How pampered is our life as New England sports fans? I can actually make a top-10 list of my favorite championship teams and feel like it’s too restrictive.

Seriously, every time a major sports network shows that infamous graphic of “longest drought by an American city without winning the title in a major sport,” we should hit our knees and thank God and the angels for their ridiculous favor over the past two decades.

My son is old enough to vote and wait impatiently for a tax refund. He has zero concept of what it would be like to have even one of his favorite teams stink out loud for seasons on end. While I try to decide whether to high-five him or smack him up-side the head, here’s my list, in descending order:

10. 2004 Patriots (Feb. 2005 Super Bowl). By this time, I was already getting into spoiled territory and didn’t enjoy this championship – it would be the franchise’s last for a decade – thoroughly as I should have. The us-versus-them appeal was thick at this point. Denying Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and that intolerable Philly fan base was a hefty part of the joy. That group hug by Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel left me with a foreboding sense that the band was breaking up, which is a good reminder to enjoy this year’s journey while it lasts.

9. 2011 Bruins. I’m not an NHL guy. Not really a hockey guy, truthfully, now that I live in an area where it’s not ingrained in the culture. Still, I appreciated the end of a 39-year drought, since I knew the generational impact of 86 years. There was also a “yeah, but” aspect to the Bruins’ winning. After all the stars lined up for the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics in short order, this one ushered in a sense of completeness. We had belted a grand slam to which no other city or region had a means of comparison.

8. 2007 Red Sox. My favorite aspect of that title was covering Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester at Hadlock Field during the season (the latter in mid-August, on a post-cancer rehabilitation start) and then seeing them play significant roles in the clincher. The comeback from three games to one against Cleveland in the American League Championship Series was compelling. An anticlimactic sweep of the over-matched Colorado Rockies followed. This team provided different satisfaction than ’04. They were the best from start to finish.

7, 2016 Patriots. Thank you, social media, for making “28-3” ubiquitous from sea to shining sea. Without the comeback, this would have been just another honorable mention championship in our embarrassment of riches. I don’t hate the Atlanta Falcons enough. Everyone’s exaggerated rage toward Roger Goodell after Tom Brady’s four-game suspension at the start of the season also didn’t enhance it for me. Nice season. Unbelievable game. But I don’t watch it every day on DVR.

6. 2008 Celtics. “Anything is possible!” And yes, after the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, the premature demise of Larry Bird’s back, the failure to secure Tim Duncan and the reminders of who wasn’t walking through that door, I had begun to doubt it. I had pretty much deemed professional basketball unwatchable from the mid-1990s until Banner 17, too. Also, after all those failures in the lottery, this success kind of felt bought-and-paid-for to me. Still a joy, though.

5. 2013 Red Sox. When I’m 95, “I was sitting in right field when David Ortiz hit the home run against the Tigers” will be the story with which I torture my great-grandchildren. Of course, that was only the ALCS. Boston had to fight off St. Louis in a World Series that finally gave us drama after two I-can’t-believe-it-was-that-easy sweeps. This felt amazing after the nightmare of Chickengate and Bobby Valentine’s Massacre in consecutive years. It was also needed healing for our bleeping city after the Marathon bombing in April.

4. 2014 Patriots. This was the, “phew, I didn’t think ‘we’ were ever going to win another one” championship. There were so many satisfying elements: Malcolm Butler’s game-saving, goal-line interception; the agony on Richard Sherman’s face; that unflinching look of perpetual confusion from Pete Carroll. No team had won a Super Bowl in that manner. It was such a Patriots way to pull it off. Just as the 2004 ALCS didn’t completely erase 1978, 1986 and 2003, that win didn’t blot out two wretched losses to the New York Giants. But it certainly helped.

3. 1981/1984/1986 Celtics. This is a group entry, like a horse race, although I’m most emotionally attached to the last one. I still believe in their era, against their contemporary competition, they are the greatest professional sports team of all time. They are the greatest example of the whole exceeding the sum of the parts. Certainly the middle championship had the added benefit of being won at the Lakers’ expense. (Look, it isn’t our fault they couldn’t handle the Houston Rockets those other two years.) There’s no question that mere human evolution put the 1990s Bulls, 2000s Lakers and Spurs and 2010s Warriors in a different stratosphere. But there has been no better T-E-A-M assembled in that league.

2. 2001 Patriots. It’s impossible to explain to a sports fan under age 25 how absurd the idea of even one Lombardi Trophy was at the time. With few exceptions, the four preceding decades had been unmitigated disaster. Even though Drew Bledsoe, Bill Parcells and Robert Kraft had made the Pats relevant again, most of us still carried around the loser mentality of the Sullivan and Kiam administrations. Certainly they wouldn’t beat the Greatest Show on Turf. Not with essentially a rookie quarterback (Brady had been fourth-string the year before). Not at the same site as two previous Roman Numeral Game failures. Not a chance.

1. 2004 Red Sox. Speaking of not a chance. Two dyed-in-the-wool Sox fans who helped foster my own fanaticism, my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, both went to their graves without knowing what a “duck boat parade” was. I got off the bus from afternoon kindergarten on Monday, Oct. 2, 1978, and immediately watched Bucky Dent dislodge my heart from its moorings. I let NBC show me footage of Wade Boggs weeping bitterly and did the same after Game 7 in 1986. I retired to the Sun Journal fitness room after Pedro Martinez shook off Grady Little in 2003, wishing to burn off my energy in solitude after the inevitable collapse. One year later, life changed forever, and the top spot in any future countdowns was secured in perpetuity.

Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Stay in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.