The Patriots, too, of course, had rapidly transformed into a model organization, from the munificent ownership of the Kraft family on down. That's why it was hardly a surprise when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles the following February in Super Bowl XXXIX — only the second team (after the storied Dallas Cowboys) to win three in four years. Boston's sports DNA was changing.
Bumps in the road
Gillette was sold out each week. Once-sparse Fenway bleachers were crowded (to the annoyance of many a diehard) with pink hats swaying to Neil Diamond. There was a swagger in Boston fans. No longer whiny losers, the rest of the country now had justifiable reasons for hating us.
The tables had shifted. The onus was on our opponents. The future was ours.
Well, not quite. The Sox were knocked out of the '05 ALDS in three games. Not long after, Epstein quit the team on Halloween (amid rumors of front-office backbiting), sneaking out of Fenway in a gorilla suit. The Pats lost in the first round of the playoffs too. And the less said about the 2005-2006 Bruins and Celtics, the better. Things got even worse for the C's during their 2006-2007 campaign: in a star-crossed season marred by the deaths of legends Red Auerbach and Dennis Johnson, the Green turned in the second-worst record in the league. The Red Sox, too, were cursed with Job-like afflictions that summer, plagued by injuries both mundane (hamstrings) and major (heart problems, cancer).
So recently reaccustomed to the joy of winning, fans wondered whether things had reverted to the status quo. Once more to the ledge.
Back on top
Luckily, that manic energy found more positive outlets in '07.
It began with the Sox bidding an absurd $51.1 million just for the right to negotiate with Japanese superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka, then signing him to beaucoup bucks.
Matsuzaka mania was in full swing. The Convention and Visitors Bureau had visions of yen dancing in their heads as Japanese beisboru fans flocked here to see their hero. (See "Turning Japanese," January 31, 2007.) Poorly translated signs cropped up on Yawkey Way welcoming ?? ?? to town, saluting the hometown nine ("an army corps of red color sox") and hawking delicious tubesteaks at "company of sausages that are the best."
Then the best part: behind Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, bantam second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and lights-out closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox won their division, the first time since 1995. Later, they swept the Colorado Rockies to win their second World Series in four years. What once was unthinkable now seemed almost . . . routine.
Was there a downside to all this success? A backlash? Did Ortiz later being named on the infamous PED "list" give us pause? What about the cheating accusations leveled at the Patriots and Belichick by his former assistant (who'd since become the head coach of the rival New York Jets) in the infamous "Spygate" scandal? Did it make us rethink our winning ways?
Nah. Not really. Not fans, and certainly not players. Witness the Patriots marching, undaunted, to annihilate the competition, moving inexorably onward to the NFL's first undefeated 16-game regular season. By the time they arrived in Arizona to play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, it seemed manifest: they were the Greatest Football Team in History. The game itself was but a mere formality.