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Everything, of course, is relative. But rarely has the verdict been so one-sided.
If you are from New England and are devoted to sport, 2007 was a year of wonders. “Magical” is the gushing term that a couple of local pundits use to describe it.
But if you hail from that vast sporting wasteland that stretches west of the Connecticut River and south of Long Island Sound, 2007 was an abomination. It was the year sports got trashed by scandal and outrage, the year idols got razed and traditions scorned while innocence was not merely lost, but trampled upon. “Unless you’re from New England there was nothing for a sports fan to rejoice over in the sour year of 2007,” one New York scribe has moaned.
And that’s what made it so dandy for the long accursed sporting neurotics of our six-state region; so much of the pleasure could be derived from the misery it brought upon our classical rival, the town we so love to hate.
To the last it was so. The football gods smiled when they arranged to have the defining moment of the Patriots perfect season played out at the Meadowlands, well within the long shadows cast by Gotham’s mighty towers of commercial Babel. 16-0 was a monumental achievement; bigger even than the Red Sox lyric reprise. It was the highlight. It was also legitimate. Such blemishes as “Spygate” diminish the triumph little. In the combat on the field of play the Patriots met all comers and had no equal. It’s as simple as that.
Still, it’s a story that needs to be finished. Fail to go all the way and the glorious undefeated season will have a mighty hollow ring. And if they do fall, millions will cheer. You make a mistake if you underestimate how deeply despised this football team has become elsewhere up and down the Republic. Envy doubtless has something to do with it. But if the Patriots care at all about how they are perceived, they might try to become more gracious winners.
All of that is not yet a Red Sox problem although there are those -- not all of them from New York -- who detect a certain arrogance in the swagger of our Fenway pets. Another championship raises cocky talk about “dynasty” with or without the contributions of Johan Santana. While the Yankees fret over their tarnished honor such talk gains currency, although the rest of the country would probably prefer to see the Tigers have a turn. Does it please the Nation to have their Red Sox be seen increasingly as “the new Yankees”? That’s the irony of the otherwise giddy season of ’07. What price glory?
Meanwhile, the Celtics made a trade and are again ravaging their league, just like in the good old days. The Bruins, whose “good old days” are becoming a dim memory, fired another coach. A Kenyan and a Russian were the winners in the Marathon. Boston College won another bowl game. Roger Federer dominated tennis. Tiger Woods dominated golf. David Beckham ripped off U.S. soccer. Notre Dame melted down. Appalachian State beat Michigan. Dick Williams, Billy Southworth and Bowie Kuhn got elected to the Hall of Fame. But Marvin Miller was snubbed, sparking indignation that was fitting.
And now -- as the fellow on the radio likes to say -- for the rest of the story.
Nothing in terms of impact or shame surpassed Major League Baseball’s chemical nightmare. The leading role was played by the new all-time home run champ. Second billing went to the greatest pitcher of this generation.
You can quibble until the cows come home about the unfairness of it all. Baseball is put on the rack while football takes a walk in the sun. That remains ridiculous.
Or you can fume over the gross inequities that are being blithely tolerated. The Mitchell inquisitors nail 90 players while knowing full well that at least five times as many are equally guilty. That’s dead wrong.
While the hypocrisy implicit may drive you daft. The coy commissioner of baseball washing his hands of blame like Pilate himself was the sporting year’s most preposterous sight.
But the bottom line is that baseball has been badly damaged and with Congress waiting in the wings for their own share of the limelight it ain’t over yet. We can’t blame George Mitchell for all that. The players in their lust for stardom and riches did most of the damage to themselves. But we can be thankful -- given the investigative procedures he employed and the taste for selective justice he displayed -- that Judge Mitchell never did get that seat on the U.S. Supreme Court that was once within his reach.
The nightmare turned Bonds’ pursuit of Hank Aaron’s record into a joyless ordeal; one made tolerable only by Aaron’s gracious handling of the matter. Yet to come is the inevitable circus of Bonds’ trial on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. And just beginning is Roger Clemens’ oddly ambivalent campaign to clear his own name. Good luck to both of them. They are going to need lots of it.
Drugs, steroids, HGH, and chemical enhancements by whatever name or brand were at the root of much scandal all over the sporting map. Steroid revelations reduced the once amazing Marion Jones to ruin as she was forced to relinquish her five Olympic gold medals. Doping charges finally caught up with Tour de France cycling champ, Floyd Landis. Drug hijinks were connected with a gambling scandal that plagued European soccer. Steroids were blamed for the death of 40-year-old wrestler Chris Benoit, a former world champ.
Under its new commissioner -- Roger Goodell -- the National Football League finally confronted its many bad-actors. In the most spectacular example, Pacman Jones, a gifted but troubled Titans’ defensive back, was banned for his alleged links with a triple homicide in Las Vegas. In another sorrowful example, Michael Vick, the Falcons gifted but misguided quarterback sits in a federal pen for sponsoring a dog-fighting ring. In the most tragic example, Sean Taylor, the Redskins’ flamboyant but angry safety, was gunned down by a home-invader. Late-night partying at a Denver stripclub ended in the shooting death of Bronco’s cornerback, Darrent Williams. An all-night bender led to the death of the Cardinals’ Josh Hancock, only 29.
An NBA referee was caught betting on games. The matter had explosive potential but the NBA has done a clever job of damage control. Staid tennis was rocked when Davis Cup matches were found to have been touched by hanky-panky. Even quaint 19th century cricket got into the act. A coach of a championship team was found dead in his hotel room. Foul play remains suspected. Nine Bengals got arrested for various mischief. The New York Knicks’ front office got socked with an $11 million sex abuse judgement. There was no end to all the grim and unsporting stuff, it seemed.
And along the way, a lot of worthy characters who had stayed the course and kept the faith departed. We toast some of them here now:
Hockey men Sammy Pollock, ‘‘Dutch’’ Reibel, John Ferguson, Gump Worsley and Tom Johnson, star of the Canadiens who became a true Bruin. Football men Bill Walsh, Max McGee, Jim Ringo, Marquise Hill, Bill Willis, who helped desegregate the modern game, Darryl Stingley, who bore long years of needless suffering with grace, and ‘‘Bucko’’ Kilroy, a jovial Patriots’ presence for much of their history.
From the sports writing dodge, three distinguished Globe men; Barry Cadigan, Bob Monahan and Larry Whiteside, whose lasting place of rest will be Cooperstown.
Olympian Al Oerter, a four-time gold medal winner. From basketball; Ralph Beard who received $700 for a lifetime of shame and Dennis “DJ” Johnson, who quarterbacked the last great Celtic wagon. From baseball; Clem Labine, Rod Beck, Gene Oliver, Lew Burdette, Joe Nuxhall, Joe Kennedy, Bowie Kuhn and a quartet of great Yanks, Clete Boyer, Tommy Byrne, Hank Bauer, who had a face like a clenched fist, and Phil Rizzuto, a very gentle man.
‘‘Ave atque vale,’’ mates. And good riddance to 2007.