The Book of 2010, Part Two


The Book of 2010, Part Two

By Rich Levine

If you haven't read Part 1 yet, then do so here.
Otherwise . . .

Intermission: Where were we . . .

Despite the brutal end to their respective seasons, the month of June ended on a positive note for both the Bruins and Celtics.

First, on June 29, the Bs introduced Tyler Seguin the No. 2 overall pick (courtesy of Phil Kessel) and a kid who'd already been labeled as a future franchise player.

How can I best describe Bosotn's mindset here?

Imagine you're hit by a bus, and break both your legs. Then, while you're still lying immobilized in your hospital bed, someone walks in and hands you the keys to a brand new Corvette. "Here you go!" he says. "It's all yours!"

Basically, given what had happened against the Flyers, Boston wasn't ready to fully appreciate the addition of a talent like Seguin. The pain of the playoff collapse was still too fresh. But in all their agony, the arrival of the rookie gave Bruins fans a reason to move past the playoffs and look forward to the future. Boston was fortunate for that. It's very rare that a team can come within one win of the Conference Finals and add a rookie of Seguin's caliber. The kid hadn't even put on the jersey yet and was generating more buzz than any Bruins since Joe Thornton. You already felt like you were going to remember the "Tyler Seguin Era."

On June 30, the day after Seguin was introduced, Doc Rivers announced he was returning to the Celtics to coach out the last year of his contract, a move that would set the Celtics offseason wheels in motion.

Before the announcement, Boston was still caught up in a weird, "What the hell just happened?" Celtics euphoria, yet at the same time, the team was in the midst of some serious indecision.

You didn't know if Doc was coming back, and because of that you didn't know if Paul was coming back and because of that you didn't know if Ray was coming back. Also, was 'Sheed really retiring? How messed up was Kendrick Perkins knee? With all these questions hanging over their head, why did they use their first-round pick on Rajon Rondo's backup? Then there was LeBron: Where was he going? Which team was about to become the Celtics' biggest Eastern Conference rival?

The NBA was preparing for the most explosive offseason in its history, and the Celtics were right in the thick of it. And once Doc officially returned, the Celtics had direction.

Not a moment too soon, either. Free Agency was starting the next day.

Meanwhile, most was quite on the Pats front, except for:

1. Tom Brady's extension: With Brady, everyone sort of knew that the deal would eventually get done, but at the same time, the story of a growing rift between him and the Krafts wouldn't go away. You didn't want to believe it, but it got to the point where you had to at least entertain the idea that Brady might head elsewhere.

OK, no you didn't. But you definitely had to pay attention. It was too important not to.

2. Wes Welker's knee: His recovery was ahead of schedule.

Of course it was! He's Wes Welker.

But still, no one except for probably the man himself truly believed he'd be ready for the start of the season.

Training Camp wouldn't start until July 25.

As for the Sox, they ended June only a game behind the Yankees, but seemed to be playing on borrowed time. On the final day of the month, injuries had gotten so bad that they started an outfield of Mike Cameron, Darnell McDonald and Eric Paterson in a 9-4 loss to the Rays.

They weren't capturing the city's interest like they had for the past, I don't know, 100 or so years. Maybe it was the injuries, maybe it was all the excitement with the Celtics and Bruins, maybe chicks just don't dig run prevention.

But whatever it was, we were in the midst of a pretty strange summer here in Boston. And this was just the beginning.

Chapter 7 JULY: Dirty Sox

With Doc back, the Celtics made quick work in the NBA free agent pool.

Between July 1 (the first day of free agency) and July 8 (the day God would rise again and tell us where his talents would be taken), the Celtics re-signed Pierce for four years, they re-signed Allen for two years (at a very reasonable 10M per) and signed Jermaine O'Neal for two years with the Mid-Level Exception.

The same night they signed O'Neal, LeBron told Jim Gray he was headed to Miami, and suddenly, in the eyes of the world, the Celtics lost their Eastern Conference crown. The league now belonged to Miami, and the NEW Big Three. I mean, how insulting, they even gave them the same nickname! (Imagine that?)

