But you'll be prepared because you've heard it all before!
Thanksgiving is approaching which means... a whole day of football and gluttonous food consumption! It also brings out the drunken stupidity of your loves ones and whoever they've brought to your gathering; which means you will inevitably find yourself inexplicably having to defend your fabulous football fandom.
But you'll be prepared because you've heard it all before!
I don't know what happened in Ferguson, Missouri beyond what the media has told me. I know an unarmed boy was shot and killed. I have heard he was a criminal, engaging in unlawful activity..
I also know there are serial killers in prison getting married. This is because our justice system is such that you can commit even the most heinous of crimes and still be deemed worthy of life until otherwise ruled in a court of law. Unarmed teenagers, no matter how misguided, should not be getting killed.
And innocent people should not have their property and livelihood burned to the ground.
None of us endure this life without injustice. We should all continue to fight peacefully for what is rightfully ours; economically, judicially and socially. I just can't stand to see this type of hatred between my fellow Americans and humans. My love goes out to all who have suffered the injustice of this ongoing war we engage in amongst ourselves.
Hey everyone! I plan to start sharing my more viral pieces on Buzzfeed as well as here on OBTC. This is my first Buzzfeed Community post, so go check it out!
For the sake of this article as a follow up to The Five Biggest NFL Disappointments of 2014, these NFL surprises are good ones. The NFL has been full of surprises this year, from "washed up" quarterbacks having revival seasons to career long backups arriving to save the day. Whether your fantasy waiver wire pickup turns out to be brilliant or your team is refusing to lose their division without a fight, these are a reminder that being an NFL fan can be awesome.
Forsett has been an NFL running back since 2008, and although he's still in his physical prime he has become somewhat of a journeyman. This season may change that.
Forsett has played for four different teams in the last four seasons after spending his first four NFL years in Seattle. Prior to 2014, he'd started just seven games and his best season was in 2009 when he rushed and received for a combined 969 yards and five touchdowns. This season he was supposed to be another utility/third down back, but in the wake of Ray Rice's indefinite suspension he has become the backbone of the Ravens run game. Forsett earned his first start in Week 3 but has played in every game this season, already amassing 720 yards rushing for five touchdowns and 31 receptions for 202 yards. He's 4th in the league in total rushing yards and has 24 rushes of 10+ yards, which is second only to DeMarco Murray's outrageous 35. He's also fumbled the ball just once this season, and it did not result in a turnover.
Not only is it great to see a player take the most of their opportunity to have a breakout year, but it's extra satisfying to know that the Ravens have managed to reinvigorate their running game without Ray Rice; which serves to further prove just how replaceable he is.
The Miami Dolphins
Let's be honest, no matter how good of a season the Miami Dolphins put together they are constantly in the shadow of the Patriots. It seems like it would be easy for a team of young players, a new GM and an embattled coach to get frustrated by playing in a division that New England has completely owned since 2001. Yet they don't.
The 6-4 Dolphins are currently 2nd in the AFC East behind the 7-2 Pats, but with their win over Brady and Co. in Week 1 of the season, they have set themselves up nicely to stay on their heels and at least give them a run for their money. The AFC East may not seem as competitive as some of the other divisions this year, but right behind them are the 5-5 Buffalo Bills being lead by the reinvented Kyle Orton 2.0 who is having a sneakily good season. The Dolphins are keeping things exciting, and with the way this season is shaking out across the league, there is no counting anyone out.
Ryan Tannehill certainly doesn't look like he's winning a Super Bowl this year, but he has a fantastic arm, he's surprisingly mobile and he has fearlessness that is not marred by the type of overeager, injury-inducing decision making that has haunted other young quarterbacks with the same moxie. Elite pass rusher Cameron Wake has 10.5 sacks on the season so far, and is a leader for a talented but inexperienced defense. With the current state of the AFC, the Dolphins are right in the mix of wild card contention with the Kansas City Chiefs and whatever team happens to be second at any given time in the AFC North. For the few diehard sports fans in Miami, hopefully this is a consolation in the post-Lebron era.
The AFC North
AFC North Standings
Week 11, 2014 Season
Cleveland Browns 6-3
Cincinnati Bengals 5-3-1
Pittsburgh Steelers 6-4
Baltimore Ravens 6-4
PRAISE THE LORD the Cleveland Browns are leading the AFC North!
I think it's safe to say that the AFC North is the least likable division in the NFL. The Ravens and their fans and their completely unwarranted persecution complex are getting worse as time goes by. The Bengals have perfected the art of choking in a way that would be admirable if it weren't so pathetic, and no one has ever felt bad for the Steelers. Ever. The Browns and their fans, in their all of their historically sucktastic glory, have lamented less across their entire existence than the Ravens do on one average NFL Sunday.
Browns fans have been so beaten down by the top-to-bottom mess that is their franchise that they aren't even mad that they wasted their time with Johnny Manziel only to start winning with Brian "the dude who backed up Tom Brady for a few years" Hoyer. They just don't even care. Throw whoever you got out there, and if it sticks, they're good. They've been let down enough to know how to ride a god wave while it lasts and that is all the more reason to be psyched about the Browns right now.
Not only are they theoretically the team to root for, they are actually earning their stripes on the field; especially defensively. Cornerbacks Tashaun Gipson and Buster Skrine are 1st and 3rd respectively in interceptions this season for a total of ten. Five different players on their defense have at least 2.0 sacks, lead by Paul Kruger who has 6.0. The pickup of longtime Cardinal Karlos Dansby proved to be a huge improvement to their linebacking core, as his 69 total tackles leads the team and is tied for 18th best in the league.
