By Sterling Pingree
For teams fortunate enough, there a golden age. For the Boston Celtics, they’ve been fortunate enough to have two of them. The Red Sox have had one since 2004, with a few bumps along the way. For the Bruins, it was the Bobby Orr era. The New England Patriots are currently living in the midst of the most gilded of golden ages the NFL has ever seen. The question is however: whether or not this is the greatest run of success a Boston sports team has had in the modern age?
I’m considering the “modern age” as everything post Carlton Fisk’s home run. (It’s my column, I’ll make the rules as arbitrary as I want to. I came close to making the cutoff Mo Vaughn’s birthday, December 15th, 1967 so just pipe down!) Because of this demarcation, the Russell/Auerbach Celtics are not included in the discussion. That narrows the choices down of greatest golden age to: The Larry Bird Celtics (known forward as LBC) and The Tom Brady Patriots (known forward as TBP.)
With Larry Bird’s 60th birthday this week, I was pleasantly reminded of all of the incredible plays and highlights of the LBC. The passing, the team work and the inventiveness that hadn’t been seen before and likely won’t be seen again. This sparked a conversation between myself and Jeff Solari during a commercial break on The Drive. After discussing Bird’s greatest moments and achievements, Jeff mentioned how much those teams meant to him, and lamented that the teams to follow have never gotten him to a similar fervor. I told Jeff that it would be impossible for that to happen again with a certain team because of course any Celtics club that followed the LBC, wouldn’t be able to live up the mantle. I told him you’d have to reach across the sporting lines to find a comparison. The modern day comparison to the LBC isn’t the Garnett, Pierce, Allen teams; it’s the New England Patriots of Brady and Belichick.
The Larry Bird Celtics of the 80’s were winning titles or playing for titles every single year. The Green either hoisted the trophy at the end of the year or were in the building when the trophy was raised. Since 2001, the Patriots have won 4 Super Bowls, lost 2, and played in the AFC championship game 10 times. The greatest parallel between the two teams is how rabid the fan base is and how widespread the resentment for the team is. In the 1980’s and 90’s, it wasn’t “cool” to be a Celtics fan. If you liked Kevin McHale, back door cuts and help side defense you were a nerd outside of New England. There was a resentment against them because they were “fundamental” and “the team your parents probably liked.” While the Lakers “Showtime” shtick was cool and dare I say “hip”.
The Patriots aren’t cool for the oldest of reasons: they win too much. The average fan of say, the Detroit Lions resent the Patriots because they’ve been in the hunt with such regularity. What would a Lions fan give to have Tom Brady as their quarterback for a season? To go to just 1 Super Bowl? They’re resented like the guy in your neighborhood who blocks your driveway with their giant boat. You don’t hate the boat, you hate what the boat represents. Fans don’t hate Tom Brady the person (YOU CANNOT HATE THAT MAN!) they hate that the Patriots represent everything they want for their team and don’t have.
I once told someone yesterday, something I thought I heard someone say once. (How is that for a citation?) If everybody loves you and nobody hates you, then you’re probably doing something wrong. With greatness and accomplishment comes resentment and jealously; the best thrive on it. Bird always wanted a chip on his shoulder, somebody telling him that he couldn’t do something. When the game wasn’t enough, Larry bird would seek challenges in other ways. He’d walk into an arena and ask somebody what the scoring record was for that building?
I’m not sure Brady has needed any added motivation since he was selected #199 in the 2000 NFL Draft. The chip on his shoulder has been ever present and at 39 show no signs of falling off. (Kind of like Brady himself, deep I know.) Is the Tom Brady Patriots the greatest run in Boston sports? Perhaps, the hardest part of judging history is waiting for it to become historical.
Jeff asked on the Wednesday edition of The Drive, “Would you give up a week’s pay, to go see Larry Bird in his prime play 3 more games at the Boston Garden?” Maybe it’s my lament of never seeing Bird live, or a game at the Garden that made me say absolutely. Or maybe it was the afterglow of being at Gillette Stadium on Sunday as Tom Brady won his 201st game. Most likely it’s a combination of both, because the thing about a golden age is that most of the time it feels like it’ll last forever but usually ends without you even knowing.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.