Being from the Boston area, sports are just part of the culture. I grew up playing sports every season, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was listening to Red Sox games on the radio or watching the Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots on television. When the newspaper would come, the only section I would read every morning was the sports section. At a young age, I was participating in the March Madness office pools of my parents’ respective companies, increasing my odds by diversifying my selections in each one.
Sports was rooted within my family. My father was from Long Island, but upon marrying into a Boston-area family, had no choice but to give up his roots as a Yankees and Islanders fan, turning in his allegiances to root for the Red Sox and Bruins. At family gatherings, sports came up all the time, and I keenly remember watching Red Sox games with my grandfather any time we went over to his house, and listening to him lament that he would not be alive to ever see them win a World Series.
In some ways, I was a bit abnormal in how much I cared about sports. But mostly, that is just how it is being from Boston. Maybe it is something in the water, but Boston has always been proud of its history. It is, after all, where the first settlers arrived and is a historical city in its own right.
When people think of Boston sports today, they probably do not think great things about the fanbase since the teams have been so successful lately. What they often forget is how long-suffering Boston was as a sports city for so many years. Putting the Celtics aside, the New England Patriots were one of the worst franchises in the entire NFL until the mid 90’s, the Bruins had but a handful of Stanley Cup titles even as an Original 6 team (and none since 1972), and the Red Sox had the Curse of the Bambino with no championships since 1918 (while the rival Yankees had stacked up the most in the league). Even the Celtics in the 90s were some of the worst teams in NBA history.
I say this because it’s important to me as a fan that people recognize Boston sports fans as something more than spoiled, obnoxious, and loud. They are not ingrates. Anything but that. If there is one word I would use to describe the fans, it is that they are passionate. They stuck through thick and thin and watched a lot of bad teams. Well, at least the fans who are older than 20.
Anyway, I thought about my lifetime of experiences and decided to rank my best moments as a Boston sports fan. Factored into all of this is the setting, atmosphere, and entire circumstances of each and every moment. Perhaps later on I will get to ranking the most soul-crushing moments, but for now, let’s enjoy the best ones.
- February 3, 2002: Patriots stun the Rams in the Super Bowl
This was the game that really set off Boston’s recent winning ways. The Patriots were a double-digit underdog to the Rams in a game that nobody really expected they could win. For the first time ever in Super Bowl history, they were introduced as a team instead of individually. Say what you will about the Patriots, but in their earliest form they really did have what seemed to be a bunch of random players who played well as a team and had an excellent coach in Bill Belichick.
Tom Brady led a game-winning drive and Adam Vinatieri kicked one of his many clutch game-winning kicks. I watched this game at my uncle’s house with my family, his family and my grandparents. It was the first major Boston sports championship since the Celtics in the 80s, and really, the Celtics up until that point had been the only team in Boston with any real substantive history of success.
- July 24, 2004: Jason Varitek punches Alex Rodriguez in the face
This moment came at the heart of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. Boston fans particularly hated Alex Rodriguez who had spurned the team in free agency to join the evil empire instead. The year prior, the Yankees had squashed the Red Sox’s World Series hopes with a walkoff homer in Game 7.
After being hit by a pitch, A-Rod had some words with Red Sox pitcher, Bronson Arroyo. Catcher and team captain, Jason Varitek, did not take kindly to that and shoved A-Rod in the face. It is a still image encapsulated in the minds and hearts of Boston fans around the world. The benches-clearing brawl resulted in the unlikely battle between Don Zimmer and Pedro Martinez. It is a memorable piece of recent Red Sox history.
- June 17, 2008: The Boston Celtics defeat the LA Lakers in 6 Games to Win the NBA Title
I watched a lot of bad Celtics teams growing up. When they put together a Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, it felt like the team became relevant overnight. Paul Pierce is my favorite Celtic of all time; after all, I had watched him lead many a team without much help around him. Seeing him vindicated on the big stage against the rival Lakers made all those years of watching games in my parents’ bedroom seem more worth it.
- February 1, 2015: Malcolm Butler intercepts the ball at the 1 yard line to give the Patriots the Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks
The year the Patriots played the Seahawks in the Super Bowl was historic for its record-setting ticket prices. This was my first attempt to ever see a Super Bowl in person. The plan backfired; I had up to $3,000 I was willing to spend on a ticket, and even at halftime of the game, the lowest offer to get into the stadium was $7500. Brokers had shorted the market and came up with a lack of supply to meet the overwhelming demand. This left fans like me quite literally on the sidelines.
My friend and I resorted to watching the game at a bar right outside of the stadium in Phoenix. The atmosphere as all the bars outside the stadium were open air and facing one another, leaving a horde of Seahawks and Patriots fans amongst one another for the entirety of the game.
As far as Super Bowls go, this was one of the most exciting in history at the time. It looked like it was lost for the Patriots as the Seahawks drove the ball to the 1 yard line with under a minute to play. With the best running back in football in Marshawn Lynch, it seemed inevitable that the Patriots would be heartbroken. In what ended up being a huge surprise, Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball. For a split second, I did not understand what had happened. Then I saw Malcolm Butler emerge with the football in his hands. Complete pandemonium ensued. I could not believe what I had just witnessed. It was the beginning of 3 more for Tom Brady, who had gone a decade since his last championship prior.
