There have been some incredible plays in Boston sports this century, so in light of the recent tragedy of the Patriots not repeating as champions, it’s time to take a walk down memory lane and remind ourselves how good we’ve got it. The following is one man’s list of the most important plays in the Golden Age of Boston sports, otherwise known as recent history. And what better time to watch all of these videos than when you are not watching Super Bowl pregame shows? It’s actually the perfect time, so enjoy them all. I certainly did.
For the purposes of this exercise, I have to exclude those plays that were not absolutely critical to winning a championship. Sorry, Manny Ramirez’s game winning home run against K-Rod in the 2007 ALDS, game 1. Sorry, Stephen Gostkowski’s 56-yard field goal this year to beat the Giants in week 10. Those were all great plays. And I could list a dozen more that were just like those- plays that cause you to scream, yell, and lose sleep because you’re still so amped up from the drama of it all. But while those were all great plays, they didn’t change history. And they didn’t win championships.
These ones did.
#10 (tie) Ray Allen crosses up Sasha Vujacic, Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals
This was hard to come up with, as the Celtics ran all over the competition in the 2008 playoffs, and while they had a tough series in every round, there wasn’t a memorable game-winning play that stands out above all others. In Game 4 of the Finals, though, after the Celtics erased their early 35-14 deficit in dramatic fashion, the Green found themselves up three points with under 30 seconds to play, needing to score to put the game out of reach. Ray Allen handled the ball behind the arc and then absolutely abused Lakers defender Sasha Vujacic with a head-fake and hard dribble, losing him at the foul line and finishing with a nifty lay-up with 17 seconds to go. 96-91 Celtics. Allen’s absolute schooling of Vujacic not only sealed the game, but also sealed the verdict for the Lakers, who won Game 5 at home but then got crushed in Boston in the decisive Game 6, 131-92, as the Celtics lifted banner #17.
#10 (tie) Nathan Horton’s game- and series-winning goals against Montreal and Tampa Bay, 2011 NHL Playoffs
The Bruins’ first Stanley Cup win in a generation in 2011 was a stunning capstone to a joyous year of hockey in Boston. After the 2010 playoff collapse against Philadelphia, when they went up 3-0 only to get swept in the next four games and unceremoniously dumped out of the playoffs, 2011 dawned with average expectations. Luckily for hockey fans, those expectations were destined to be emphatically exceeded. The Bruins entered the playoffs as the 3rd seed and drew a matchup against their historical nemesis, the Montreal Canadiens. After falling down 3-1 in the series, the Bruins roared back and fought for a Game 7 on home ice, where Nathan Horton’s overtime series winner blew the roof off of the TD Garden and set up a rematch against the Flyers, who they dismissed 4-0. But in the Eastern Conference Finals, the showdown against the Lightning and Vincent Cavalier went the distance, and Game 7 featured a historic game with zero penalties called and Nathan Horton bagging the winner midway through the final period. Next up was Vancouver and the famous Cup victory, which featured great games but not singular plays, so this is the best we’ve got. No Nathan Horton, no Stanley Cup.
#9 Jonny Gomes go-ahead 3-run home run with 2 outs in the top of the 6th inning, Game 4 of the 2013 World Series
After thumping the Cardinals in Game 1 at Fenway, the Sox dropped games 2 and 3 to St. Louis, including the famous obstruction call that led to the winning run in game 3. Facing a 2-1 series deficit, and with the score tied 1-1, up walked Hacksaw Jonny Gomes, who launched a three-run home run to left to put the Sox up for good in a game they held on to win, 4-2. You may remember Koji Uehara getting the save by famously picking off Kolten Wong in the 9th with 2 outs, but that home run won the game for the Sox and they didn’t trail for the rest of the series.
#8 JD Drew’s grand slam in the bottom of the 1st inning, Game 6 of the 2007 American League Championship Series
I know, right? JD Drew made the list? But think about it. 2007 has become this big forgotten thing in Red Sox lore. Everyone remembers 2004 because of the Curse, and everyone remembers 2013 because of Boston Strong. But 2007 was kind of anticlimactic as Josh Beckett was dominant and the Rockies barely put up a fight in the World Series… including the game when Dice-K had an RBI at Coors Field (seriously, you forgot about that, admit it). But go back to the ALCS when the Sox came home to Fenway down 3-2 to Cleveland needing to win both games to make it to the World Series. While the sentiment was certainly that Cleveland was losing the series despite being up 3-2 given Schilling and Dice-K being scheduled to start games 6 and 7, it was far from a foregone conclusion. But then, in the bottom of the first, JD Drew, he of the $70 million albatross of a contract, he who had been underachieving since his first game with the Sox, stepped to the plate in and hit a grand slam to put the Sox ahead and basically end the series right then and there. His 5 RBI paced the Sox to a 12-2 win, and their 11-2 win in game 7 was a mere formality.
#7 David Ortiz’s game-winning single in the bottom of the 14th inning, Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series 2004
If the Red Sox hadn’t won 2004 ALCS series, this play would have gone into the same historical archive as a host of other incredible plays in Boston playoff history, like Dave Henderson’s 9th inning home run in Anaheim in 1985, Larry Bird’s famous steal against the Pistons in 1987, and the incredible Bruins comeback against Toronto in 2013. But after the mythic Game 4 victory, Game 5 provided even more drama. The Sox again clawed their way back to tie the game in the 8th against Riviera, and thanks to a lucky-duck ground rule double by Tony Clark with two outs in the 9th, the Yankees’ go-ahead run did not score, setting the table for five innings of stomach-churning extra-inning baseball. Tim Wakefield put in a relief appearance for the ages, pitching a scoreless 12th, 13th, and 14th inning, and with two outs in the bottom of the 14th, David Ortiz came to the plate with Manny Ramirez on first base and Johnny Damon at second. After a 10-pitch at bat, with the fate of the universe seemingly hanging on the outcome of each pitch, Ortiz laced a single up the middle, scoring Damon, winning the game for the Sox, and sending the series back to Gotham for an epic conclusion after 5 hours and 49 minutes of baseball. I watched every pitch.
