Is that it? Has the curtain officially been drawn on the golden era of New England sports?
I hear all of you cackling across the land. Boston teams were pretty darned great in that '00s. The Celtics returned to glory with their first World Championship in 22 years when they smoked the Lakers in 2008. The Red Sox broke an 86-year curse with the Greatest Baseball Story Ever Told (coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees) in 2004, then topped it off with another Fall Classic sweep in 2007. And the Patriots? They demolished the rest of the NFL and acquired enemies around the globe, winning three Super Bowls in four seasons, then steamrolling to an unprecedented 18-0 in 2007.
It all came to a crashing halt in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 3, 2008. A no-name guy with a Velcro helmet (David Tyree) made a miracle catch and a guy who is now behind bars (Plaxico Burress) beat Ellis Hobbs and things have not been quite right around here ever since.
On Sunday in Foxboro the Patriots were routed by the sixth-seed Baltimore Ravens, 33-14, on Wild Card weekend. Baltimore bolted to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter and the Patriots were loudly booed by the frozen sellout crowd at Gillette Stadium.
It was ugly and when it was over Vince Wilfork called out his team ("We didn't come to play") and Tom Brady agreed that there was something missing in Foxboro this year.
The harsh truth is that it's temporarily over for New England fans and this news will be wildly applauded around the rest of the country.
Truth be told, there's been a sense of arrogance and entitlement about Boston sports fans in recent times. Success did not become us. We were lovable losers back in the day, but gracious winners in good times. Ask fans in Baltimore, Oakland and Tampa how much they love having citizens of Red Sox Nation overrun their ballparks every summer.
The Sox and Celtics, of course, are still very much in the hunt for championships and could easily bring Boston back to the circle of winners this year.
The C's still have the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo is developing into an all-star caliber point guard. But the C's have trouble staying healthy. The window of opportunity is closing and if these Celts don't get it done this spring, they may slide back into the pack. They are a team that wanted to start the playoffs last November. The rigors of the regular season only bring out the fragile nature of Boston's title hopes.
The Red Sox won 95 games last year and have been in the playoffs in six of the last seven years. They have one of the top four payrolls in baseball and this winter added John Lackey to a stable of starters which includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield. They have depth in the bullpen and one of the best closers in baseball in Jonathan Papelbon.
But I'm saying the Sox will not hit enough to compete with the Yankees in 2010. The Sox were too often easily shut down by good pitching in 2009 and it showed when they were smothered by the Angels in the playoffs. Boston's top four hitters are terrific, but the lineup stalls after messrs Ellsbury, Pedroia, Martinez and Youkilis. David Ortiz struggled terribly last year. He wound up with decent numbers, but too much of his damage was done against the Triple-A Orioles. If Ortiz continues to slide, the Sox lineup will struggle. Since the season ended the Sox have added Mike Cameron in center, moving Ellsbury to left. Marco Scutero has been brought on board to plug the shortstop hole and Adrian Beltre signed for one year to take over at third. It's a big-time commitment to defense, but offense promises to be Boston's problem. They can be a playoff team, but they are falling further behind the Yankees. And that's not a prescription for a World Series championship.
Meanwhile, the once-pround Patriots finished their season in tatters. Much to the titillation of NFL cities long-pummelled by the Foxboro meanies, the Pats were an ordinary 10-7 this year and failed to beat any good teams. New England was 2-6 on the road, regularly coughing up fourth-quarter leads. In the wake of Spygate and the 2007 team when Belichickmen regularly ran up the score on opponents, this fall from the top is greeted with great glee from Miami to Seattle.
Have fun this week, you Patriot-haters. The tournament is going to go on without the Pats and everyone knows it crushes New England to see the Jets still alive while the Patriots are done. But know that New Englanders are not giving up on the local teams. The Celtics have a chance if they stay healthy and the Red Sox may pick up Adrian Gonzalez next summer and there be could another Duck Boat parade in downtown Boston this year or next.
But this new decade is off to a bad start here in Boston. And the rest of the country must be loving it.