- October 27, 2004: The Boston Red Sox win the 2004 World Series
For most of my adult life, I would say that I have fallen out of love with baseball and to some extent, The Boston Red Sox. But the exact opposite was true in my childhood. I was a diehard baseball and Red Sox fan. I dreamt of becoming a major league baseball player, I collected baseball cards, read baseball magazines, and I consumed everything there was to consume when it came to the Red Sox. One season specifically, I watched or listened to the entire 162 game season.
The Red Sox were not particularly good for many of those years, and it just so happened that this was one of the most dominant eras for their archrivals, The New York Yankees. So the child in me had it tough as a fan. But it never deterred me. I idolized all the players whether they won or lost and I was always hopeful for the next year.
2003 was particularly painful, because for the first time, the Red Sox looked like they had a chance to go to the World Series for the first time since 1986, when Bill Buckner infamously blew the World Series against the Mets. Never mind that it had been since 1918 that they had even won the World Series, something my grandfather had lamented for many years. Anyway, 2003 was the year the Red Sox went to 7 games with the Yankees in the ALCS only to lose on a walkoff homer to Aaron Boone. My heart was torn out once more.
The following year, The Red Sox pulled off the impossible: they became the first team to erase a 3-0 series deficit, coming back to get revenge against the Yankees and winning the series 4-3. It started with Dave Roberts stealing the base and then it continued with clutch moments from David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
The Red Sox would go on to sweep the Cardinals. I felt I had waited my whole (albeit relatively short) life to witness this moment. For Boston fans everywhere, an incredible weight was lifted. I am not sure if it is still the case today, but the Red Sox at that time were by far the most popular team in Boston and seemed to embody the spirit of Boston sports. I will never forget that moment on TV sitting alone in the living room of my parents’ house jumping for joy.
- January 19, 2002: The Patriots defeat the Raiders in the AFC Championship game
At this moment in my life, I was in 8th grade and had to go far up north in New Hampshire for a wrestling tournament at The Cardigan Mountain School. Both of my parents had come up to watch me, but due to an impending blizzard, my mom left a little bit early. After the tournament ended in some disappointment for me, my father and I were left to our own devices in the midst of a blizzard and several hours of driving back to the suburbs of Boston where we lived.
We decided that – in part because of the weather and in part because of the game – that we needed to get a motel for the night. So we pulled over on the side of the road and got a room in some budget motel, put my things down and changed into some normal clothes and took a shower.
My dad took me to a bar to watch the first half. For some reason, as a kid, I liked watching games in bars even though I obviously couldn’t drink. The blizzard was impacting the game in Foxboro and so the game was very tense but slow-moving. We decided to watch the second half in the motel.
The first year that Brady took charge of the Patriots and led them to the improbably Super Bowl victory over “the greatest show on turf,” The Saint Louis Rams, was still filled with a little controversy. The birth of the “tuck rule” unfolded before our very eyes, but we were happy nonetheless and all the more ecstatic when Brady punched it into the endzone with an emphatic spike. The game went into overtime and we watched as they took time to clear snow off the field for Adam Vinatieri to kick a game-winning field goal to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl. I can vividly remember my father jumping up and down in his tighty-whities celebrating the victory with me stranded in this motel in the middle of nowhere. This game is one of the favorites on my list because it is one of my best memories with my father.
- May 13, 2013: The Bruins overcome a 4-1 deficit to beat Toronto 5-4 in OT to win Game 7 of Round 1 of the NHL Playoffs
Interestingly enough, this game was recently selected by the NHL as the “Game of the Decade,” so clearly it is not just my opinion that this was an amazing game.
By this time, I was living in Boston and had spent much of my free time going to Bruins games. I had very much enjoyed the 2011 Stanley Cup run, and on the cusp of a Game 7 overtime letdown in 2012, I felt we were due again in 2013 to make a run.
I went to this game and in pretty much every way, the first 50 minutes were a major disappointment. With about 10 minutes to go in the game, the Bruins found themselves down 4-1 and it looked like there was no real way that they might turn it around. Even when Nathan Horton scored a goal to make it a 4-2 game, it felt like it was too little, too late.
With about a minute and a half to play and with the goalie pulled, Milan Lucic scored once more to make it 4-3. And then again with under a minute to play, Patrice Bergeron miraculously tied the game. I had had to pee so badly at that time and had been holding it that I ended up not even watching the end of regulation because the alternative was going to be ugly.
Candidly, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the Bruins were going to win this game in overtime even before the overtime period started. It just had to be crushing to give up that 4-1 lead so quickly. But it did not change how euphoric it felt when Patrice Bergeron scored once more to give the Bruins the victory. It was one of the loudest moments I can recall ever being in TD Garden. And Dave Goucher’s “Bergeron! Bergeron!” radio call is timeless – perhaps my favorite of all time.
- June 15, 2011: The Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup
The Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup run is my fondest memory overall as a Boston sports fan because the Bruins are my favorite Boston sports team, and the 2011 team is by far the most likeable – not to mention, the most successful team there has been in my lifetime. The Bruins’ last Stanley Cup victory dated back nearly 40 years to 1972.