The Cardinals Defense
To be fair, the Arizona Cardinals in general are a fantastic surprise this NFL season. Entering the season, they were rightfully considered the third best team in their own division. Now they have the best record in the NFL at 8-1. That record is even more impressive when you really break down the teams that they have beaten already, which include the divisional rival Seahawks and 49ers and conference competitors the Cowboys and Eagles. One or both of the latter teams is headed for the playoffs, and with the tiebreakers secured, the Cardinals control their own fate at this point. The key to that destiny is their defense.
Their offense has been good, not great. Carson Palmer tore his ACL last week to end his season, so Drew Stanton is once again their starter. I'm of the mind that anything Palmer could do, Stanton can too; which means that offensively they should be able to stay on track, if not improve.
Either way the heart of the Cardinals is their defense, and they are quietly the most impressive unit in the NFL because they are doing it without almost all of their best defensive players from their fantastic 2013 defense. Leading tackler Karlos Dansby now plays for the Browns. They're missing both of their best defensive ends; Daryl Washington was suspended for the year and Darnell Dockett suffered a season-ending ACL tear in training camp. They also lost their best pass rusher in John Abraham, who had 11.5 sacks last season, when he suffered a concussion in Week 1 and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Those four players would be missed individually on any team in the league, but to lose all of them in the span of a few months would have decimated most defensive units.
That's not the case in Arizona. They have the 3rd best run defense in the league and are tied with the Patriots for the best turnover differential at +12. If you've read enough of my work you know that I am obsessed with the correlation between turnover differential and late season/postseason success. (The Patriots and Cardinals are currently the two number 1 seeds in the NFL).
The Cardinals have only turned the ball over seven times as a team, which is the second fewest behind the Patriots' six turnovers. Their defense has nineteen takeaways including two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The best thing a defense can do when they have lost significant talent is create turnovers and capitalize on them. There is nothing more devastating to another team than to be terrified to make a mistake, and that's what the Cardinals are doing to their opposition.
When it comes to the conversation of the status of aging former Super Bowl champion quarterbacks, Roethlisberger is usually last to be mentioned behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and sometimes even Aaron Rodgers. But Big Ben's resurgence this year is a potent reminder of just how resourceful he has been over the span of his career.
Perhaps it's his style of play and the fact that he's never possessed the finesse of many of his Champion contemporaries. Just look at that picture above. No, that's not Ben holding the ball over his head in celebration. That's a picture of him IN THE MIDDLE OF THROWING A PASS. What professional athlete throws like that? The ball is still firmly in his grasp, so when is his release point? How does that ball not just fly firmly into the dirt in front of him, or fly backwards out of that weird, loose excuse for a grip? I can't think of another athlete that could create enough range of motion from that position to complete a pass. You can't not be impressed by that.
Not only has he managed to be massively successful despite throwing the football like a neanderthal, he's currently on pace to have the best statistical season of his career at the age of 34. Plus he just became the only quarterback in the history of the NFL to throw six touchdown passes in two consecutive games. Check this out:
Comp Pct 63.3
Passer Rating 92.6
Through Week 10, 2014
Comp Pct 68.5
Passer Rating 107.3
FIrst of all, that's a great reminder of how good Roethlisberger's career statistics really are. His numbers this year have not only been even better than his career averages, but he's on pace to throw for a personal record 4,896 yards and 37 touchdowns. Those numbers at his age are only achieved by Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and his 2014 performance so far is a big step towards cementing a future spot in Canton.
Will Brinson, head NFL writer for CBS Sports, asserted in his Wednesday column that Rob Gronkowski is currently a better MVP candidate than Tom Brady. Brinson is not the first to mull this theory over, but because I respect him as a writer it is he who I will quote in my categorical disagreement.
A receiver has never won the AP NFL MVP; not Jerry Rice, not Michael Irvin, not Lynn Swann. In fact there have only been three players given the title that weren't either a quarterback or a running back: DT Alan Page in 1971 (MIN), PK Mark Moseley in 1982 (WAS) and LB Lawrence Taylor in 186 (NYG).
There are a variety of reasons as to why receivers do not win the award. Unlike the QB or the running back, there is never a time that they are the only player on the field at their position. A wide receiver may successfully and even impressively complete a play and create offense once they have possession of the ball, but the inherent nature of the receiver position means that they are rarely called upon to bear the brunt of consistent responsibility for creating positive yardage or scoring. Someone has to get them the ball, and that's usually a quarterback who is playing every single offensive snap of the game.
A high-caliber starting running back can become the majority leader of a specific offense or game plan in a way similar to a quarterback. When Adrian Peterson was awarded the MVP in 2012, he carried the ball 348 times; an average of over 21 carries per game. The record for most single-season receptions all-time is 148, set by Marvin Harrison in 2002.
Brinson's argument for Gronkowski is based on Brady's increased effectiveness with Gronk on the field as opposed to without; which is a surprisingly elementary conclusion. Every elite quarterback is better when their best receiver is on the field. The better the receiver, the greater the impact is when they play and the more their absence is felt when they don't. But does it really mean that someone is the most valuable player in the NFL just because the quarterback throwing them the ball is better when they are there?
If Gronkowski were on a team quarterbacked by anyone other than Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or maybe Drew Brees, there is not a chance in hell he gets MVP consideration. He is absolutely one of the best players receiving the ball in the NFL, and he's certainly on pace to become one of the best ever a his position. So was Jerry Rice and although the GOAT has many awards, the AP NFL MVP is no one of them.
