Has The Worm Turned?

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Last decade was a very enjoyable decade for New England sports fans. From 2000-2009, a total of 6 championships were won by our four local pro sports franchises. They were actually won by just 3 of the franchises because the Bruins Stanley Cup drought dates back to 1972.

Still, there were 3 Super Bowl titles by the New England Patriots who were clearly the team of the decade. The Boston Red Sox ended 86 years of futility in 2004 with a World Series title and added another 3 years later in 2007. And the Boston Celtics won the 2008 NBA Championship.

Now, you have to wonder if this great run has come to an end and, even more sobering, if things aren’t going to get significantly worse in the coming years.

We’ll start with the Celtics who came ever so close to winning another championship last season before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in game 7 of the NBA Finals. The feeling was that the Celts would have another shot at competing for a championship this season and it certainly seemed as if that was going to be the case until a couple of months ago.

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That’s when general manager Danny Ainge decided to make a bold move by trading away center Kendrick Perkins. Without getting into the reasons why Ainge made the trade, the fact is that the team’s play has suffered significantly since the move was made.

Boston has pretty much been a .500 team since the trade and appears to be nowhere near as strong defensively without Perkins. Pierce, Allen and Garnett aren’t getting any younger. It appears that the window of opportunity may be just about closed at this point.

Then there’s the Patriots. From 2001-2007, they were about as good as it gets! Super Bowl titles following the ’01, ’03 and ’04 seasons and then a perfect 16-0 regular season in 2007.

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But since the Pats’ loss to the Giants in Super Bowl 42 that year, this team hasn’t been the same.

Starting with the shocking loss to the Giants, the Patriots are 0-3 in their last 3 postseason games and missed the postseason following the 2008 season.

Granted, they did not have Tom Brady in 2008 and went 11-5 with Matt Cassell at quarterback. But they did have Brady for all three of those playoff games and failed to win one of them.

The Patriots problem seems to be that they went from a well-balanced team which had playmakers on offense, defense and special teams to a team solely built on offense. They, in essence, have become like the Indianapolis Colts of last decade whom the Patriots used to beat regularly because they were a more balanced team.

There are other issues with the Pats as well. Tom Brady will be 34 this August and he is no longer married to football. Instead, he is married to supermodel Giselle Bundchen and the high life.

The first 6 or 7 years of his career, Brady would eat, sleep and breathe football. He would participate in the team’s offseason activities and be the first one in the building and the last one to leave.

Now, he spends his offseason in Los Angeles and spends time during the season in New York at trendy bars and restaurants with his wife. Football is no longer the top priority in his life.

Brady also no longer chooses to be the consistent in-game vocal leader he once was. We saw that fire at times last year but not all of the time. And we certainly did not see it in the playoff loss to the Jets.

What’s ironic about this is that this is a young team which needs Brady to demonstrate that outward and vocal leadership constantly and yet he fails to deliver.

The Red Sox are a completely different story. After a huge offseason by Theo Epstein and Company, the Sox were tabbed as THE team to beat in 2011. Most were predicting a 100+ win season and a spot in the World Series.

Now, just 13 games into the season, the Red Sox are 3-10 which is the worst record in Major League Baseball. Many are preaching patience saying that there’s lots of time left to turn this season around. That may be true, but subscribing to that theory alone would be ignoring the obvious problems this team has.

First, the starting pitching is a lot shakier than we thought. Jon Lester will be fine and has the stuff to be the staff ace and Josh Beckett’s last 2 performances have been very encouraging.

Clay Buchholz had a career year last season but is off to a rocky start this season. While his numbers will certainly improve, it would be unrealistic to expect his performance to rival last year’s.

John Lackey and Diasuke Matsuzaka have been unmitigated disasters! Until or unless they turn it around, making the playoffs seems like a long shot.

While the starting rotation has had its share of problems, the bullpen has struggled as well. Bard, Jenks, Wheeler, take your pick. The bridge from the starting rotation to closer Jonathan Papelbon is about as safe and solid as many Rhode Island bridges seem to be these days - which is to say, not very safe!

Then there’s the offense. Carl Crawford has hit in just about every spot in the order so far and was even benched today in favor of Darnell McDonald. You read that correctly. Darnell McDonald started in place of Carl Crawford.

My question is: how can you spend 140 million dollars on a player and not know where he fits in your line-up?

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The Sox’ start to the season raises an even bigger question which is: did Theo put together a great collection of talent and not a great team? The coming weeks and months should provide an answer.

Lastly, there’s the Boston Bruins. It’s hard to say that they are on their way down because they haven’t reached the mountain top since Moby Dick was a minnow! They have become what the Red Sox were before 2004.

They can have a great regular season but ultimately bow out of the postseason before they should. Harry Sinden is no longer around to blame for their shortcomings but the results remain just as frustrating.

So ask yourself, are we in store for some lean times for our local sports franchises? Or do these some of these teams have a legitimate shot to compete for a championship?

This will play itself out on the hardwood, the gridiron, the diamond and the ice but it doesn’t look too promising at the moment.


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