Take a second to remember the year and the month.
October, 2004: Sean Penn hasn’t won an Oscar yet, the Florida Marlins are the defending World Series champions, Alex Rodriguez was “clean”, nobody in Vancouver knew who Steve Moore was, and we could rip out the lyrics to ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ ahead of anything scribbled by Kanye West. The Boston Red Sox were coming back down 0-3 to the New York Yankees and were chasing their first World Series in 86 years – a World Series they’d grab over the St. Louis Cardinals, who needed seven games and a clutch home run from Jim Edmonds (remember him?) to win the NLCS.
The New England Patriots were en route to their second straight Super Bowl – Tom Brady’s third – despite the show-stopping, pass-first regime formed by Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts.
The year, for Bostonians, couldn’t have been better.
They were the cream of everyone’s world, and all they needed were a few miracles. Whether miracle can be defined as a blown call that started it all or any hit by Mark Bellhorn, they happened. The Red Sox won the World Series under a lunar eclipse. The Patriots did it with a guy named Deion Branch – the same receiver who was unable to replicate his New England success anywhere else, which is the case with most folks who saddle up next to Tom Brady.
This was before the Red Sox became Yankees Beta, before they were known as the other team who tried to buy their championships, not win them. The Red Sox were still the loveable losers, like the Cubs or the (gulp) White Sox (I guess).
Nowadays, the Red Sox are as much the establishment as New York’s pinstripes – one of two or three franchises symbolizing baseball’s elite, the alpha dog to all the Rays and A’s and Orioles out there.
2004. This was the height of the New England Patriots’ “dynasty” (four years is quite a long time to be excellent in the National Football League), but it was before SpyGate sewed doubt into casual fans’ “creative” minds. It was before Belichick bowed to Tom Coughlin. (Cough. Twice.) Tom Brady could still beat any Manning, but he wasn’t breaking single-season touchdown records or tossing lay-ups to Randy Moss. He didn’t have Rob Gronkowski or the distractions of Chad Ochocinco or Aaron Hernandez.
The Patriots were, at their best, a football team. The Red Sox were, at one time, a bunch of idiots trying to make history happen for that sad-sack town with the cheating Vice Presidential nominee and the Zapruder President.
In 2004, Boston was the city with the sports base somehow outside the limelight… where the words ‘Tea Party’ were still spoken with pride, where born-to-poor geniuses could rise above their upbringing, where the Red Sox and Patriots represented the plucky, gritty, and blue collar nature of those within their boundaries.
The irony of it all, we know now, was that these two teams were never not elite, just like Boston’s never been not elite.
Sure, we see Ben Affleck movies and think everyone owns a crowbar and a dickish accent, but it’s not true. For every Charlestown or Southie loser you look at on a widescreen, there’s some guy with a suit and pomade’d hair on Beacon Hill. For every inner-harbour riot, there’s a Capitol building.
And, while the Red Sox were somehow once loved as baseball’s anti-Yankees – the anti-capital, anti-establishment, anti-typical underdog – the truth was they could never have been closer in cause. The Yankees were just better at it, but Boston was chasing the same dream with the same size chequebook.
And, while New England may have come across as the club helmed by a prophetic coach and a clutch quarterback in contrast to Peyton Manning’s automatic passing yards or Kurt Warner’s ‘Greatest Show on Turf’, they were never down on their luck or David to Goliath.
Sure, Brady had to wait six rounds before he was drafted, but Kurt Warner had to stock shelves at a grocery store for $5.50 and hour and huck it in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before the Rams took a chance on him. Peyton Manning fought the ‘choker’ label for years before he learned to wear it as a leather collar. In an odd way, those two guys earned their championships… Brady just won American Idol and a video review.
But, on Sunday and in October, 2013, Brady was at it again. He took a team of receivers you’ve never heard of and he dropped a perfectly placed pass into the arms of Kenbrell Thompkins. The Pats handed the Saints their first loss of the year, while Brady and Co. are 5-1 and have yet to play their best football.
On Sunday, the Red Sox were at it again, too. Down 5-1 in the 8th inning and facing an 0-2 hole in the ALCS, Boston and their old lucky charm – David Ortiz – grand slammed their way to an improbable 6-5 win, the walkoff RBI from Jared Saltalamacchia handing them back the hammer. (That’s a curling reference. Sorry, Americans.)
It’s nice to know you’re having fun again, Boston, and to know you don’t have to pretend to care about the Bruins now.
It’s nice to have you back… so we can hate you again in two years or so.