Tony Gonzalez is statistically the greatest tight end of all time (for now); a first ballot HOF-er with a list of impressive records a mile long. He may have made his quarterbacks look better, but his dominance certainly wasn't enough to get any of his teams to a Super Bowl, because a receiver just can't be that x-factor. If they could, you can bet Gonzalez would have player in a Super Bowl. Not only did he not play in a Super Bowl in his seventeen seasons with nary an injury to speak of, but he only played in seven playoff games!
In 2001 when Torry Holt made 81 catches for 1,363 yards receiving and Isaac Bruce made 64 catches for 1,106 yards receiving, it was Kurt Warner who was named MVP. When Marvin Harrison was shattering receiving records and playing alongside Reggie Wayne, it was Peyton Manning who was named MVP. In 2011 when Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings combined for 2,212 yards and 24 touchdowns, Aaron Rodgers was named MVP. In 2007 when Randy Moss had probably the greatest season by a wide receiver in the history of the NFL with 98 receptions for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns, Tom Brady was named MVP.
None of those quarterbacks in any of those examples would have had the type of statistical success they had those years without the talent of those receivers. But Warner was still great after Bruce and Holt, Manning was still great after Harrison, Brady was still great after Moss and Rodgers was still great after Jennings.
When Brady won the MVP in 2010, he was the first quarterback since Brett Favre in 1996 to win it without a 1,000 yard receiver. Last year the Patriots won the AFC East at 12-4, earned a first-round bye and made it to the AFC Championship game; all while Gronk only played in seven games and missed the playoffs. To assert that he is the most valuable player on a team that made it the conference championship without him last year is a gross overstatement.
Gronkowski is a player the likes of which the NFL has really never seen. He is revolutionizing the tight end position. His football intelligence and comprehension of the offense is nearly perfect, he is impossible to defend and his impact is felt even when he is not catching the ball or blocking because he draws so much coverage. He'd be an elite athlete no matter what team he was on, but he is a better football player because he gets to play with Tom Brady. Don't mistake it for the other way around.
Every season the media, the pundits and the fans declare their hopes and expectations for the season ahead of them. This list is a reminder that whether it's your hometown team, your favorite fantasy draft pick or the division you cover for the local blog, the NFL can be a big fat dream crusher.
5. The Chicago Bears
Last year the Bears signed Jay Cutler to a contract worth $126, 700,000; $38 million of which is guaranteed. That total contract is the second largest in the history of the National Football League. So Cutler seems like the obvious scapegoat for what has turned out to be a full on embarrassment of a season for Chicago. Except for the fact that he is performing above his career averages in nearly every statistical category. Check this out:
Cutler is doing the job that the Bears asked him to do; they just happen to be paying him way too much to do it. In fact, the Bears offensive skill players having been having pretty good seasons. Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffry are an above average group of starters right now. But it's hard to win with a defense that is allowing 30.8 points per game. A few of their blowout losses have come against elite offenses like New England and Green Bay in which the Bears defense has given up insurmountable first-half leads.
If Cutler is going to be your quarterback and you are going to stand behind his style of play, the defense has to be able to stay on the field and produce. Cutler can't be forced into shootouts because, as evidenced by their last few losses, they will lose if that's what the game comes down to. That's why this season is a blatant schematic failure by the coaching staff and personnel. The disarray in the Bears locker room along with their sinking record is a reflection of an organization that has dropped the ball categorically; in spite of having the necessary pieces in plce.
4. Vernon Davis
It's hard to tell whether Davis is falling off or if it is a purposeful offensive decision to steer away from using him the same way.
Davis was one of the best tight ends in the NFL last year. Going into Week 11 of 2013, he had 30 receptions for 520 yards and 7 TDs. This year he has 17 receptions for 169 yards and 2 TDs, which is disappointing when you consider that he caught 11 passes for 180 yards and 2 TDs in just Week 6 last year against the Arizona Cardinals. Obviously the addition of Stevie Johnson to an already formidable 49ers' wide receiving core has impacted Davis' targets. Johnson has caught 31 of 40 passes thrown his way this season, translating into a 78% chance he will make the catch when he's targeted. It's tough to argue with that type of efficiency, except for the fact that it's currently not enough to help propel them ahead of some stiff divisional competition.
Perhaps his decreased production is due to Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff limiting the use of the tight end position as a receiver. If that's the case, they should consider going back to more of what they did last year, as they have lost two of their last three games and have only twice scored more than 27 points in a game this season. At 5-4 and sitting at third place in the NFC West, their decision to limit their offensive versatility by reducing tight end sets this year may comeback to haunt them.
3. The NFC South
The New Orleans Saints are currently winning this division with a losing record of 4-5. This is how the NFC South stands right now:
New Orleans Saints 4-5
Carolina Panthers 3-6-1
Atlanta Falcons 3-6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-8
How is this possible? Just 10 months ago the Saints and Panthers were playoff teams with 12-4 an 11-5 regular season records respectively. It's no surprise that the Falcons and Bucs are bad, considering the state of their franchises recently. But for two of the NFC's best teams to drop off so dramatically is disappointing to say the least. Carolina's situation is the less troubling of the two, for a few reasons. Cam Newton is still vastly unproven as a consistent passer, and doesn't have the luxury of continuing to figure it out this year as he is the second leading rusher on his team behind a meager 299 yards rushing from Jonathan Stewart. Plus, their last four games (all losses) have been against the Packers, Seahawks, Saints and Eagles. That's a rough stretch. Still, there is never an excuse to lose four games in row. Plus, they couldn't even win a game that the Bengals tried to give away. That's where that ugly tie came from. Ain't nobody got time for ties.