The Stanley Cup final between the Bruins and Canucks was particularly vitriolic. Players, fans, and media alike were all at each others’ throats. You had Alexandre Burrows biting people, Brad Marchand trying to upend people, and then a very scary moment in Game 3 when Nathan Horton was nearly decapitated by Aaron Rome (a moment I witnessed live in the TD Garden, which seemed to spark the home crowd and the home team to blowout victories in those three games of the series).
I was a recent college graduate at the time and I had very little money to my name. This did not stop me from buying tickets to go to all three home games. I went alone to all of those games, befriending whoever was sitting around me because I just needed to see the atmosphere. I would have had too much FOMO watching on TV.
Given the Bruins’ predilection for big home wins and their inability to win in Vancouver, I felt uneasy about the Game 7 they had to play on the road. Did I consider the flight, hotel, and ticket in Vancouver? Yes. But $500 a pop for three games at home had kind of done me in, so I watched at home with friends. The 4-0 result was surprising to say the least but was one of my highest moments as a Boston sports fan. We enjoyed taking to the streets that night to celebrate with the rest of the city.
- February 5, 2017: Patriots come back from 28-3 to stun the Falcons in the Super Bowl, 34-28, in Overtime
My girlfriend and I have been fortunate to have attended the last three Super Bowls to support the Patriots. This was the first of those three, so given it was our first time going to the big game – and for me, that I had struck out the last time I had tried to go in 2014- there was a lot of excitement in general. To add to that excitement, this was the season that Tom Brady had been suspended for Deflategate, something that most Patriots fans feel was an unjust witch hunt. So it would have been all the more fitting, we thought, to see Commissioner Roger Goodell be forced to hand the Super Bowl trophy to Tom Brady and Patriots owner, Bob Kraft.
But unfortunately, this game was anything but exciting for Patriots fans in the first half. Brady threw a pick-six and the Patriots found themselves down 21-3 at halftime. I remember being made fun of by every Falcons fan I saw as I walked through the concourse at the half to use the restroom. I knew my girlfriend wanted to see Lady Gaga perform at halftime, so I figured we would stay through that, but when the Falcons went up 28-3 in the third quarter, I asked her if we should leave the game.
She said that we had spent so much money to be at the game that we might as well stay until the end, even if it was not going to go our way. Well, I am glad we took her advice because I am certain she would have dumped me after that game otherwise. The Patriots roared back, seemingly getting every single break – a tipped ball and catch by Julian Edelman, two two point conversions, a sack to put Atlanta outside of field goal range – and before we knew it, the game was in overtime. Similar to that historic Bruins/Maple Leafs game, you kind of just had a good feeling about overtime just given the magnitude of the comeback and how much it must have crushed the morale of the Falcons players. I really have not seen anything quite like it before. I still can’t believe I witnessed that game. We partied pretty hard that night and I definitely still remember having one of my worst hangovers ever the next morning in the airport on a flight to Vegas for a work conference. Note to reader: do not go to work conferences right after the Super Bowl.
- April 27th, 2011: Boston Bruins defeat Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in Overtime of Game 7 of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs
It might be surprising to see this moment ranked at the top considering that it was a first round playoff victory. But there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, people often do not realize that Boston is very big on hockey and very big on the rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens. If you asked most people outside of Boston what is the biggest rivalry in sports, they might say it is Red Sox/Yankees. But if you ask most people in Boston, they will tell you that it is Bruins/Canadiens. These are two Original 6 teams who have had bad blood for a very long time. Within the hockey realm, it is considered the biggest and most fierce rivalry with Montreal/Toronto probably being a distant second. Again, if you asked most non-Bostonians to rank the best athletes in Boston sports history, they might forget entirely about Bobby Orr. But if you asked anyone in my family, his name would be the first on the list, and we were not even a hockey family.
This was a very special moment for me. As a graduation gift, my parents had given me a 10 game pack for the Bruins, so I spent a lot of time following the team. Anyone who knows me knows that the Bruins are my favorite Boston sports team. I had gone to games with my father when I was a little kid and followed the team my whole life. Just the year prior, I had gone to a playoff game in Philadelphia while I was a student at Princeton. The Bruins had infamously blown a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers, and a 3-0 lead in game 7 to lose that game and the series 4-3.
Coming back the following year and having their biggest rival in their building for a Game 7 was hands down the most electric atmosphere I have ever been a part of. I went to this game with my cousin and sat in the nosebleeds. PK Subban was booed every single time he touched the puck, and fans were very nervous when he potted a tying goal with under 2 minutes to play to send the game into overtime. There is a saying that there is nothing out there that beats the atmosphere of playoff hockey, and that is especially true for overtime playoff hockey. Everyone was on the edge of their seat, and when Nathan Horton scored the game-winning goal nearly six minutes into overtime, the entire building erupted. I have never felt a euphoria like that. Ironically, even when the Bruins would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year, even that did not top the energy of being in the building to see the Bruins take down their biggest rival in a game with such magnitude. I will never forget it.