The Agony Of Defeat, And The Thrill Of Victory

As SB Nation Boston continues to celebrate its launch this week, contributor Russ Goldman takes a look at the past 40 years of sports in the city, weighing the crushing losses against the euphoric victories, from the 1972 Bruins to the 2008 Celtics.

I have been watching Boston sports for almost 40 years. I have experienced much heartache, but it has been balanced by stunning victories. The Bruins, Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox have dealt with both sides of this coin.

As we launch this site, I wanted to share both sides with each team through my eyes. The examples I give might not all be championship moments. However, they will be games or series that have affected me throughout life. Each team has a chapter. In that chapter you will experience my agony of defeat and my thrill of victory.

Chapter One: The Boston Bruins 

This team is where my journey begins watching Boston sports. In the '70s, the Bruins owned New England. Bobby Orr was the idol of kids in the region, and like many, I had my Bobby Orr jersey. When I started this journey in 1972, the Bruins were the "kings of hockey."  But their reign of superiority was too short. For me, it really ended when Orr was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins haven't been the same since.

Orr changed how hockey was played. He was the first offensive defenseman, and was the greatest two-way player to ever lace up a pair of skates. With him, the Bruins saw the greatest of victories, but since his departure, the team has seen the agony of defeat. 

The Agony of Defeat: 2010 Boston Bruins - Now before 2010, the worst defeat for the Bruins I experienced was  the 1979 semifinals series against the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins were called for too many men on the ice, a penalty that helped Montreal beat the Bruins that year.

That game was trumped by the 2010 Boston Bruins. The Bruins were up 3-0 in a playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins ended up losing the next three games to tie the series 3 -3. This all led to the dramatic seventh game at TD Garden. The Bruins in the first period built up a 3-0 lead. The game should have been over at this point. But the Flyers came all the way back to tie the game, 3-3. In the third period, only the Bruins could lose a playoff series again with a too many men on the ice penalty. The Flyers ended up scoring on the power play and winning the game, 4-3.

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The Thrill of Victory: 1971-72 Boston Bruins - This was the last time the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and arguably one of the greatest teams in Bruins history. Phil Esposito led the NHL in scoring. Bobby Orr was second in scoring (which was incredible, considering he was a defenseman). That team also had players like the "Chief" Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge and Wayne Cashman. The Bruins beat the New York Rangers in six games to win their second Stanley Cup in three years. Who would have believed then that the Bruins wouldn't win another Stanley Cup?

It is painful to be a Bruins fan now. However, it did not start that way for me. In the Bruins' case, the "thrill of victory" came first followed by years full of defeat.

Chapter Two:  The Boston Celtics

I have a very soft spot for the Boston Celtics. If there was a sport I excelled in, it was basketball. The Celtics were a big part of my high school years. In that time the Celtics won two NBA Championships in 1981 and 1984. Before those titles I actually went to Red Auerbach's basketball camp for two years. I had an opportunity to meet Red, Bill Fitch, KC Jones, and Jimmy Rodgers. The Celtics had their rookie camp at my camp at the same time. 

I have been fortunate to see many victories for the Celtics. But, there were some horrible losses that still scar me today. Both the victories and the losses involve one opponent: the Los Angeles Lakers. To this day I still think of 1985 and 1987 as seasons that never happened for the Celtics. These losses took over 20 years to avenge. The 2008 Celtics made up for a huge amount of the agony. 

The Agony of Defeat: 1985 Boston Celtics - You don't hear much talk about the 1985 Boston Celtics. There is a reason for this. Before 1985, the Los Angeles Lakers had never beaten the Boston Celtics to win the title. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were both reminded that they couldn't beat Boston. It is similar to the Patriots having Peyton Manning's number for all those years. The Lakers not only beat the Celtics to win the title, they did it at the Garden. I will never forget the shots of Kareem and Magic celebrating in the dressing rooms after they won. The Celtics lost again to the Lakers two years later, but Boston were extremely banged up in 1987. It really wasn't a fair fight. In 1985 it was the best against the best. This time Magic won. It still stings today. 