While the Heat hosted dance parties and popped bottles in celebration of their brand new unbeatable dynasty, the Celtics stewed and hoped to find a few more pieces to bolster their attack by Opening Night.

It was the offseason for the C's, and while it's not completely unheard of for a team to dominate headlines during off peak moments, it is rare for that domination to take place during the summer.

After all, that's Red Sox time.

You know, the Red Sox, with superstars like Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, um . . . J.D. Drew . . . Darnell McDonald? Daniel Nava? Wait, who the hell are these guys?

"These guys" were probably the scrappiest group of Red Sox Boston had seen in some time. But as days, turned into weeks and months, feel good stories like McDonald and Nava started to lose their novelty, and even though the Sox were still winning remember, they went 18-9 in June general interest was dwindling. And the injuries weren't letting up.

In the last week of June, Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez had all been placed on the DL (joining Josh Beckett and Jacoby Ellsbury). Then, on July 1, Jason Varitek was disabled not a huge deal, talent-wise, but 'Tek was still an absurdly popular guy and on July 5, Clay Buchholz was put down with a bum hamstring.

At the time, Buchholz was pitching better than just about anyone in the game, and what had made his injury so frustrating other than the fact that it was the 15,000th one the team had endured on the young season was how it happened: Running the bases in an interleague game.

Really? Can't this team get a little bit of a break?

They'd already lost their center fielder to a supposedly harmless collision with his own teammate, their starting catcher to a broken thumb suffered on his glove hand while trying to catch a foul tip, and now this?

If there was ever a season for someone to out-weird Paxton Crawford's "I fell off my bed and onto glass" injury, you had the feeling it was going to happen in 2010. When would it stop?

July went by without any cause for real Sox excitement. Honestly, the most exciting thing to happen to the Sox in July was David Ortiz winning the Home Run Derby. That tells you all you need to know.

Their play was uneven they'd win two, lose two. Win two, lose four. Win one, lose one. Win one, lose one. They were playing very average baseball with very average lineups. And even though the tail end of the month saw the return of guys like Beckett and Martinez and early August was supposed to bring back Pedroia, and (brace yourself) Ellsbury the damage had already been done.

Boston went 12-13 in July. Meanwhile, the Yankees went 19-7, and their one-game lead at the start of the month was now 7 12 heading into August. It also did help matter that Theo took a breather at the trade deadline, while the Yankees brought in Kerry Wood, Lance Berkman and other big-name vets. Actually, I'm sorry, I mis-typed. The Red Sox actually did trade Ramon Ramirez to the Giants in exchange for a pitcher who had spent the season playing for the Richmond Flying Squirrels. So that's something.

Anyway, the buzz on the 2010 Sox seemed to die before it ever picked up steam. Most years that would be catastrophic for a city that pretty much runs on baseball during the summer. But this year, it was OK.

Patriots training camp had begun on July 29 Brady contract talk was starting to get a little more dramatic; we were only six weeks away from the start of the regular season and Welker was still, improbably, on track to start; and, oh yeah, there was Randy Moss. The Celtics had used the rest of July to re-sign Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels.

However, the C's did have a couple more tricks up their XXXXL sleeves.

Chapter 8 August: "Kazaam!"

In this era of free agency, you see a lot of things in sports that you never thought you would.

For instance, if someone had come up to you in 2005 and said:

"Hey, just so you know, five years from now Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will both be playing in Boston. Also, the Celtics will have Jermaine O'Neal, but only because Rasheed Wallace retired. And the Sox will have Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and John Lackey, too. And, oh yeah, the Pats are still the best team in the NFL, but only since they traded Randy Moss . . . "

That would have been pretty insane, right?

But it happened. Stuff like that happens all the time now. You kind of just get used to it. But even in this new era of players swapping jerseys like they're groupies, there was, and always will be, something unbelievably surreal about Shaquille O'Neal coming to the Celtics.

