The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy – author of The Curse of the Bambino, no less, a book about the Boston Red Sox – suggested in his Super Bowl lead today that the New England Patriots’ improbable, cataclysmic, can-you-effing-believe-it! 25 point comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 may be the greatest moment in Boston sports history.
So much emotional weight was freighted onto this Deflategate Revenge Tour finale in Houston, along with the possibility of Pat’s quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichich winning their unprecedented fifth Super Bowl title, that the game rose above any of the previous 50 Super Bowls, which on its own has become the national sporting event of the year. But the best moment in Boston sports history? Let’s consider the rivals in the three other major professional sports and our own minor one of running.
Our running candidate would undeniably be Meb Keflezighi’s historic win in the 2014 Boston Marathon, coming one year after the gruesome terror bombings at the marathon finish line on Boylston Street. That victory, 31 years after the last American male win by Greg Meyer in 1983, not only elevated American distance running fortunes, but it reconsecrated the finish line, while redeeming the legacy of millions of refugees who have helped define this country since its inception, but whose name had been defiled by two Chechen-born brothers in 2013.
That beyond–sport element is what gave iconic status to Meb’s miraculous win, just as Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension and subsequent months-long court battle against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell elevated this Patriots win beyond the four that preceded it.
The improbability of Meb’s win, however, was even greater than that of the Patriot’s, because the Pats came into the game against Atlanta as three point favorites. It was only after watching the first half that we could see how dominant the Falcons starting lineup was over the Patriot’s first string.
Speed may kill, but like the marathon, the Super Bowl is a long days journey where reserves of physical and emotional energy contribute mightily to the eventual outcome.
So, yes, the Falcons starters were a faster more athletic group than the Patriots. But after being on the field for 42 first-half plays and a subsequent 51 more in the second half and overtime, their lack of depth as a team on defense, and their lack of overall experience in “The Big Game”, experience that has defined the Patriot Dynasty, was eventually revealed and exploited.
Meb, too, came under intense pressure in 2014. On the verge of throwing up in the final mile heading under the Tommy Leonard Bridge on Commonwealth Avenue, he reverted to the memory of endless drills and crisis moments in big races to ward off the hard rushing Wilson Chebet of Kenya. Experience matters, no matter the sport.
But as big as the Boston Marathon may be, its running date each Patriots Day is only a holiday in Massachusetts and Maine. The Super Bowl is an American holiday of almost religious proportions. So the impact of the Brady-led comeback under the brightest of sporting spotlights is a singular achievement. Maybe if Meb had been the one coming from behind to run down the front running Kenyan it might have been a little closer call. But the emotional catharsis of Meb’s win, though great, still pales in the face of Brady’s fifth Super Bowl title and revenge against the Dark Star NFL commissioner. Size matters, too.
The other candidates for greatest moment in Boston sports history are the 2004 Boston Red Sox four-game comeback against the hated New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series after being down three games to none, followed by their four-game sweep of the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals to end the 86-year Curse of the Bambino.
But that was a rolling thunder that took several weeks to achieve. And though it resonates more deeply with multiple generations of New Englanders, the scope of the Super Bowl has long since eclipsed that of the World Series as the preeminent national sporting event. And ironically, some of the credit for that belongs to the same NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The Magic Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass to Gerard Phelan in the Miami gloaming of 1984 the day after Thanksgiving when little Boston College beat the defending NCAA national champion Miami Hurricanes, and Bobby Orr‘s flying overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup versus the St. Louis Blues in 1970 are the two other candidates for the greatest Boston sporting moment ever. The Boston Celtics of the NBA have no one crowning moment, but instead many memorable “Havlicek stole the ball!” memories.
Belichick and Brady’s 16 year run of excellence in a time when parity is the stated goal of their game, coming in response to the onslaught of character challenging accusations of cheating, against an Atlanta team that was on the verge of rolling a stone over their grave for 2 1/2 quarters, that us-against-the-world defiance and grace under pressure stands alone. What a game, what a team, what a coach, and a quarterback for all time. I think Shaughnessy has it right.