The real travesty here though is the Saints. Their legendary turnaround defensively last year helped lead them back to the NFC Divisional game against the Seahawks in the playoffs. Injuries to their rushing core including Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson have stifled their run game, but with Drew Brees throwing the ball to reliable targets in Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and breakout rookie Brandin Cooks (who also has six rushes for 68 yards and a TD), it is perplexing that they have been unable to find a rhythm. It's been an odd few years for Sean Payton; maybe it's time for his tenure in New Orleans to come to a close.
2. Nick FOles
Talk about a tease. 2013-era Nick Foles had one of the best breakout years a young quarterback has had recently. He took over as the starter in Week 6, reinvigorating their offense and leading them to their first playoff birth since 2011. Foles finished the regular season 8-2 having completed 64.1% of his passes for 264.5 yards per game, 24 touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating was an astounding 118.9. He also downright outplayed Drew Brees in their hard fought wild card loss against the Saints, who won the game on a field goal with three seconds left.
Cut to 2014-era Nick Foles who is a full on hot mess. It's hard to believe that such success across an NFL season by a QB could be a fluke, but that's looking more and more like the case. He's thrown at least one interception in every game he's started this season for a total of ten. Not only have his stats dropped to underwhelming levels, but he just looks uncomfortable on the field. He's constantly scrambling around, unable to read the defense or get the ball off quick enough. That scrambling and panicking has lead to four fumbles so far this season; three of which were turnovers. It's so bad that Philly fans are actually trying to get themselves on board with the idea that Mark Sanchez could be their new starter. The Mark Sanchez that wasn't even good enough to start for the Jets...
At 7-2 and leading the NFC East it's obvious that the Eagles are making it work so far. But going from 2013-era Nick Foles to Butt Fumble McGee in less than a year cannot feel good.
1. Roger Goodell
By now most television-viewing and/or internet-having Americans are very familiar with the murky details surrounding the NFL Commissioner's handling of Ray Rice's suspension in the wake of physically assaulting his wife. Rice was originally suspended two games. When a more explicit video of him punching his then-fiancé unconscious was released by TMZ, Rice was suspended indefinitely. It was the biggest controversy the commissioner has dealt with in his time as the head disciplinarian of the NFL, and he botched it royally.
In his 45-minute press conference addressing the details surrounding Rice's suspension and the league's plans to overhaul their treatment of the issue of domestic violence within the NFL, Goodell was avoidant, dismissive and condescending. Rather than seizing the opportunity to express humility and offer an honest dialogue regarding the complex issue of enacting and enforcing NFL rules and regulations in conjunction with the law, he plead ignorance.
Goodell was reminded by a reporter in that press conference that his explanation for suspending Sean Payton from the NFL for a full year after the Saints BountyGate scandal in 2012 was that "ignorance is not an excuse." That reporter asked Goodell why ignorance was a good enough explanation for his behavior in light of the precedent he set when sanctioning Payton. He had no answer. When Goodell failed to answer that question with any level of honesty or integrity, he lost what was left of his credibility. It's hard to say how long he will try to fight his descent into the bowels of the public opinion, but as long as he does, he will continue to be the NFL's biggest active disappointment.
Eight of the thirteen Super Bowls played since 2001 have featured either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady representing the AFC. They are the two oldest quarterbacks in the league and in Week 9 of their 17th and 15th NFL seasons, they will once again face each other to battle for what could very likely be home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Both Manning and Brady have defied the odds. I wrote in 2011 that a lot of the reason they are both still able to compete at such a high level is because they have each other. Their work is never done because the other one is always on their heels, and they are both borderline psychotically competitive. Brady and Manning are in a league unto themselves They are each other's only true peer. Even the other elite quarterbacks of the last decade- Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning - have never perennially performed with such consistent success as Manning and Brady.
You can never truly tell which one will come out on top in a game between two first-ballot Hall of Famers. But you can make your most educated prediction, so that's what I'm going to break down for you today.
Here's the thing. Peyton Manning hasn't won at Gillette Stadium since Week 9 of 2006. His other win was in Week 9 of 2005; so he's 0-3 in his last three tries in Foxborough. His numbers at Gillette Stadium on the graphic to the right include the postseason. Despite the 2-6 record, he's actually played decently. He just hasn't played spectacularly, which is usually what a team has to do to beat the Brady/Belichick-era Patriots at home.
Brady's numbers aren't strikingly different from Manning's in those games; but he's definitely more efficient. Brady typically throws for fewer yards and fewer touchdowns than Manning in any given span, so these stats are in keeping with their norms. The biggest thing keeping Manning at bay when he plays at Gillette Stadium is the Patriots' ability to not just force interceptions and turnovers, but capitalize on them.
The most important variable in this game will not be yards or completion percentage, it will be turnovers.
Manning's penchant for turning the ball over in big situations has haunted him far more in the postseason than it has in Week 9; but in seasons like this it could make all the difference. In their Week 12 match up last season, Manning only threw one interception. That one interception gave the Patriots the ball on the Denver 30-yard line and they quickly converted it into a 14-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. That game was won by the Patriots by a field goal in overtime, meaning that one interception probably cost the Broncos the game.
