Tomase: Ranking Boston's 11 championships and finding a home for 2018 Red Sox

John Tomase
November 02, 2018 - 9:52 pm
David Price

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

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Boston has thrown so many parades and waved so many banners over the last 17 years, you might as well call us the Magic Kingdom.

But whereas Mickey, Donald, and Goofy inhabit a land of make-believe, the thrills provided by Boston’s champions since the 2001 Patriots got this party started are real, and they’re spectacular.

Last weekend, the Red Sox delivered the region its 11th championship this century. That’s a staggering number, considering that from 1977 to 2000, Boston celebrated three Celtics titles and nothing else, unless you count being stomped by the Bears in the Super Bowl, embarrassed by the juggernaut Oilers twice in the Stanley Cup Finals, or devastated by the Mets in the most cursed game in Red Sox history.

So where does this one rank? It’s up there. Throughout Boston’s historic run, it’s possible no team was better from start to finish than the 2018 Red Sox, who won a franchise-record 108 games before blitzing to a World Series title with an 11-3 postseason.

This is an updated version of a column that we’ve written twice in the last four years, so let’s see if we can’t put this year’s Red Sox in their place.

1. 2004 Red Sox

It's hard to imagine anyone or anything unseating '04 in our lifetimes. The Red Sox hadn't won it all in 86 years. Just 12 months after being Aaron Booned, they trailed the Yankees 3-0 in the American League Championship Series. Then came Dave Roberts' fearless steal, Big Papi's walkoff heroics, the Bloody Sock, Johnny Damon going deep, and a march to history.

No championship in any city in any sport meant more than this one. People celebrated it in freaking cemeteries to honor the generations that watched from heaven. It will never be topped.

2. 2001 Patriots

It’s interesting how much can change in two years. When last we wrote this, the 2016 Pats earned the No. 2 spot for the comeback over the Falcons and the resounded defeat of Deflategate. But now that the visceral immediacy of that wild season has receded, honoring the championship that started it all feels more appropriate. This was easily the least expected of the 11. The Patriots were coming off a five-win season in Bill Belichick's debut, and it took the tuck rule and a couple of iron-willed kicks from Adam Vinatieri just to escape the Raiders in the divisional round. The defense, special teams, and Drew Bledsoe led the Pats past the Steelers, and then came one of the great defensive game plans ever, silencing Marshall Faulk and Co. It may be hard to remember now, but until Vinatieri's game-winning field goal sailed through the uprights, we were Loserville. The 2001 Pats changed that irrevocably, and we've just marched on and on ever since.

3. 2016 Patriots

The Patriots and their fans have never wanted a championship more. What felt like a league-sponsored assault on Tom Brady's character rallied the entire region. He overcame the indignity of a four-game Deflategate suspension, the Pats survived the controversial trade of linebacker Jamie Collins, and they capped it off with the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. When Brady held the trophy aloft and announced, "We're bringing this sucker home," the electricity crackled from Houston to Boston. From start to finish, this was a season fueled first by anger, and then defiance, and finally redemption.

4. 2008 Celtics

Is this child of the Bird Era biased? Probably. But the Celtics felt like Boston's most helpless franchise for most of the '90s and 2000s. Save for one total outlier run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002, the C's barely registered on the NBA landscape, outside of the (ultimately misplaced) buzz surrounding Rick Pitino. Then Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived to form a new Big Three with Paul Pierce, and somehow the three All-Stars jelled to raise banner No. 17. They vanquished LeBron James along the way before dominating Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the Finals. They clinched it with a 39-point demolition in Game 6. As the green and white confetti rained, Garnett screamed that anything was possible. The Celtics had been restored to glory.

5. 2018 Red Sox

Top-five is not bad. The Red Sox dominated baseball from start to finish. They opened 17-2 and finished 11-3. In between, they delivered a host of memorable moments, from Mookie Betts’ marathon grand slam against Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ to the four-game sweep of the Yankees in August to take control of the division to David Price’s postseason heroics. We’ve seen teams in similar positions – say hello, 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners – fold under expectations in the postseason, but the Red Sox got better. They vanquished the 100-win Yankees, 103-win Astros, and defending NL pennant-winning Dodgers in what should’ve been the hardest road any local champion traversed en route to a title. The Red Sox simply made it look easy.

6. 2014 Patriots

Before DEFLATEGATE, the scandal that consumed us for the better part of two years, there was Deflategate, the annoying eczema distracting the Patriots before Super Bowl 49 against the Seahawks. These were innocent times, when only scientists and Physics 101 students and possibly Mona Lisa Vito could recite the Ideal Gas Law. Patriots fans used the burgeoning scandal as motivation, and then Brady ended a 10-year title drought with the (previous) biggest comeback in Super Bowl history by erasing a 10-point deficit before Malcolm Butler sealed it with his stunning goal-line interception. We didn't think it could possibly get better. We were wrong.

7. 2013 Red Sox

On the unexpected list, only the 2001 Pats can hold a candle to the 2013 Red Sox. Fresh off the Bobby V. Era and hoping to build a bridge to somewhere with a bunch of stopgap veterans, the Red Sox instead dominated the American League basically from start to finish. They were never seriously challenged in the playoffs, at least not once David Ortiz hit a dramatic grand slam against the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS. Ortiz then hit over .600 in one of the greatest World Series displays ever to lead the Red Sox back to the promised land, once again at the expense of the Cardinals. This one assumes added resonance because of the Marathon bombings, Boston Strong, and the team's impact on New England.

8. 2003 Patriots

In any other city, this would be a signature title. The season started with Tom Jackson's memorable assertion that Patriots players hated coach Bill Belichick after Lawyer Milloy's surprise release. It ended with the Pats taking an underrated classic of a Super Bowl from the Panthers, who turned a defensive battle into a shootout before Vinatieri delivered his second title-winning kick in three seasons.

9. 2011 Bruins

The Bruins decided they deserved a piece of the fun, too, riding goalie Tim Thomas to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. They did so with a memorable resilience, winning three overtime games against the Canadiens to escape the first round -- including the decisive Game 7 on a Nathan Horton blast -- and then rallying from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 in the Finals to dispatch the Canucks. Boston hadn't hoisted the Cup since the days of Espo and Orr, and though its success would prove fleeting, no one can ever take away 2011.

10. 2004 Patriots

On the list of greatest Patriots teams, this one belongs at the top. The Pats could score (27.3 ppg, 4th) and they could defend (16.3 ppg, 2nd). They went 7-1 against teams with winning records. They were a machine, riding Corey Dillon's 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns to the postseason, where they barely broke a sweat en route to their third Super Bowl. They beat the Eagles 24-21 for the championship, but the game was never in doubt.

11. 2007 Red Sox

Someone must come in last, and it's the Red Sox, who were simply too good. They assumed first place on April 18 and stayed there for the final 150 games of a season that mostly lacked drama. The notable exception came in the ALCS when the Indians opened a 3-1 lead, but J.D. Drew's Game 6 grand slam and the dominance of series MVP Josh Beckett propelled the Red Sox to the World Series, where they batted around the Colorado Rockies like a bored cat.

Good times never seemed so good and all that, but the others on this list just felt a little better.

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