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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Reflections

It seemed everything starting falling into place for all eyes to see, all mesmerized fingers to point at, and all mouths to vainly resist the temptation to make presumptuous proclamations, right when I perched myself on the Providence College campus for orientation last Labor Day weekend.

After all, the Red Sox were stepping into the stretch drive, Randy Moss' Patriot debut was days away, Celtics buffs patiently waited for the new Big Three to get to work, and there was even a little positive talk about Boston's professional kickers and icers. All that, in the eyes of local talk show hosts, more than warranted preparation for a series of parades

I may have been a meager eight-years-old when I first left Rhode Island, but I remembered enough to see the ocean-and-sky contrast. At the same time, it was perplexing as to how this region could have gone from a rut of hopelessness and indifference a decade ago to making careless assumptions. What if all of this crashed and burned? What if teams hailing from other cities prove that they kind of want to woo their fans too?

In any case, the implicit nine-month plan for Boston sports has, as of this past week, officially run its course. Fans didn't get everything they wanted. But collectively, the other shoe didn't do much drop as brush a couple of cleats in the dirt without any permanent damage.

So how can we commemorate this virtually inimitable stretch of jubilation? I have an idea. In honor of the region's Party Guy of the Year, Jonathan Papelbon (who else?), we now list New England's Top 58 (beat that, Heinz) sports highlights since September.

September 1- Red Sox call-up pitcher Clay Buchholz, in only his second major league start, zaps the Orioles, 10-0, in a no-hitter.

September 9- Ellis Hobbs returns the first kickoff of the season for an NFL-record 108 yards, sparking an eventual 38-14 Patriots win over the Jets.

September 12- David Ortiz snaps an unusual personal skid, launching his first walk-off home run since July of 2006 for a 5-4 final in an earthquake of a battle with the still-Devil Rays.

September 16- The Pats win their home opener, topping San Diego 38-14.

September 28- Four weeks after the soon-to-be-benched Buchholz has his highlight, the Orioles contribute to another Fenway fiesta. This time, Baltimore stamps an unlikely extra inning rally against the Yankees before a standing-room only jumboscreen audience back in Boston. Cue the cork-popping and Riverdancing. The Sox are AL East Champions for the first time in a dozen years.

October 3- The Revolution top FC Dallas, 3-2, to capture the US Open Cup.

October 5- Manny Ramirez catapults a walk-off homer for a 6-3 game victory and 2-0 ALDS lead over the Angels.

October 7- It's the first of many savory double-doses of "Dirty Water" as the Pats vanquish the Browns, 34-17, improving to 5-0 and then the Sox abolish the Angels, 9-1.

October 8- The Indians dump the Yankees, 6-4, finishing the bracket for the ALCS.

October 18- The Bruins, returning from a 3-2 performance in a west coast venture, win their home opener, 4-1, over Tampa Bay. Not long after that's polished off, the Red Sox stave off elimination through a 7-1 pasting of the Indians.

October 20- In a spontaneous matinee game meant to accommodate Game 6 of the ALCS, Phil Kessel -being Phil Kessel- scores the walk-off goal in a shootout against the Rangers. Later in the evening, the Sox force Game 7 by way of a 12-2 triumph, J.D. Drew grand slam and all.

October 21- At midday, the Pats morph their record to 7-0, topping the Dolphins 49-28. Then former Indian Coco Crisp makes a daring slide into the uniquely figured centerfield wall to finish an 11-2 pennant clincher for the Red Sox.

October 24- Game 1 of the World Series? You sure? The Sox outhit the Rockies, 17-6, and outscore them, 13-1, to draw first blood in the Fall Classic.

October 25- A three-in-one triumph night for New Englanders (or two for those who weren't on the bandwagon for the region's only legit D-I football squad). Final scores: Red Sox 2, Rockies 1 in the eventual season finale at Fenway; Bruins 3, Blackhawks 1; BC 14, Virginia Tech 10.

October 27- September call-up Jacoby Ellsbury slugs out four hits, three of them doubles, drives in two runs, and twice crosses the plate himself as part of the Red Sox’ 10-5 Game 3 victory at Coors Field.

October 28- In their most lopsided victory yet, the Patriots improve to 8-0 with a 52-7 victory over Washington. The next morning (by about six minutes, specifically) Papelbon closes Game 4 of the World Series.