The Patriots once again lead the NFL in turnover differential at +11. They've lead or been among the top of the league in that stat for the bulk of their time under Belichick; but most especially over the last seven seasons. Turnover differential is one of the best indicators of playoff chances and success in playoffs that there is. Denver is currently at +4, a decent number that has them tied for 8th best in the NFL.
Along that line, the Patriots and Broncos have two of the most talented secondaries in the league right now. The Broncos starting secondary consists of Aqib Talib (CB), Rahim Moore (S), TJ Ward (S) and Chris Harris (CB). The Patriots starting secondary is made up by Darrell Revis (CB), Patrick Chung (S), Devin McCourty (S) and Brandon Browner (CB). It's hard to say which one of those groups is better, so suffice it to say that most teams would be very happy with either of those lineups.
It goes without saying that Brady and Manning will play well in this game. They rarely don't, but they always step it up a notch for next level competition like this. Yet this battle between the two most elite offenses in the league will most likely come down to the guys that are defending them. The way it stands right now, the quarterbacks and their offenses are as evenly matched as it can get. That may have sounded crazy at the start of the season, considering the plethora of high-octane weapons on the Broncos. Now, it's not so far off.
The general consensus is that the elite Denver receivers are a better group on paper, but Tom Brady and his crew have closed the gap in recent weeks. Rob Gronkowski is indisputably the hardest player in the league to defend. Brandon LaFell is having a breakout year on the other end of Tom Brady's passes, partly due to the coverage demanded by Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Tight end Tim Wright has earned his stripes as a reliable end zone target by catching three touchdowns already, and don't forget that Shane Vereen is one of the better receiving backs in the NFL.
The final thing to factor into this prediction is the weather. The current late afternoon/evening forecast for Foxboro has the temperature at a cold and windy 37 degrees, with a low of 31. Peyton no longer plays in the comfort of a dome most of the time, so his fear of playing in inclement weather has been dialed back. Even still, he's only played in five games in weather below 40 degrees since joining the Broncos and he's gone 2-3. In his career , Manning is 8-11 in games below 40 degrees. Tom Brady is 32-4. That's a staggering number.
If both teams play to their equal offensive potential, this game comes down to defense and protecting the ball. In that situation at home, the Patriots should be your pick every time.
The time has finally come to go all championship all over the place. Part 1 and Part 2 shared an array of bad ass sports moments from regular season to playoffs to the Olympics and all things in between. Part 3 featured some of the most emotional moments in my life as a sports fan. But these next seven? These are what made me who I am today.
That may sound hyperbolic but it's true. I always wanted to be a sports writer and work in the sports media industry, but it all would have been a lot different had I come onto the scene in a different time. As a freelancer just out of college, I had the opportunity to cover the Celtics run to another NBA Finals in 2010. In my young career I have now covered the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Patriots making it to Super Bowl XLVI, the Bruins playing in another Stanley Cup Final in 2013, and the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2013.
We may never win another championship again in my life time, but those blessed opportunities to be a part of covering those games and sharing those moments with my city and the country.... that will fuel my fire for the rest of my career. That's why I wanted to write this piece and take such care and time with it. These memories are in my heart every day as I pursue this dream career; and when the chips are down and I feel tired or discouraged, they stir up my passion and kick start my instinctual need to always chase that feeling. That feeling in these moments. I'm a sports junkie, and I'll always want more.
Patriots Win Super Bowl XXXVIII
Number 7: The Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
First of all, for non-Patriots fans this game is largely remembered for its infamous halftime show that coined the term "wardrobe malfunction". Of course Janet Jackson's exposed nipple on the highest viewed telecast of the year doesn't sit at the forefront of my nostalgia as it perhaps does for so many others. It's a shame really, because outside of its pop culture relevance it's also widely considered to be one of the more exciting and dynamic Super Bowls in recent memory.
The Patriots were continuing on their dynastic rise, posting an elite and league-leading 14-2 regular season record. On the other hand the Panthers were a fairy tale story, appearing in the Super Bowl after going 1-15 in the 2002 season just one year prior. The game started out slow and defensive, going scoreless for almost 27 minutes; then the teams traded scoring possessions quickly before the end of the half, leading to a Patriots 14-10 halftime lead. The third quarter mirrored the first, with no scoring.
Then came a Super Bowl viewer's dream.
The 4th quarter featured 37 total points scored, the most in a Super Bowl and the most in any quarter by two teams. The fourth quarter was also the second in Super Bowl history to have five touchdowns scored in a single quarter, and it was the first time in Super Bowl history that both teams scored at least two touchdowns in the same quarter. The Patriots emerged on top, once again on a kick from Adam Vinatieri that would go 41 yards through the uprights to seal their second Super Bowl victory with a final score of 32-29.
In that game, the Patriots and Panthers combined for 868 yards of total offense, with both Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme throwing for at least 300 yards. That type of yardage by two QBs in a single Super Bowl had only happened one other time; when Dan Marino and Joe Montana did it in Super Bowl XIX.
Celtics Win 2008 NBA Finals
Number 6: The Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals.
This remains the only Celtics championship I can remember, but the drama of it all is enough to last me a while. The massive league-shifting trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the C's is for sure the most high-profile and effective trade that a Boston team has made since I've been a sports fan. After a dismal 2006-2007 season in which they finished 24-58, the Celtics organization was ready to stop it's downward spiral. Any fan of today's NBA will tell you how tough it is to watch a superstar waste away on a crappy team; and that's exactly what was happening to Paul Pierce.
