Patriots vs Colts in 2003 AFC Championship Game
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.
I grew up on the South Shore, an area along the coast of Massachusetts between Boston and Cape Cod, and instead of Friday night lights and big Saturday tailgates, we had hockey. Moms and dads would haul their kids with their skates and pads and stinky hockey bags to rinks at 5am before school and on weekends. Every kid grew up learning how to skate somewhere on a frozen pond or on a mini rink that their dads made in their back yard. Our high school hockey team were the most popular of the jocks, and I went to Merrimack College, whose Division 1 team played in Hockey East, the best NCAA hockey division in the country. It's hockey that has been the biggest part of my every day life since I was a kid, and that's really the reason why this game was so special.
As a sports fan in Boston, all of my teams had won at least one title by this time and it seemed that maybe the Bruins had missed the town meeting at which the magic championship fairy dust had been sprinkled all over our pro sports teams. It had been 21 years since even appearing in a Finals and 39 years since they'd won, and their series with the Lightning had unsurprisingly been stretched to a gut wrenching 7th game. When the horn blew to signal the end of game, Tim Thomas' 24 saves on 24 shots and Nathan Horton's lone goal in the 3rd period sent the Bruins to the first Stanley Cup I'd ever remember them playing in. That was such a special moment to a kid from a hockey town.
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Patriots vs Steelers in 2004 AFC Championship Game
How could I not include the game that took the Patriots back to their third Super Bowl in four years? In the 2003 AFC Championship game, it was all about proving who they were and validating themselves as a legitimate NFL super power. In 2004, it had become just plain entertaining. In four years they had gone from being on the fringes of success to being the best team in the NFL; and their beat down of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road at Heinz Field was a glorious thing to watch. Steelers fans had always looked down on Patriots fans, flaunting their Terry Bradshaw jerseys and pictures of glittery trophies as New Englanders tried to block out nightmares of their tragic 1985 and 1996 Super Bowl appearances. Then in 2004, they won fourteen games in a row with a rookie quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger. They were definitely coming for the Patriots. Only this time, it was our turn. The game was nothing if not classic, wintry, northeast football. At 11 degrees Fahrenheit, it was the coldest game ever played by the Steelers and the second coldest ever played in Pittsburgh. Big Ben played fairly well but was added to a long list of good quarterbacks who would fall victim to the Patriots secondary, throwing three interceptions. Just as they’d done a year previously, the Pats balanced an efficient passing game from Tom Brady (14/21, 207 yards, 2 TDs) with a strong and balanced running game by Corey Dillon and another perfect kicking game from Adam Vinatieri. The Steelers became only the second 15-1 team in history to fail to make it to the Super Bowl, and the Patriots went on to… well, you know.
Red Sox vs Yankees in Game 7 of 2004 ALCS
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"
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
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
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.