November 2- So far, so good. The ultra-hyped debut of Kevin Garnett sees him pitch in 22 points as the Celtics win their opener, 103-83, over the Wizards.

November 3- Taylor Twellman is the decider in a 1-0 Revolution victory over the New York Red Bulls before 10,116 at Gillette Stadium, setting a conference final bout with Chicago.

November 4- The Pats thrash through dense officiating and the defending champion Colts for a 24-20 victory and 9-0 transcript on the season.

November 8- Twellman does it again, inserting the only strike in a 1-0 knockout of the Fire, propelling the Revs to the MLS Cup Final.

November 16- Their season two weeks old, the Celtics are suddenly 8-0 after pinning the Miami Heat, 92-91, at the Garden.

November 23- The Garden double-shifts as the Bruins conduct their traditional post-Thanksgiving matinee and the Celtics take in the Lakers in anticipation of replenishing an old rivalry that same evening. Both Boston teams are victorious.

December 3- One question: "Are you serious?" The Patriots salvage the goose-egg in the L column in the last minute as Jabar Gaffney's catch completes an excessively suspenseful drive and pulls them ahead of the Ravens for good, 27-24.

December 18- Eight Patriots –Tom Brady, Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Randy Moss, Asante Samuel, Mike Vrabel, and Vince Wilfork- are placed on the AFC Pro Bowl roster.

December 23- The Dolphins, now being bossed around by the Tuna, submit to the Pats, 28-7, at Gillette. Fittingly, the win is the Pats 15th of the regular season, breaking a record once held by the Miami franchise.

December 29- The P-word becomes permanently valid, at least for the regular season, as the Patriots wrestle down the determined Giants, 38-35, improving to 16-0.

December 30- Call it post-holiday greens, if you will. The Celtics sweep four games in four western cities in five nights, finishing things off with a 110-91 triumph over the Lakers.

January 5- After the Pistons handed them their only loss in the month of December, the Cs return the favor at the Palace with a 92-85 win, their 18th in the last 19 tries.

January 9- Yet again, a Celtics hot streak is briefly disrupted with a loss to Charlotte. But up till then, as some media outlets noted, the region’s three most regal teams had gone on an aggregate 46-3 tear since Game 5 of the ALCS.

January 12- The Pats improve to 17-0 overall, using an ultimately decisive fourth quarter (14-3 scoring differential) to abolish a persistent Jacksonville team, 31-20.

January 19- The Bruins commemorate the 50th anniversary of Willie O'Ree's barrier-busting NHL debut in the first intermission, then zap the Rangers in a shootout thanks to Zdeno Chara's stunning slapper from the high slot.

January 20- 18-0 and bound for their fourth Super Bowl appearance in a span of seven years. In their home finale, the Patriots hoist the AFC Championship trophy upon neutralizing the Chargers, 21-12.

January 27- The Bruins' Marc Savard pots the decisive goal and Tim Thomas is credited with the win in the Eastern Conference's 8-7 triumph in the NHL All-Star Game. Scoring with a mere 21 seconds to spare in regulation, Savard's feat evokes memories of Ray Bourque at the then-infant FleetCenter in 1996.

February 8- Leon Powe tips the scale through a last-second layup to win Kevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota, 88-86, for the Cs. More than a month later, in an embarrassingly delayed reaction, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor breaks out the “tanking” accusations that apply to ten-month-old events anyway.

February 17- The Big Three and coach Doc Rivers help the Eastern Conference to a come-from-behind 134-128 victory in the NBA All-Star Game. Ray Allen contributes a team-leading 28 points in the effort.

February 26- Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli decides against tweaking his roster at the trade deadline, and then his skaters validate that decision with a 4-0 annihilation of the Senators.

March 1- Kessel makes the difference again as the Bs top Atlanta in a shootout for a season-high sixth consecutive victory.

March 20- The Celtics seal a three-game-in-four-night sweep of the NBA's revered Texas Trinity, edging the Dallas Mavericks by a 94-90 differential.

March 25- The Red Sox begin their title defense on a winning note, defeating the Oakland A's, 6-5, in Tokyo. Hideki Okajima is credited with the win in his regulation return to the home country.

March 29- Even if it's just nipping back and moving on, the Revs win their season opener, 3-0, over Houston Dynamo in a rematch of the last two MLS Cup Finals.