So the Celtics decided they weren't packing up and going home; they were going big. In addition to Garnett and Allen, the Celtics drafted Glen Davis and brought in veterans Eddie House and Sam Cassell to boost their bench. All of the sudden the Celtics weren't just better; they were unstoppable. The new "Big Three" of Ray, KG and Paul led the green to a 66-16 record, giving them an all-time NBA record 42-game turnaround from the previous season. Their 66 wins would be the second most in franchise history, after the 67 wins from the legendary 1985-1986 team.
To top off what is the closest thing to a perfect season in the NBA that I can remember, the Celtics got to face their legendary rival Lakers in the Finals. They won the series at the TD Garden in Game 6, and put an exclamation point on their victory by demolishing the Lakers with a final score of 131-93.
It really doesn't get much better than that. The only thing I regret about seeing Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen win a championship together is that they didn't join forces when they were younger. Although since they didn't, I get to make up the hypothetical dynasty they could have had; which is almost just as fun.
Patriots Win Super Bowl XXXIX
Number 5: The Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles to win Super Bowl XXXIX.
At this point I was a senior in high school. My mom had let me skip school to go to the Patriots duck boat parade the year before. We'd literally JUST celebrated the Red Sox winning the world series three months prior, and I was staring down the barrel of another day off from school for another parade. It was like make believe.
Of course had it been the era of Facebook and Twitter, my elation could have been dampened by those across the country that were beginning to get real sick of Boston fans and their championships. Fortunately we were still about two years away from the social media revolution, so I was in a largely Boston via South Shore bubble. All I had around me was electric energy that only fed my high. I miss those days...
It also didn't suck to beat the Eagles. I liked the idea that we were beating a team that other people seemed to despise, although it didn't take me long to realize that the Patriots were on their way to being one of the most hated teams in the country.
No matter. The Patriots won the game 24-21, albeit nearly allowing the Eagles to make a comeback. It didn't feature the drama of the previous Super Bowl, but what it did feature was my favorite Super Bowl wide-receiver of all time; Mr. Deion Branch. Branch made an NFL record-tying 11 catches for 133 yards, and joined a group of very few NFL players to be named the Super Bowl MVP without catching a touchdown or throwing for one. On the backs of Branch and a Pats defense that forced four Philadelphia turnovers, New England won their third Super Bowl in four years.
Damn, it felt good to be a #dynasty.
RED SOX WIN 2004 WORLD SERIES
Number 4: The Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.
At first thought I figured this would be my number one. Sure the Patriots had won two Super Bowls by this time, but this was a turning point for the biggest and most loyal fan base in our city. I suppose the reason it's down here at number four is because it was so extremely hard for it not to feel anticlimactic after the ALCS vs. the Yankees. That series was one of, if not the greatest in the history of sports. The World Series still has a hard time competing with that memory.
Still, as far as I am concerned it's the end result of a championship that validated that amazing comeback in the ALCS. That's why the World Series is ranked here. There is no ultimate historic glory in winning the American League pennant; it had to be the World Series. The Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals and became the fourth team ever to win a World Series without ever trailing in any of the games.
I've gotten teary-eyed during all of these moments because I am a total cry baby. This one is the only one that really made me weep though. It was cathartic, knowing in some way it connected me to my Dad and to my Mimi; a long-time Red Sox fan who loved Pedro Martinez and Big Papi. She passed away less than one month after they won. Even just looking at the picture above with Curt, Papi and Pedro still gets me all choked up.
Bruins Win 2011 Stanley Cup Finals
Number 3: The Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Playoff hockey is phenomenal. Anyone who pays attention to the hockey knows that no sport picks ups it's pace, level of play or display of talent for the postseason better than the NHL. That's why this particular championship is so high on the list. That, and because the battle in the Finals against the Canucks was just about as brutal and beautiful and grueling and dramatic as a series can get. Covering it for Comcast SportsNet New England became my first real submersion into commitment to nearly 24-hour days of constant grinding work to cover a sporting event, and I loved every minute of it.
You've already read a lot from me about this postseason run, including the emotional loss of Nathan Horton and the statistical and historical brilliance of TIm Thomas' performance in net. Other dramatics included Alexandre Burrows blatantly biting Patrice Bergeron's finger, and Roberto Luongo complaining that he'd been "pumping [Tim Thomas'] tires the entire series and I haven't heard one nice thing he had to say about me"; to which Thomas comically responded, "I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires...".
Needless to say there was very little love lost between Boston and Vancouver on the ice for those seven games, and it couldn't have made for a better final victory. Three of their four series that postseason went to seven games, and as a viewer it was both exhausting and thrilling. The team itself was a perfect blend of classy hardworking veterans like Zdeno Chara, Mark Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg mixed with the offensive physicality of Milan Lucic, the accomplished two-way play of Patrice Bergeron, the scrappy speed and instigation of Brad Marchand, the insane offensive skill of David Krejci and Tyler Seguin, the devoted enforcing of Shawn Tornton and a heaping helping of 3rd and 4th line excellence from guys like Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley.
It was the kind of team and the kind of series that makes a 39-year drought almost worth it. The Bruins were the fourth and final of the major Boston teams to win a championship in an the eight-year span; and they did it with all the style, historical implications and larger-than-life personalities that we had come to love and expect in Boston.
Red Sox Win 2013 World Series
Number 2: The Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series.
This may seem oddly placed in my list considering all I've said about the historical and emotional implications of many of these other championships. This one is special for a different reason though.