They made the deal official on August 4. On August 9, he showed up in Waltham wearing a bow-tie the size of Nate Robinson, met the media and pretty much took over the city. His impact was felt almost immediately, and hasn't stopped since then. You can say what you will about his consistency on the floor, but the "Shaq Experience" has been everything it was cracked up to be.

Anyway, after O'Neal, it looked like the Celtics were pretty much done for the summer. And given what Danny Ainge had had to work with, it was a pretty impressive offseason. Ainge had done the best he could with what he had, and at the very least, he'd put together a team that would contend for at least two more years.

Outside of Rondo's late-summer tour with Team USA, and the now semi-daily Shaq sighting, you expected the rest of August to be pretty quiet in Celtics land and it was. But Shaq was enough and will never feel normal.

On August 2, two nights before Shaq's signing, Kevin Youkilis went down with a torn muscle in his right thumb. Not surprisingly, the injury was so rare that the doctor said that it was the first time he'd ever seen it in a baseball player.

Hey, at least the Sox were consistent. The injury was supposed to be the final blow for this Sox team. Through all the craziness of the first half of the season, Youkilis was their rock; the one guy who seemed too tough and gritty to fall victim to the injury bug. Now he was done for the season with a freak thumb injury.

At that point, everyone wanted to really give up on the Sox. The time seemed right to pull the plug. But at the same time, we couldn't. After all, we'd just gone through basketball and hockey seasons where teams rose from the dead on multiple occasions, from straits far more dire than what the Sox were in now. Sure, if you were a betting man or woman, you wouldn't have placed any cash on the Sox sneaking into the playoffs; it was clearly not their year. But you couldn't yet. Who knows what would happen if Ellsbury could come back (which he did on August 4), Pedroia could get going down the stretch, and either Lackey or Beckett or, God forbid both, could turn it around. You never know!

Eh, we kind of did. But still, August was too early too surrender especially with the Celtics and Bruins (who officially signed Seguin on August 3) disappearing for a while. In the meantime, the Sox would have to due, and it helped that things were starting to get exciting down in Foxboro.

When I say exciting, that shouldn't be confused for optimism, because the excitement only came in that sense that football was back, or at least getting close. Most of the stuff that was going on at Gillette was actually pretty negative.

There still didn't seemed like there was any progress being made with Brady. His quotes to the media were swimming with discontent and frustration towards the front office. The Krafts continually went out of their way to praise Brady in public and suggest that the deal would get done, and you still believed it. But at the same time, why wasn't it done yet? What were they waiting for? It had gotten so bad that heading into training camp, some of the NFL's biggest reporters (in name, at least) like Adam Schefter and John Clayton were suggesting that Brady might hold out. He reported, but he wasn't happy. That was for sure.

Speaking of holdouts, Logan Mankins still hadn't shown up for camp, and that situation gotten ugly with every passing day. The Patriots' defense had been called into question for much of the offseason, and after a decent first few games, the 'D' started to show major holes. In Week 3 of the preseason, Sam Bradford carved up the Pats in the Rams 36-35 victory. The offense would be fine. Assuming they could keep Randy happy it was the last year of his contract, which for most people spells gold, but for Randy always ends in disaster and especially if Laurence Maroney could finally turn it around.

But the defense was screwed. Rookie and no-names. They had no identity. You knew Mayo and Wilfork, but other than that you'd watch and think, "Hey, who's that guy wearing Vrabel's number?" As the preseason wrapped up, you knew they'd win some games. The offense was too good. But the 'D'. The horror!

On the brightside, Welker was ready. He had beaten the odds and would be back for opening game. Belichick did a little more house-cleaning, as well, in giving Derrick Burgess a late-camp release. And it looked like he may have found something in the draft with the two new tight ends. But you weren't feeling great about the Patriots on Aug. 31.

Over the course of the month, the Red Sox had dodged death more times than Steve-O. Pedroia had tried to come back, and failed. Ellsbury had tried to come back (again) and failed (again). His season was lost. There was so much promise, and that one collision had erased it all. Beckett and Lackey still had nothing. At one point, the Sox actually signed Carlos Delgado or maybe that was a dream.