March 29- Before they retool for the North American half of their opening series with Oakland, the Sox pull over in LA for a record-setting exhibition at the legendary Coliseum, beating Joe Torre’s Dodgers, 7-4, in front of an estimated 115,300 fans.

April 4- A gritty 2-1 final in Ottawa seals the Bruins long-awaited playoff berth.

April 8- The well-traveled, globally regal Red Sox finally come home to hang up the 2007 banner, then proceed to puncture the Tigers, 5-0.

April 12- The Boston College men's hockey team throttles Notre Dame, 4-1, for the NCAA championship, ending a seven-year title drought for Hockey East (take it from an eastern-bred puckhead, that really is an excruciating hiatus).

April 13- Marc Savard slugs home the OT winner for the Bruins first overhaul of the Canadiens in ten meaningful tries. All of a sudden, the first round series is 2-1, Montreal. Word of the win travels fast across town to a grateful Fenway crowd who will soon witness the conclusion of an 8-5 win over the Yankees.

April 16- The Celtics stamp a final regular season transcript of 66-16 by way of a 105-94 triumph of the Nets in their home finale.

April 17- The Bruins keep breathing after achieving their first win at Montreal’s Bell Center in eons, and a 5-1 triumph at that, to cut the series deficit to 3-2.

April 19- In what will be their final local appearance of the year, the Bruins detach 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 deficits, then regroup quickly after Montreal re-knots the game at four-all only 11 seconds after Phil Kessel made it 4-3. Final result: Marco Sturm scores with 2:37 to spare, ultimately stamping a 5-4 win and forcing Game 7.

April 26- Boston University forward Colin Wilson, virtually the lone collegian of note in the prospect pool, is ranked 10th overall by the Central Scouting Service’s final leaderboard before the 2008 NHL Draft.

May 4- Close call, though not-so-close score. The Celtics win Round 1 with a 99-65 Game 7 throttling of the Hawks.

May 18- The Celtics flirt with Patriotic disaster again, only to defibrillate the Garden once more with a 97-92 Game 7 win over the Cavaliers.

May 19- Jon Lester, cancer survivor and pitching victor in the World Series clincher last autumn, keeps hoops addicts awaiting the Pistons occupied with a no-hitter against Kansas City.

May 22- An 11-8 triumph of the Royals gives the Sox perfection in an under-the-radar seven-game homestand.

May 30- Six days after they splashed their playoff road victory drought in Game 3, the Cs hustle back from a late 70-60 deficit in Game 6 to clinch the Eastern Conference in suburban Detroit. Everyone is quick to turn their heads to one final "Back to the 80s" venture, kindling "Beat LA!" chants that are not to stop until June 19 (designated date for Game 7) at the latest.

June 12- Neither Jack Nicholson nor anybody else in the purple-and-gold Staples Center audience can handle The Truth. Paul Pierce's team-leading 20 points, along with Ray Allen's 19, James Posey's 18, and bushels more from the rest, play a factor in the Celtics' record-breaking rally. On a night that initially unfolded like Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, Boston ultimately finds itself up, 3-games-to-1, in the NBA Finals.

June 17- If Bon Jovi’s “Livin On A Prayer” wasn’t already penciled in as the Celtics’ answer to “Sweet Caroline,” it surely was in the final minute of Clinch Night at the Garden. Ironically, as the brimful crowd and even their sideline-bound heroes joined in song during the last timeout, all data said Boston’s b-ball prayers had been answered. When the buzzer finally sounds (and not a moment too soon what with the hugs, the championship outerwear, and the Gatorade already fizzing out into visibility) your final is: Celtics 131, Lakers 92. Friartownites may have had that little moment where they internally lamented, “Couldn’t we have kept Ryan Gomes for this?” but victory is victory.

June 18- In the Sox’ unofficial first day back in the forefront of local minds, J.D. Drew, who has expressly stepped up for an ailing Big Papi all month, peaks in a 7-4 win over the Phillies. A 4-for-5 performance, accompanied by four RBIs and two runs scored, nudges his batting average to .327 and slugging percentage to a Cyclopean .601.

June 19- The Duck Boats are enlisted for their second athletic-specific parade in less than eight months. Meanwhile, their previous leasers, the Red Sox, have the day off with an American League-best 46-29 transcript and the Revs are tops in MLS so far at 8-3-3.

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