I moved to Los Angeles by way of a seasonal gig that I was offered at the NFL Network. I was offered the job on August 28, 2013, and I began working in LA on that September 25th. It came along very quickly, and before I knew it I had driven 3,000 miles across the country with only the possessions that I could fit into my Hyundai Elantra. I was in a new city with no family and no friends to speak of.
The whirlwind of the move took a long time to catch up to me, so homesickness rarely kicked in. I was living the dream working for the NFL Network and being truly on my own for the first time in my life, and that was liberating and inspiring but could easily have become overwhelming and lonely. That's why as the resident Boston girl in a new town, it was a godsend to have the Red Sox in my life. I barely realized it at the time, but looking back I see that with no cable and no friends, it gave me the motivation to seek out new places to watch and be social; and that was huge for me.
I found Sonny McLean's in Santa Monica, and it soon became my second home. Nearly everyone there during Patriots, Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox games was a Boston fan. It was indescribable to have that much of a piece of home after moving so far away. When the Red Sox reached the World Series, I knew I had a place. If you were at Sonny's for a World Series game, the only way you'd know you weren't in Boston is if you stepped outside and saw the palm trees.
During Game 6, the crows was so big that I waited in line outside the bar for an hour before I could get in. I peered through the barred windows with other die-hard fans down the side alley as David Ortiz came up to bat, formidable as ever at the plate. He was intentionally walked four times by the terrified pitching staff of the Cardinals, and seeing him continually inspire and ignite the Red Sox nine years after his first World Series with them was just indescribable. There I was, in the middle of a new city on the other side of the country, watching Ortiz and the Red Sox beat Mike Matheny and the Cardinals in the World Series. Again. It was surreal, and the comfort and safety it brought to the chaotic newness of my life was integral to my transition here.
The video above is one I took inside the bar at the moment the Sox won Game 6. It's one of my best memories since coming to my new city. That team and that World Series will always have a special place in my heart.
Patriots Win Super Bowl XXXVI
Number 1: The Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams to win Super Bowl XXXVI.
This game was all about just being a fan. At the time that the Patriots won the AFC Championship game, I didn't care about the Rams being the "Greatest Show on Turf" or the fact that the last game the Patriots had lost was to the Rams in the regular season. I didn't care about Kurt Warner or Marshall Faulk. I was too caught up in my own excitement at the Patriots making it back to the Super Bowl that I barely even bothered to be nervous.
Until the game started. That's when I realized that since I'd been born, Boston teams rarely got this far and it always ended miserably when they did. That's when I realized that Kurt Warner and his nearly 5,000 yards and 101.4 quarterback rating on the season was the type of QB that won Super Bowls. Tom Brady was a 24-year-old backup who'd had a great season with an inspired defense, some big plays from offensive no-namers and a few lucky breaks. Warner and his Rams were the type of team that won Super Bowls. Backup Brady and his gang of merry Patriots did not.
Except they did.
They won that Super Bowl, and everything I'd known as a Boston sports fan was turned upside down. Underdog teams could win. Perennial losers could become champions. Tom Brady could become one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL and leave Kurt Warner in his dust.
This was the championship that started it all. It inspired me to talk about it and write about it. It gave me hope that the 41 years of torturous letdowns my Dad had endured in his short life wouldn't be passed on to another generation. It turned out to be the start of something in New England and Boston that I wouldn't have dared even dream about. It doesn't matter how many rushing yards they accumulated or how many touchdowns were thrown or who played at halftime. I don't even feel the need to recap the game at all, because the box score wasn't why this game was special.
It was special because as far as being a sports fan goes, it will never be any better than that moment you finally get to believe.
If you've been keeping up on this four part piece, then so far you have already gotten to relive fourteen of my best and favorite memories as a sports fan that have included everything from emotional returns to Boston to improbable pitching performances to Olympic heroics. If you haven't, then now is your time to hop on the nostalgia bandwagon and catch up on some fantastic Boston sports history. Check out Part 1 andPart 2 and then dive in here for Round 3!
Patriots vs Colts in 2003 AFC Championship Game
As far as I can recall this was really when people on a national level began realizing what the New England Patriots were becoming. They'd won the Super Bowl two seasons prior, dominated the regular season with a league best 14-2 record then came into the AFC Championship game and took easy care of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. People finally starting admitting what they'd already been thinking: these Patriots just may be the best team in football.
The elite Patriots defense tortured Manning, making him look not just fallible but downright bad. In a career that would become marred with disappointing postseason performances, this was one of his original stinkers. Manning went 23/47 for 237 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT and was sacked four times for a quarterback rating of 35.5. Tom Brady's stat line was uncannily similar, with a few major exceptions that I'm sure you can pick out; 22/36 for 237 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and sacked zero times for a quarterback rating of 76.1.
The Patriots won a defensive game by playing smart, minimizing turnovers, maximizing takeaways and trusting their kicker; an approach they have vastly stuck to even after their offensive renaissance in 2007. Some would argue that Adam Vinatieri is the unsung hero of the Patriots' Super Bowl era, and this game did plenty to support that theory. When his offense needed him that day, he made all of five of his field goals amidst the cloudy, 32 degree, snowy northeast weather. In a modern NFL where low-scoring defensive playoff games are hard to come by, it's games like these we should all love to remember.
Bruins vs Lightning in Game 7 of 2011 Eastern COnference FInals
By the time 2011 rolled around, no one was feeling bad for Boston fans, so the fact that the Bruins hadn't been in a Stanley Cup Finals since 1990 didn't exactly rally any national empathy. The funny thing was, besides Red Sox fans, it was the Bruins fans that had been tortured more than anyone in this town. Hockey fans in Original Six cities like Boston are the best sports fans you could meet. They are passionate, knowledgeable and loyal. Loving hockey in Boston is as instinctual as loving soccer in Brazil or football in Texas.
