As we are about to wrap up another decade (scary I know), I thought I would write my final column of the 2010s on some of my favorite sports moments that happened in the last 10 years.
Being a Boston sports fan in the 2010s was exciting. All four major sports teams (Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics) were consistently in the playoffs and competing for championships. This decade was a continuation of the previous decade’s success. The Patriots brought home three more Super Bowls, the Red Sox won two more World Series titles and the Bruins added a Stanley Cup in 2011.
And speaking of the Bruins, cue No. 5 please.
5. Chara raises the Cup
It is exciting any time a team breaks a long championship drought, and the Bruins’ 2011 championship run was no different. They had not won the Stanley Cup since 1972 and hadn’t even made it to the finals since 1990. But all that changed with the remarkable run fueled by Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas and a young Brad Marhand.
Nothing came easy in those playoffs. The Bruins had to win three overtime games in the opening round against the Montreal Canadiens, including Game 7. Then in the Eastern Conference Finals, it took seven games to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning. So, there would be no other way for the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to unfold than a down-to-the-wire, seven-game thriller.
That series between the Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks is still considered one of the best Stanley Cups of all time. It was a back-and-forth series with a lot of fights and some spectacular performances, none better than the Conn Smythe winner, Thomas, who played out of his mind in net throughout the playoffs.
The series culminated with a 4-0 Bruins win in Game 7 on Vancouver’s home ice. That game literally drove the city of Vancouver into a riot, but the only riot happening on the ice was the Bruins’ celebration. I still remember Zdeno Chara receiving the Cup and raising it higher than it had ever been raised before (Chara is the tallest player in NHL history). His scream of pure joy is one of the most incredible moments of the decade for me, and it definitely earns a spot on this list.
4. Isaiah Thomas scores 53 for his sister
Mention to any Celtics fan the “Isaiah Thomas season,” and they know exactly what you’re talking about. Thomas took the league by storm in 2016-17 with an MVP-caliber season that made the Celtics relevant on the national stage again.
His greatest moment in his short-but-valuable time in Boston came in the playoffs that season against the Washington Wizards, when he scored 53 points on what would have been his late sister Chyna’s 23rd birthday.
Before the Celtics’ first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, Chyna was killed in a car accident in Tacoma, Washington. Thomas didn’t miss a single game, and with a heavy heart, he led the Celtics to a series win while averaging 23 points per game.
Then, after attending Chyna’s funeral, Thomas lost a tooth in Game 1 against the Wizards. He had to undergo hours of dental surgery to be ready for Game 2, where he played arguably the best game of his career. He scored a career-high 53 points and led the Celtics to a 129-119 overtime victory. After the game, he dedicated that incredible performance to Chyna on her birthday.
The Celtics would go on to beat the Wizards in seven games, but after Thomas went down with a hip injury, they lost to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Thomas’s moment is the only one on this list that has nothing to do with a championship, but his emotional performance with the crowd at TD Garden rallying around him still resonates with Boston sports fans today.
3. The 28-3 comeback
The only reason this isn’t higher is because this is a greatest moments list, and this really isn’t a moment. It’s a collection of moments leading to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, and, in my opinion, the game of the decade.
There are a number of moments from Super Bowl LI that, on their own, could vie for a spot on this list: Julian Edelman’s circus catch, Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack and of course James White diving across the goal line to complete the comeback. But I prefer to think of this game as a moment of its own.
You had to watch this entire game to fully appreciate what transpired in Super Bowl LI. The Atlanta Falcons completely outplayed the Patriots for the first 42 minutes of the game, but it’s what happened in the final 18 minutes that everyone remembers. All of a sudden, Tom Brady started picking apart the Falcons defense and mounting ridiculous scoring drives with two-point conversions. The defense were finally able to contain the Falcons offense (with some help from really bad play calling, but that’s a story for another time).
After things couldn’t have gone more wrong to start the game, everything finally started going right. And the rest as they say is history. The Patriots erased a 28-3 third-quarter deficit with the most improbable comeback in football history, winning 34-28 in overtime. I thought Brady was the GOAT before this game, but he ended the debate with this performance. He set Super Bowl record in completions (43) and passing yards (466) en route to his fourth Super Bowl MVP. This had to make the list, and it was hard not to put it higher. But as far as moments go, I think there are a couple that outdo this one.
2. Big Papi’s turning point grand slam
Finally, some Red Sox content! When you look back, the Red Sox have had a weird decade. They have the two titles in 2013 and 2018, but they also have a bunch of disappointing seasons in the mix.
The 2018 team was definitely the best one of the decade, and probably the best Red Sox team ever, winning 119 games and rolling over the playoff competition. However, I feel like most Red Sox fans, myself included, would call the 2013 team their favorite. That team meant so much to the city of Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings in April, and they played with a purpose all season long.
That team was not anything special on paper. It was a bunch of gritty role players that came together for one of the best runs in team history. I know that team doesn’t win the World Series without the inspiration it had from the bombings.
The moment that defines that season came in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. Down 5-1 in the eighth inning in danger of going back to Detroit down 2-0 in the series (all but a death wish against that lethal Tigers rotation), David Ortiz came up with the bases loaded against Joaquin Benoit.
On the first pitch, he hit a bomb into the bullpen that sent Torii Hunter over the wall and Fenway into a frenzy. The game was tied at five and the Red Sox would go on to win the game and the series in six games. They went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, where Ortiz again was the hero, batting .688 in the series and winning the MVP.
Ortiz was already something of a folk hero in Boston sports history before, and this was just another instance of him showing his clutch gene at the perfect time. That grand slam was the turning point of the Red Sox postseason run, and they never really looked back after that. The image of Hunter going over the wall and the bullpen cop celebrating has become one of the most beloved moments in all of Boston sports, so this one was really easy to rank. What could possibly be above it though?
1. Malcom Butler’s interception
Oh, that’s right, just the single greatest moment in all of sports in the last decade (no bias). When you hear the name Malcom Butler, only one play comes to mind: the interception of Russell Wilson at the goal line to win Super Bowl XLIX.
First, let’s put this play into perspective to fully appreciate it. At the time, the Patriots hadn’t won a Super Bowl in 10 years. They had lost two heartbreaking Super Bowls to the Giants, and another one would surely label the Patriots as chokers.
Tom Brady had played a magnificent game against Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense, mounting a 10-point fourth quarter comeback to take a 28-24 lead. Now, all the defense would have to do is make a stop. But Jermaine Kearse decided to make one of the most absurd catches I’ve ever seen when the ball bounced off multiple players and Kearse’s leg before he secured it. It set the Seahawks up at the five-yard line and almost a guaranteed touchdown. As we saw with David Tyree and Mario Manningham, the football gods were against the Patriots once again. Or were they?
After Marshawn Lynch gained four yards on first down, the Seahawks elected not to hand it off to him again. Wilson tried to force a throw to the slant, but Butler cut him off and made the biggest play in the history of the Patriots franchise.
This interception put the Patriots back on top of the football world and set in motion the Dynasty 2.0, which has since featured two more Super Bowl titles. How could this not be No. 1?
Well, I hope you enjoyed the list. If the next decade brings us some moments even half as good as these, we should consider ourselves lucky. This decade was pretty amazing for Boston sports and so were the moments that defined it.