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The sporting winds have changed once again

By web

Section: Sports

February 29, 2008

Only a couple of months ago things seemed to be ripe for Boston sports fans and sour for their rivals over in New York. I wrote a pair of articles chronicling the rise of Boston and the fall of New York, but as the end of February nears, I feel it is quite necessary to amend my observations. As things tend to go in this ever changing world of sports, success can come and go in the blink of an eye.

Case and point is the most obvious example, one that is perhaps defined by a single game, the remarkable Super Bowl that fans were privy to see. Just a few months ago, the Patriots were marching towards another seemingly inevitable Super Bowl, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning was erratic. The accusations of videotaping were thought to be in the past, and Bill Belichick was commended for his ability to overcome this great obstacle.

Nobody would have picked the Giants, let alone any NFC team, to beat the undefeated Patriots. The Giants eked their way into the playoffs, showed remarkable poise and overtook Goliath, to bring the New York area its first championship victory of any kind since 2003.

As for the Patriots, questions are looming left and right about a myriad of issues. Was Tom Brady really injured prior to the Super Bowl? What role did videotaping play in the past seasons and Super Bowls? Will Randy Moss even be a Patriot next season? Why did Belichick leave the field before the end of the Super Bowl? The Patriots will have all off- season to wonder about what could have been, and will also have to endure another season of the pressure to finally win the big game with such a talented team.

And then there is the collapse of those unamazin’ Mets of last season, blowing a huge lead at the very end of the season and breaking the hearts of everyone in Queens. Yet those horrors are now yesterday’s news, with the acquisition of perhaps the best pitcher in the game, lefty Johan Santana.

Now everyone is saying the Mets are the best team in the National League, and have a nice share of recognizable faces and superstars in Johan, Pedro, Billy Wagner, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and John Maine. That is enough to scare anyone in the National League. The Mets will open up a new stadium for all of these stars at the beginning of 2009 as well.

The Yankees haven’t done so badly either in the winter months. They have let go one of the greatest managers of our generation in Joe Torre, but to take his place is Joe Girardi, who could be one of the greatest managers of tomorrow, and his track record doesn’t hurt him.

Girardi’s success with the Florida Marlins was no coincidence. Keep in mind that with the Marlins, a team with the league’s lowest payroll in his season as skipper in 2006, Girardi oversaw the rise of talented young players like Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs, Josh Johnson, and Scott Olsen. This entire Florida team didn’t even have an overall salary of what A-Rod was and currently is getting. During his lone season in Florida, 6 of the dozen players nominated for Rookie of the Year were Marlins.

With an actual payroll and the ability to not have to worry about money and the constant need to rebuild as he encountered with the Marlins, Girardi should make the Yankees perhaps a more mentally sound team than the last years of the Torre era.

As a former catcher, Girardi is the perfect man to succeed Torre, another former catcher, and nurse this young pitching staff. It is scary to think of the success Girardi could have with full cooperation from the non-frugal Yankee front office. In addition, hosting the All- Star game and getting a new stadium will not hurt the Yankees either. Oh yeah, the contract deal with that guy nicknamed A-Rod that wasn’t even supposed to happen can’t be bad either.

The Red Sox aren’t in bad shape either of course. The Sox will be favorites this season to win it all again, but there are a few spots that are potentially question marks. Several players probably have their best seasons behind them or at least age will remain a factor, including Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, Tim Wakefield, and Jason Varitek.

There’s also no telling what kind of effort the Sox will get from Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew and of course, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Much like the Yankees, a lot of the success of 2008 for the Red Sox rests on some young guys who have shown sparks of brilliance, primarily in Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Who knows how these sparks will last over an entire season, though. And it is likely that 2007 will go down as Mike Lowell’s career year. Regardless of all these questions, the Sox will be expected to play through October.

The Knicks are still terrible. There is no arguing that one. The Nets too. But the Nets did what they had to do and swallowed their nostalgia by unloading 35 year- old Jason “Captain” Kidd. They got young talent in Devin Harris in return along with $3 million dollars and future first round draft picks in 2008 and 2010. The rumored move to Brooklyn also couldn’t hurt either.

Even the Celtics are looking a bit more human as of late. Still possessing the NBA’s best record, Boston dropped three in a row for the first time all season to the Nuggets, the Warriors, and the Suns, all teams out in the wild west. Playing in one of the easiest divisions and undeniably the easier league of the two is also something to consider. The Celtics are a more modest 16-9 since the beginning of January, after their sparkling 26-3 start. With all of the blockbuster trades going on in the West along with so many good squads, whoever survives will certainly have a playoff ready team.

Winning the East isn’t a lock like it once seemed to be either. The Pistons have been streaking, and the defending Eastern Conference champions the Cleveland Cavaliers have acquired one of the best defenders in the game (Ben Wallace), a long distance threat (Wally Szczerbiak), and some key role players in Joe Smith and Delonte West. Therefore, “The One”, aka Lebron James, might end up facing the vaunted “Big Three” of the Celtics with a much improved cast of supporters.

And the hockey teams in both regions have been excellent. The Devils are currently the best team in their conference, while the Rangers, the Islanders, and the Bruins are all in playoff contention.

So maybe I spoke a bit too soon when I called the years following 2007 the downfall of New York and the rise of Boston sports franchises. All that hype about the Patriots must have made me a bit too cocky about the widespread sports success going on in our area. So far, the 2000s have Boston narrowly winning 5-4, if you choose to still count that fluky Tyree catch and if you recognize hockey as an American sport with the Devils’ two titles. It seems that in the coming years, both regions will face a give or take era of equality (especially if the Knicks or Jets ever improve) where we might see several more championships in both areas.

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