The Thrill of Victory: 2008 Boston Celtics - This season was special for a few reasons. First, it avenged over 20 years of heartache to the Lakers. Second, it was great to see the media eat their words for picking the Lakers to win the Series. I couldn't believe how many media members picked the Lakers; The person who stands out to me is Bill Plaschke from the LA Times. He really didn't think the Celtics had a chance. It was wonderful to read his columns after the Series was over. Third, I have absolutely no respect for Kobe Bryant. I am sorry but the incident in Colorado still bothers me. I cannot root for a player and person of his lack of morality. I also think he is the most selfish basketball player I have ever seen. It is all about Kobe. That is why beating him is so sweet. The Celtics won because they were the better team. Basketball is still a team sport. The Celtics in 2008 were a true team.

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The Celtics have given me more thrills of victory than agonies of defeat. However, the Lakers will always be that thorn in my side. Overall though, the Celtics have given me joy over the years, and so much pride of being their fan.

Chapter Three: Boston Red Sox 

Where can I begin with the Red Sox? Well, I guess at the beginning. I have been going to Fenway Park as long as I can remember. The Sox were my family's obsession growing up. My father to this day starts every conversation with the phrase, "That manager ..." Living in New England, you cannot escape the Red Sox. They are a part of you whether you accept it or not. 

The Agony of Defeat: 1978 Red Sox Playoff Game against the Yankees - My family had season tickets. We had upper box seats right behind the Red Sox dugout. I saw 25-30 games that year and for me, it was the best Red Sox team ever. Jim Rice was at his peak. The Red Sox were hitting home runs at a crazy pace. You had players like Rick Burleson, Butch Hobson, Jerry Remy, and George Scott. This playoff game I did not attend . My father took my mother to her first game of the season. I watched the horror on television. I can still see that runt of a player Bucky Dent just getting a home run over the Green Monster. I couldn't believe Mike Torrez gave up a homer up to that guy.

Well, the Red Sox had their chances in the ninth inning. Yaz was up and I felt he was going to come through and lead the Sox to the victory. Unfortunately he popped up and the game was over. That Red Sox team would have won the World Series. They were that good. That loss really hurt. 

On the flip side, my mother just apologized about a month ago for going in my place.   

The Agony of Defeat: 1986 World Series Game 6 - This is the game that has the most agony for me in my lifetime. Personally that day was a very bad day for me. I was in college going to Syracuse University at the time. That weekend I went to visit my girlfriend at UMass Amherst. That Saturday afternoon, before Game 6 my girlfriend broke up with me. I had a decision to make. Would I go home, or go back to school to watch the game? I went home and watched it with a bunch of friends. The Red Sox were up 3-2 and needed one more win for the World Series.  

As we get to extra innings the tension was unbelievable. The top of the tenth saw Dave Henderson hit a home-run and the Red Sox actually scored a second run as well. Going into the bottom of the tenth, the Sox were up, 5-3. The Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi got the first two men out. Boston needed just one out. 

Gary Carter was up and Schiraldi had two strikes on him. Eventually Carter got a hit. Then, Kevin Mitchell got a hit. Next Ray Knight got a hit and Gary Carter scored. Suddenly the Mets were only down by one run with men on base. Bob Stanley came into the game and I almost threw-up in my mouth. I had no confidence in Stanley. He through a wild pitch and another run scored. The game was now tied. That set up the worst moment ever in Boston sports history. Mookie Wilson's dribbler went to Bill Buckner and the ball went through his legs. Ray Knight came in, and the Mets won.

That game and that moment ended my obsession with the Red Sox. I will always be a fan, but never again to the level I was in 1986.

The Thrill of Victory: 2004 World Series Game Four - For all the pain I had suffered with the Red Sox, I never thought I would see the day the Red Sox would actually win a World Series. Even though the Red Sox were up 3-0 in the Series, I still had a doubt that they would win it. I have seen the Red Sox come a pitch away from winning a World Series in 1986. I wasn't going to celebrate until the last out was made. The Red Sox started the game off with a home-run from Johnny Damon. The Red Sox scored two more runs in the third inning. Going into the bottom of the ninth the Red Sox were up 3-0. Was I comfortable? Did I think they were going to win it? The answer to that is "no."

I thought somehow someway they were going to blow this game. The history of the Red Sox made me feel at some point the other shoe was going to drop. Well, that shoe never fell. Keith Foulke got Edgar Renteria to hit the ball back to him. He flipped the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz. and Renteria was out. The Red Sox had finally done it.