#6 Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning 48-yard field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
We all remember the second half of this Super Bowl. 17-3 Patriots became a 17-17 tie in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Rams were looking like the Rams again, and I was scared to death that the Patriots were going to lose. Despite Ty Law’s first half pick-six and David Givens’ nifty touchdown catch with time running out in the first half, the Rams had charged back to tie the game and the Patriots had the ball with 1:21 left and no time outs. John Madden told the Patriots to play for overtime, but luckily Bill Belichick wasn’t listening, and Tom Brady led the Pats to the St. Louis 31-yard line with 8 seconds to go. Out walked Adam Vinatieri, and up went the kick, as dead-center as you can make it, right down the middle. Ballgame. Confetti. A dynasty was born, a few legends were made, and Boston’s Golden Age of Sports began.
#5 David Ortiz’s game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning, Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship series
It’s amazing that two plays from this game will make the Top 10, but that’s why it will always be one of the greatest games ever played in Boston sports. After the historic steal and run by Dave Roberts in the bottom of the 9th, the Red Sox battled the Yankees deep into the October night until the bottom of the 12th inning. Manny Ramirez led of the home half with a single, and up stepped Big Papi, who swatted a ball deep to right field for a 2-run homer and an epic 6-4 win. Papi was already a hero in Boston, but the real mythology began with that hit that extended the series and set the table for his Game 5 heroics and the eventual series victory.
#4 David Ortiz’s two-out, game-tying grand slam in the bottom of the 8th inning, Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series
It’s hard to put this one above the previous one, but I really have to; the reality is that if Papi hadn’t hit that bomb in Game 4 of 2004, the game wasn’t going to be over, and someone else could have been the hero. But in 2013, after being totally shut down in Game 1 and flailing away for most of Game 2, the Sox were staring down a 5-1 deficit having done squat at the plate against Tiger pitching. But in the most clutch situation imaginable, David Ortiz smashed a line-drive grand slam into the bullpen, sending Torii Hunter over the wall in a futile (and heroic) attempt to make the catch and making an internet hero out of the bullpen cop. Dave O’Brien’s call of “This game is tied! This game is tied! David Ortiz! David Ortiz! David Ortiz!” and even Joe Buck’s “Hard hit into right…back at the wall…TIE GAME” are broadcasting moments for all time. The Sox won the game in the bottom of the 9th on a Jarrod Saltalamacchia single (remember that), and then went on to win the series, 4 games to 2. Do yourself a favor and relive those calls in this awesome video.
#3 Adam Vinatieri’s game-tying 45-yard field goal in the Snow Bowl, 2002 AFC Divisional Round playoffs
I must admit I had given up on this game when Charles Woodson stripped the ball from Tom Brady’s hand late in the 4th quarter of the Divisional Game against Oakland in the swirling maelstrom of snow and wind inside Foxboro Stadium. I actually walked upstairs glumly and flipped on the smaller TV to see the inevitable conclusion, but lo and behold Walt Coleman (correctly) judged that Brady’s arm was moving forward and the Tuck Rule was applied, the Pats kept the ball, and a little while later Adam Vinatieri faced a 45-yard field goal in the worst conditions possible. But the kick was up, and good, and the Patriots’ march down the field in overtime was more or less inevitable. A greater kick, you will never see. And while Vinatieri’s overtime winner won the game, the tying kick was absurdly difficult and will always be the most iconic moment in the long and mostly unimpressive history of Foxboro Stadium, and the kick that led to all of the Patriots’ later glory.
#2 Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX, 2015
Some may claim that the Snow Bowl kick belongs above this one, but I’m not buying it. If you had asked 1000 people who was going to win the game, with the Seahawks having the ball on the 2-yard line and Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and over a minute to go in the game, down 28-24, 999 of them would have said Seattle. I was preparing myself for another crushing loss and for walking my son down from the ledge of despair. But Malcolm Butler, the West Alabama undrafted rookie free agent, jumped a pick route and made the most astonishing interception in Super Bowl history, hands-down. I will never forget that feeling of elation, surprise, and pure joy, nor the fact that I ripped off my shirt and started whipping it around while screaming like a maniac. I mean, really? It was unbelievable in just about every sense of the word.
#1 Dave Roberts steals second base in the bottom of the 9th, Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series
There are still those who will argue that the Patriots’ 2002 Super Bowl victory was the greatest title in Boston sports history given the year that they had and the huge upset they pulled off to win it, but sorry, in the early 2000s Boston was still a baseball town, and the Curse was real. The suffering was real. The hatred was real. Every fall the world would stop for the baseball playoffs and every year the Red Sox would win and the Yankees would love. Baseball and emotion were one and the same. And without this play, perhaps we’d still be mired in that kind of existential nightmare. Down 3-0 to the Yankees, one night after being humiliated 24-9 in front of the Fenway faithful, the Sox were a run down in the 9th and out walked Mo Riviera. Everyone knew, EVERYONE, that it was going to take a miracle to get a man home and extend the game. Luckily, miracles were on the menu at Fenway that night, and after Kevin Millar walked, Dave Roberts strode out to first base as a pinch runner and stole the most important base in the history of baseball, sliding into second just before Derek Jeter swept the tag down, safe as can be. Roberts scored on Bill Mueller’s single to centerfield, and the rest was history. Butler’s pick may have been more stunning, and the Snow Globe kick more majestic, but that steal, and that championship, meant so much more than all the others.
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