83-79 following their World Series run in 1975. Carl Yastrzemski led the way with 21 home runs and 102 RBI. The Bruins were 48-15-17 and finished in first place. They lost in the NHL semifinals. Bobby Orr played just ten games in his final season with the Bruins. Overall, this was a very strong year considering that three of the four teams were legitimate contenders, the fourth team was above .500, and there was a championship to celebrate.
The Red Sox had the best record in MLB at 96-66 and went on to win their second World Series in four years. Josh Beckett won 20 games and was lights out in the postseason posting a 4-0 record with a 1.20 ERA. Mike Lowell and David Ortiz led the way offensively. The Patriots went 16-0 in 2007. We all know how it ended in 2008, but in the context of this debate a 16-0 season is quite an accomplishment. The Bruins were 35-41-6 and missed the playoffs. The Celtics were just 24-58. However, they acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that offseason which ultimately led to a championship in 2008. In summary, one championship, an undefeated season, and an offseason that set the Celtics up for a championship the following year. That’s a pretty good year!
These two years brought a title along with strong seasons from other teams which made Boston one of the top sports cities during those respective years. However, these two years fall short to 1986 and 2004. Now we’re going to take a deep dive into these two seasons to show why they top the list. After that, we’ll provide our opinion on which year tops the list!
If you read our post last week, you know our full opinion on the 1986 Boston Celtics. The argument was made for the Celtics as the best NBA Team ever. They went 67-15 in the regular season including a 40-1 home record. Larry Bird was the MVP for the third consecutive season. Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were NBA All Stars and the back court of Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge gave the Celtics an elite starting five. In addition, Bill Walton won the NBA Sixth Man Award. In the playoffs, the Celtics defeated the Bulls, Hawks, and Bucks in the Eastern Conference losing just one game along the way. In the Finals, the Celtics defeated the Rockets in six games with Bird winning the Finals MVP. This team could be argued as the best team in the history of Boston sports. They had five Hall of Famers. They were that good.
Heading into the 1986 season, the expectations for the Red Sox were not very high after finishing .500 in the previous season. The Red Sox got off to a great start highlighted by a 20 strikeout performance by their ace, Roger Clemens. Clemens set the tone and finished the season at an amazing 24-4 and won the American League MVP Award. The offense was led by Wade Boggs who hit .357 with a .453 on base percentage. Jim Rice also had a strong year hitting .324 with 20 home runs and 110 RBI. The Red Sox won the AL East and faced the Angels in the American League Championship Series. Down 3 games to 1, the Red Sox were down to their last strike in Game 5. Dave Henderson hit a game typing home run and the Red Sox cruised from there by winning the series in seven games. We all know what happened next. The Red Sox had a great opportunity to win the World Series against the Mets in Game 6 and then it all fell apart. Schiraldi, Stanley, Buckner = not a good night for Boston sports fans. The Sox lost the series in seven games in one of the most painful finishes to a season in Boston sports history.
The Patriots made it to the playoffs after posting an 11-5 record in the 1985 season. The season was split at quarterback between Tony Eason and Steve Grogan. Craig James ran for 1,227 yards and Irving Fryar caught seven touchdown passes. On the defensive side, Andre Tippett was an elite pass rusher while recording 16.5 sacks. In the playoffs, the Patriots steamrolled the Jets and Raiders and then went into Miami for the AFC Championship Game. This was expected to be an easy game for the Dolphins. They were the only team to defeat the Chicago Bears in the regular season and a rematch was expected. The Patriots went into Miami and beat the Dolphins 31-14. Eason threw for three TD’s and James rushed for 105 yards. The Patriots were in the Super Bowl for the first time in their history. The Super Bowl ended up being an afterthought as the Patriots run ended by losing 46-10 to the Bears. It certainly was not a great way to end the season, but that Bears team was one of the best teams of all time.