After a 15-13 August, they were eight games back of the Yankees.

We kept one-eye on the Sox, but we were ready for some football.

Chapter 9 September: Buckle Up

Like most people, I woke up on the morning of September 9, rolled over, contemplated what that "grandma riding a zebra" dream was all about, then checked my e-mail and saw a list of unread messages titled:

"Brady!! Holy @@!"
"This story has been forwarded you by Adam B.: Tom Brady was in a car acc . . .
"Are you sitting down?"
"Some person you can't stand is now using Facebook Marketplace!"

At that point, everything got real chaotic.

For a second, I had to I wonder if Tom Brady might have been killed in a car accident. A crazy as it sounds now, how else was I, or anyone, supposed to think in that situation? It's only human nature. And not want you ever imagined yourself waking up to on a random Thursday morning.

It immediately became clear that was not only alive, but also mostly unscathed in the accident. There wasn't even much of a question as to whether he'd start the season opener three days later against the Bengals. But for about two days, this accident, despite the fact that we learned everything that we needed to about it after 30 minutes, dominated the region. It was the lead story on every single newscast. On that Thursday night, I swear one of the local stations kicked off the 11 o'clock news with 20 minutes on Brady, before casually transitioning into a story about an active serial killer who was loose in New England.

That same night, oddly enough, hours after escaping death, Brady and the Patriots agreed on a four-year contract extension. An overly dramatic ending to what always felt like an overly dramatic negotiation. The season kicked off on Sunday.

We'll get back there in a second, but first a quick check on the other three teams:

Celtics: On September 2, they re-signed Delonte West an absolute fan favorite from his former day in Celtic green. Delonte was the final piece to Danny Ainge's mad scientist's puzzle. He'd taken all these drastically different and varied personalities, and somehow connected them in a way that made sense. The Celtics were legitimate contenders again, and the prospect of a season with West was unbelievable. Training camp was slated for September 28.

Bruins: They commenced Training camp on September 12, in preparation for their upcoming European adventure. And while there were still questions about Marc Savard's health, Tim Thomas' future, whether Tuukka Time was here to stay, and assortment of other typical start of the season topics, the bottom line is that everyone was finally ready to just have something else to talk about. To turn the page on last season and start building on this one.

Red Sox: They were swept by the White Sox over Labor Day weekend and fell 10 games behind the Yankees. Done, right?

Nope. Remember. These were the 2010 Red Sox. They were the definition of bend-but-don't-break. Actually, that's not true. They had more breaks than a green at Augusta (ding!). But they were the kings of life support. They were Jack Kevorkian's worst nightmare. And we played along, did the math, counted the games, figured out the schedules. If there was a way for them to somehow pull this off, we had no choice but to believe (however half-heartedly we did it), and wait for the moment when , once and for all, we could write off the 2010 season.

That moment came on September 25 Yankee Stadium. The Sox had taken the lead off Mariano Rivera in what had to be the weirdest rally in recent Red Sox history With one out and the Yankees lead 2-1, Ryan Kalish hit a single. Then stole second. Then third.

Bill Hall singled Kalish in. Then stole second. Then third. Mike Lowell hit a sac fly to score Hall and the Sox had the lead. If they could hold on for three more outs, they'd have cut the Yankees lead to 4 12 in the Wild Card with seven games to play. And three of those games were against the Yankees. Suddenly, thanks to four stolen bases in a row offMariano Rivera, the Sox had a real chance to save this ridiculous season.

And then Papelbon blew the save.

The Sox went on to lose four out of their next five and that was it. One of the strangest, most confusing seasons in Red Sox history was in the books.

As we looked toward the offseason, one thing was very clear. The Sox needed to make a splash. They'd lost too many casual fans that last season. They had to win people back. They had to WIN. But how far would they be willing to go? That was the question.

Real quick: Back to Pats. In our story, the season hasn't even started yet.

