With the decade drawing to a close, it's fitting to reconsider the moments and developments of the last 10 years that forever changed sports in Portland and New England. There's no better place to start than MO LEWIS'S 2001 HIT ON DREW BLEDSOE: This brutal tackle in the season's second contest effectively ended Bledsoe's tenure as the Patriots' QB. The Pats had lost to the lowly Bengals in Week One, and then, with Bledsoe on his way to the hospital, some kid I had never heard of was in the game under center. Who the hell is this Tom Brady, I asked Phoenix contributor Alex Irvine. Alex laughed, and said that when he was at Michigan (Irvine's and Brady's alma mater) Brady was so bad that Wolverine fans nicknamed him "Marcia." But, with seven division titles, four conference championships, and three Lombardi Trophies in nine years, even Marcia Brady (who caught footballs with her nose) would admit that Tom Brady is the shiznit.
DAVE ROBERTS STEALS SECOND BASE IN THE 2004 ALCS: Who can forget that turning point? The Old Town Team were down three games to nothing against the dreaded, despised Yankees. Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history, was pitching in the ninth. Former Sea Dog Kevin Millar drew a walk with the Sox losing, 4-3. Roberts came in to pinch run and, after Rivera nearly picked him off, stole second, barely beating the throw. Bill Mueller then scored Roberts on a single. The Sox prevailed in 12 innings, eventually winning their first title in 86 years. It will never get better than that.
Speaking of the Red Sox, THE SEA DOGS BECOMING THE RED SOX AA FARM CLUB IN 2003 was also huge. Yes, the Dogs were popular beforehand, when affiliated with the Florida Marlins, but the switch propelled them to new levels. Since then, the Red Sox players who wore the Sea Dog uniform, either heading to the majors or on a rehab stint, have been a huge boon for fans: Ellsbury, Lester, Ortiz, Lowrie, Kapler, Papelbon, Pedroia, Tazawa, and Youkilis. For my money, this was the greatest development in Portland sports this past decade. Teams switch affiliations constantly and nobody cares. The Portland Pirates started the decade affiliated with the Washington Capitals, switched to the Mighty Ducks in 2005, and have been in the Buffalo Sabres system since 2008. Did anybody besides Switchboard notice?
Sticking with hockey, THE DEATH OF UMAINE BLACK BEAR COACH SHAWN WALSH, in 2001, from renal cell carcinoma, was a turning point for Maine's favorite Black Bear team. Although Walsh was only 46 when he died, he had already made an indelible mark on Maine sports. In the three seasons prior to 1984, when Walsh took over the program, the Black Bears' record was 27-65. He built them into a national powerhouse, producing several NHL all-stars and winning national championships in 1993 and 1999. Since he's been gone, the team has never been the same.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Celtics acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and returning to glory; the Red Claws coming to town and deciding to play in the Expo (what does that say about our desperate need for a new civic center?); and the deaths of drivers Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr. at New Hampshire Motor Speedway within two months of each other, in 2000, leading to NASCAR's restrictor-plate era.
What am I wrong about? What did I leave out? Send me an e-mail and let me know, but most of all, sports fans, have a safe, happy new year.
Rick Wormwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.