Red Sox vs Yankees in Game 7 of 2004 ALCS
Is there really anything I am going to tell you about this game that a thousand specials and documentaries already haven't? Outside of winning championships, this was the greatest sports moment in the history of Boston. In the United States, it's one of the greatest sports moments of all time. Before the Red Sox became perennial contenders boasting multiple World Series titles in the last decade, they were the scrappy underdogs that lived uncomfortably in the shadow of the New York Yankees. There was no way to script the 2004 ALCS any better.
In fact, no Hollywood screenwriter or movie director prior to 2004 would've even dared weave a tale so tall. It was an epic and historic comeback made more dramatic by the rivalry and more beloved because of the bearded, "Cowboy Up", "Why Not Us?" narrative that captured the hearts of not just New England, but the entire nation. Johnny Damon's grand slam, Alan Embree's final pitch and David Ortiz being awarded the series MVP all still live vibrantly in my memory; and I plan on reliving those glory days for the rest of my life.
"This is Our F***Ing CIty"
It's still hard to describe my emotions about these moments after the bombing of the Boston Marathon. They are still so fresh and recent in my memory and heavy on my heart, and yet I feel as though I've somehow carried them with me my entire life. I suppose that's what the Boston Strong mantra was all about; that deep connection to that day, in our city.
What many people outside of Boston and New England don't realize is that the Boston Marathon was a true holiday in Massachusetts (also celebrated in Maine and Wisconsin). It's a day we celebrate as Patriots' Day, commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Many people had the day off from work, and most kids began their April vacation that day. Families pour in from all over New England to be a part of a local tradition with international prominence. Some of those families would go to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play their home game, always scheduled at 11:00 am so that the attendees could pour out of the park and make their way to the finish line to cheer on the runners.
The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world, and it's celebrated as such across the Globe; but to us, it was a truly special day that encompasses everything we love about Boston, history, sports and community. Because the Red Sox have been such an integral part of that day for so long, it was a powerful moment when they played their first game at Fenway after the bombings. They paid beautiful tribute to the victims and heroic survivors, and the energy at the park that day was vibrating with so much emotion; sadness, anger, hope, determination, pride and perseverance.
When David Ortiz got up to speak in his familiar Dominican accent, the crowd was already worked up. He said what everyone really wanted to say; and he said it with the unapologetic brevity and profanity that only a true Bostonian could achieve:
"This is our fucking city. And nobody's gonna dictate our freedom. Stay Strong."
Bruins Tribute to Boston Marathon Bombing Victims And Crowd Sings National Anthem
The first major sports event to take place in the city after the bombing was a Boston Bruins game against the Buffalo Sabres. The game began with a video tribute and moment of silence in honor of the victims and survivors, and of course the crowd was tangibly emotional. That was evident when Rene Rancourt, who has been singing the national anthems at Bruins home games for over 35 years, took his usual spot on the ice. He usually steps out onto the carpet, belts his operatic version of the anthem while people finish grabbing their beers and finding their seats, and concludes with a couple of fist pumps to get the crowd going. That night in April, after just a few verses of the Star Spangled Banner, Rancourt lowered his microphone.
That night, the 17,565 Bostonians in the crowd would do the honors. It was an unplanned, organic and honest reaction by the crowd to their emotional state; a cathartic rendition of our most patriotic song to send a message to each other and to the world. It still gives me goosebumps, and makes me unbelievably proud to be a Bostonian.
Boston Red Sox WIn 2007 World Series
Cue the Dropkick Murphys.
Okay so I know I said that I wasn't ranking these in any particular order, and that has been true up until now. But as you know, we have reached the final eight; which means it's time to start talking CHAMPIONSHIPS! FINALLY!! So in the spirit of challenging myself a little, and because I am one of the most spoiled sports fans on planet earth, I'm going to rank every Boston Championship win that I can remember.
Number 8: The Red Sox win the 2007 World Series vs the Colorado Rockies.
This one was awesome, if only for the fact that I was attending a small liberal arts college at the time and the only instance in which we even came close to having a (fun, nonviolent) riot was when the Red Sox won the series in 2007. It featured the legendary Curt Schilling's final performance when he pitched in Game 2, pitching 5 and 1/3 innings and allowing one run and four hits. It also gave us the incredible MVP performance of Mike Lowell, who had become a Red Sox player mostly because the Marlins had demanded that he be part of the trade for Josh Beckett in order to be relieved of his salary. In the four game sweep of the Rockies, Lowell hit .400 with 1 HR, 4 RBI and 6 runs scored. He even nabbed a stolen base.
Perhaps the face of the 2007 World Series though was the manic and entertaining Jonathan Papelbon. In Game 4 of the series, Papelbon was brought to the mound in the 8th inning in an attempt to halt a Rockies comeback after they scored two runs in the inning to make the score 4-3. Papelbon effectively closed the game, earning his third save of the series. The photo above features his embrace with Jason Varitek after his final srikeout.
It wasn't a particularly dramatic series, but all of the sudden Red Sox fans were celebrating their second World Series in three years. At the time, this win felt like the ultimate jack pot. We now had TWO teams that were elite enough to start piling up hardware. Sure we knew we were getting spoiled, but we had no idea how much was still to come.
| Tanya Ray Fox |