The Bruins finished 37-31-12 which was good for third in the Adams Division. Keith Crowder scored 38 goals and Ray Bourque had 77 points as one of the elite defensemen in the league. This team was not yet ready to take the next step. That came a couple of years later. The Bruins were swept in the playoffs by the Canadiens.
To summarize the 1986 season, there was one championship and three championship appearances. On an individual level, there were two MVP’s in Bird and Clemens. Boston fans will always remember the ups and downs of 1986.
This was, perhaps, the most gratifying season of the all for Boston sports fans. The Red Sox were loaded with talent. On offense, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Johnny Damon led the way. Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling gave the Red Sox an amazing top two in the rotation. The Red Sox won the AL Wild Card and swept the Angels winning the final game on an Ortiz walk off. Then came the Yankees. At that time, there was no bigger rivalry in sports. These two teams faced each other in the ALCS the previous season with the Yankees winning in seven games. It left a very bitter taste in our mouths. This time, the Yankees took a 3-0 lead and it seemed as if the curse was real. Then history was made. The Red Sox won four games in a row and won the American League pennant at Yankees Stadium. It’s a day Boston sports fans will never forget. There was still more work to do though. The Red Sox kept the momentum going in the World Series with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. The weight was off the shoulders of Red Sox Nation. The Red Sox were finally champions!
The Patriots started off the 2004 calendar year as the top seed in the AFC after posting a 14-2 record. The Patriots defeated the Titans in the AFC Divisional Round and then it was on to the AFC Championship Game against the Colts. The Patriots defense shut down Peyton Manning as they intercepted him four times. It was at this time that the Patriots defense was the strength of the team. They shut teams down and allowed the Patriots offense to manage games. Antowain Smith ran for 100 yards and David Givens caught eight passes including a touchdown from Tom Brady. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots faced the Panthers. This game was not a typical Patriots game that year as it became a shootout in the second half. Brady got the last laugh in one of his elite games throwing for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Adam Vinatieri broke the 29-29 tie with a 41 yard field goal. The Patriots were champions for the second time in three years! Oh, and then they went 14-2 again to end the 2004 calendar year en route to another title. What a year!
In 2003-04, The Bruins won the Northeast Division with 104 points. Mike Sullivan was the head coach and he instilled a winning attitude to the team in his first season. Joe Thornton led the way offensively with 73 points. Andrew Raycroft won the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year as the Bruins goaltender. Great season, right?! Well, it ended too early. Despite their great regular season, the Bruins got bounced by guess who in the first round of the playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens.
Here’s where the shoe doesn’t fit. The Celtics were 36-46 in the 2003-04 season. Paul Pierce was entering his prime years and he had no players around him. Pierce averaged 23 points a game that year and it seemed as if his career was headed in the wrong direction. As we know, this changed for the better later on. Despite their poor record, the Celtics managed to slide into the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference. They were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
In summary, 2004 brought Boston two championships, an additional first place finish, and all four teams made the playoffs. More importantly, it was the season that took Boston from being a losing sports city to the top sports city in the country. What an amazing change for the city!
The Best Year
One way to look at it is would you rather have two teams make it to the championship and win or would you rather have three championship appearances and win one? Most fans would take the two titles. Another factor here is the impact those championships made on the city.
In 1986, it wasn’t really surprising that the Celtics won the championship. It was actually expected. If you lived through their title runs, you already know that it was Finals or bust for the Celtics. The Red Sox loss to the Mets was miserable. It was just another example of the Red Sox choking in the big moments. The Pats had a great title run which really was the unexpected story here.
The 2004 Red Sox title had a major impact on the city of Boston. The Patriots title and dominance during this stretch was in full force at the time. The Bruins regular season gave fans hope, but they underachieved in the playoffs. The Patriots and Red Sox ruled this city during those years and they still do today. Boston had the best baseball team and the best football team in the same year. Two championships that made a major impact win out!
2004 was the best year in Boston sports with 1986 close behind.
Let’s hope that 2016 and 2017 can be in the discussion ten years from now!