My first thought was relief. I was sick and tired of hearing all the negative talk regarding the Red Sox. What could the media or fans possibly complain about now? The Red Sox were World Series Champions. My next feeling was happiness for my father and my grandfather who is no longer with me. This win was for them. I will always be grateful and appreciative to the 2004 Boston Red Sox. They made the pain go away.

With the Red Sox, the scars of the defeats are still with me. But, the 2004 Red Sox let me, and all of New England, move on. In 2004 at last the Boston Red Sox balanced the agony of defeat with the thrill of victory. All I can say is, "Thank you." 

Chapter Four: The New England Patriots    

The New England Patriots are my passion (along with my family, of course). I named my son after Tom Brady. The Pats are the team I have always identified with. The Red Sox are my father's team. The New England Patriots are mine. Ever since going to my first game in the old Schaefer Stadium in the mid-seventies, I have loved this team.

The first game I saw the Pats play was against the Dallas Cowboys with Roger Staubach. To follow the Pats from the seventies to now has been an incredible journey. There were many bad seasons up until the Parcells' years. But, there were a few special seasons that need to be remembered. The 1976 Patriots I still think were the most talented Patriots team ever. The 1985 Patriots went to the Super Bowl. The Parcells Patriots went to the Super Bowl in the 1996 season. However, the Belichick Years have been the most special. Below I am only going to focus on one game of agony of defeat and one game of thrill of victory. The reason is these two games are linked to what could have been and to what became the first brick in building a dynasty.

The Agony of Defeat: 1976 AFC Divisional Playoffs - The Patriots played the Raiders in Oakland, rematch of an earlier regular season game in which New England beat the Raiders at home, 48-17. I was confident that they could win this playoff game on the road. This team included John Hannah, Steve Grogan, Sam Cunningham, Russ Francis, Darryl Stingley, Steve Nelson, Mike Haynes and Tim Fox. The Pats were stacked.

This game unfortunately will be remembered for Ben Dreith. The Patriots were up 21-17. The game had entered the final minute. It was third down, eighteen yards to go. Ken Stabler went back to pass and was hit by Sugar Bear Hamilton. The pass was incomplete. However, referee Ben Dreith called roughing the passer on Ray Hamilton. The Raiders got an automatic first down. Eventually, they scored on a one-yard sneak by Ken Stabler to beat the Patriots, 24-21. The Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl.

I was 10 years old at the time of this game. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I have seen this play dozens of times over the years. The way the game was played in 1976 I don't think that was roughing the passer at all. Two franchises after that game went in completely different directions. The Raiders went to win a few Super Bowls. For the most part the Pats went down hill and became very mediocre. It would take 25 years for the roles of these teams to be reversed. There would be redemption in January of 2002.

The Thrill of Victory: The 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff game - On Jan. 19, 2002, on a snowy field in Foxboro, the Pats redemption would arrive in an obscure rule in football. This rule is simply known as the tuck rule. It was in the final two minutes of the game. The Patriots were driving for a score in the Raiders half of the field. The score at the time was 13-10, with the Raiders leading. On this play Tom Brady went back to pass and got hit by Charles Woodson, fumbled the ball, and the Raiders recovered. The game should have been over. Within the two-minute warning, the referees have the right to look at the instant replay of any controversial play. Walt Coleman made the announcement that Brady's arm was moving forward before he decided not to throw and "tuck it" back into his body. The throw was ruled an incomplete pass.

Now I am on record right now as saying I thought he fumbled. If you go by the actual rule, the call was the correct one. 

The New England Patriots had a second life. This all led eventually to what I think is the greatest kick in NFL history by Adam Vinatieri. He tied it up and the game went to overtime. The Pats ended up winning the game on another Adam Vinatieri field goal.

This victory was the first brick in building the Patriots Dynasty. Without the tuck rule, the Patriots do not have their dynasty. Since then, the Pats have won three Super Bowls. The circle is complete. This game on a snowy field in Foxboro was redemption for 25 years of dealing with a bad call by a referee.

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New England has given me so much joy over the years. There has been agony of defeat, but it has been replaced by so many thrills of victory.

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I wanted to write this feature to introduce myself. I also wanted to let you into my sporting world living in the Boston area for 40 plus years. The point of this feature really is that Boston fans are really blessed, and I think our sporting lives have been balanced. Now, if we can just get the Bruins to win a Stanley Cup, I think then every fan base would be happy right now.

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