Sunday, January 10, 2010

New England Patriots: Boston's Team of the Decade

AP Photo/Tony Guttierez

For the first decade of the new millennium, no sports city was more successful than Boston. The Red Sox and Celtics both won the championship of their respective leagues at least once. However the one team that was truly the cream of the crop was the New England Patriots.

There was a lot of winning going on in the New England region throughout the past ten years, but no team was more successful than the Pats.

The journey to any championship begins in the regular season. No matter how you perform there will always be a regular season to be played and for the fans to judge you on.

The Celtics struggled the most. Starting in the 1999-2000 season through the 2008-2009 season, the C’s had a .524 winning percentage. They only had five winning seasons and went through a stretch of three losing seasons in four years, capped off by the epitome of their “rebuilding phase” with a 24-58 record in the 2006-2007 season. Really, outside of the 2001-2002 season, the Celtics were just an average team, even in their winning years. It wasn’t until the end of the decade that they were a dominating force.

The Red Sox were a bigger hit in the regular season. They did not have a single losing season in the decade and compiled a .568 winning percentage.

Still, only twice did they win their division, more times than not finishing second fiddle to their biggest rivals, the New York Yankees. The one year the Yankees struggled and slid down the standings (2008) giving the Sox a chance to be the best, they were upstaged by perennial cellar dwellers Tampa Bay Rays.

If you cannot be the best team in your own division, in your own sport, how do you expect to be crowned the best team in a city of champions?

The decade started off terribly for the Patriots, who finished the 2000 season with a 5-11 record. The franchise rebounded with an 11-5 record the next season (and a Super Bowl championship) and was from then on expected to be great every single season. They didn’t disappoint.

The 2000 season was the only one that New England finished with a losing record. Only one other year (2002) did they finish with less than 10 wins (9-7). Their crowning achievement was going undefeated in the 2007 regular season. While it is an easier feat in football than it is in basketball and baseball, they were only the second team in the history of the NFL to go through the regular season without losing a single game. Seven times the Patriots also finished as the top team in their division, sending them to the playoffs every time.

No championship can be won without making the postseason. So how did these three competitors fare when it mattered most?

The Celtics made the playoffs six times, once sneaking in with a sub-.500 record. They did enjoy some success though, getting to the conference finals twice and one of those times advancing to the NBA finals. However, two years in a row they were knocked out in the first round by Indiana, one of those times getting swept. They also lost two playoff series as the higher seed, one of which was in the first round against the Pacers in the 2004-2005 season. The Celtics would not reach the playoffs until three more seasons after that devastating loss.

The Red Sox should thank MLB commissioner Bud Selig for their playoff success. Of the six times this decade they made the playoffs, five times was through the Wild Card. Twice they were knocked out by the Yankees and twice they were knocked out in the opening round. However, they also had their own magical moments: coming from behind 3-0 in the series against the Yankees in 2004 to win 4-3 and not only advance to the World Series but also knock out their hated rival as well as winning their first World Series in 86 years.

The Patriots, however, trump all. They have made the playoffs seven times. Before this season’s playoff loss to Baltimore, the Patriots had never been knocked out in the first round nor had they lost a playoff game at home. Four times—that’s more than half of their playoff appearances—they advanced to the Super Bowl.
The ultimate measure of success is championships.

The Celtics have three division championships and one conference championship. They won one NBA championship, their 17th in franchise history.

The Red Sox only won one divisional title, but they won two American League championships. They also won two World Series. The first, in 2004, was their first in 86 years, ending the “Curse of the Bambino” and allowing Red Sox fans to finally “Die in Peace”.

No team brought home more hardware this decade than the Patriots though. They won seven divisional titles and four AFC championships. Most impressive was their three Super Bowl wins.

The Patriots were the first Boston team to win a championship game this decade, and it seemed to set off a series of great events for the entire city.

In a crowded sports scene (Boston College, the Boston Bruins, and the New England Revolution also enjoyed some success this decade, though not as much as the big three) it is tough for one team to stand out, especially when every franchise is performing at such a high caliber.

The Patriots proved to be the class of Boston though. They had the highest regular season winning percentage, the most playoff appearances, the most division and conference championships, and most importantly, the most league championships.

The New England Patriots were Boston’s team of the decade.

Who will they hand off the baton to this decade, if anyone?

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