Now it's Week 1, Brady just came off the accident. The Bengals are supposed to have a pretty good team. The Patriots absolutely destroy them, 38-24. The offensive looked great. The defense was OK, but they were OK enough. This was just the kind of win they needed heading into the New Meadowlands next week.Everyone should have been happy.

Randy Moss wasn't happy.

His long, twisted, emotional and unsolicited breakdown in the postgame press conference was more important than we ever could have imagine at the time, but back then it was just Randy being Randy. You know how sometimes you can look back on a bad relationship and think, "Wow. That was messed up. How did I not realize how messed up that was?" That's the Randy Moss Years were like for New England. It was so unhealthy, but we'd learned to live with it. He'd do something crazy like what he did after Bengals game and we'd just laugh. It's like he was some sort of tortured genius who could only perform under these volatile conditions, so we let him go. We'd shrug it off. That's the price you pay for having a receiver as talented as Randy Moss.

But looking back, you can see just how detrimental that was to the team. The bad vibe it set. It doesn't matter if he was totally cool and respectful to his teammates; there's no way something like that didn't make for uneasiness in the locker room. And the press conference is just the only time we know of him blowing. Who knows what was happening behind closed doors? Even if it was just all about the contract.

The sad part about the Randy Moss situation is that despite all the stunts he pulled, and all the times he dogged it, you really wanted to root for him. There was something very awesome about having Moss on the Patriots. He's an icon. Maybe not quite Shaquille O'Neal status, but it doesn't get much more surreal than learning that your favorite team just landed Randy Moss in his prime. Like Shaq, the mystique of rooting for Randy Moss never quite faded. Even through some of the negatives. And like a bad past relationship, you can't go back and do anything differently, but you can just be happy that you're better for getting passed it.

Anyway, that's it for Randy.

After his rant was done, the Patriots set out to prepare for the Jets. But before we even got that far, Belichick continued his locker room cleanse and traded underachieving Laurence Maroney to Denver, marking the end of a career so disappointing that even Gerald Green was shaking his head.

Now, the Pats needed a backup running back to step in for Maroney, and seeing that it was a Jets week and Belichick is always looking for a little edge, the Pats brought in some scrubby little kid off the Jets practice named Danny Woodhead. They'd probably milk him for all he had and then cut him after the game.

The Pats lost to the Jets thanks to a disgusting second half. The defense was exposed. Brady looked off he just hadn't looked the same lately and to make matters worse, Kevin Faulk tore his ACL.

Hmm, they need a third-down back . . . maybe they should give that little scrubby kid a try?

In the second quarter of the Pats' Week 3 win over the Bills, on his second carry as a Patriot, Woodhead broke through for a 22-yard touchdown run, and never looked back.

The Pats were 2-1, but not really oozing with confidence. The defense had given up 68 points in the last two weeks, and to two average offenses. There were so many rookies out there. The schedule looked so daunting. Welker still wasn't 100 percent although his two touchdowns on opening day were inspiring. Randy was a ticking time bomb. Heading into October, the team was OK. They were average.

Meanwhile, the Celtics were attacking Twitter with footage of what looked to be the most fun-loving training camp in NBA history. The Bruins were in Dublin and the Sox were shutting down.

But the Pats were just getting started.

Chapter 10 October: Trading Places
On October 4, the Pats went into Miami for their latest "biggest game of the season." This was their first real chance to prove themselves after the Jets game. This was before we realized Miami couldn't win at home, but the thinking was, "If the Pats go down and get killed in Miami on Monday night, then they're toast. Then they're exactly what we think they are, and we're headed for a frustrating year. If they win? Then, OK, it's still real early but we're going to have to take you more seriously. This is on the road. In the division. Hank Williams Jr.! This would be a huge win."

And the Pats won huge. They completely dominated the Fish in every aspect of the game. Final Score: 41-14

Randy Moss' final line: Goose egg

There are a few versions of what happened next. Some say Moss and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien had a falling out after the game. Some said the falling out had actually happened long before that. Some think that Randy had become an issue in the locker room. Some think Belichick was just sick of dealing with him. Some think Randy forced his way out. Others say he was forced.

But whatever the reason, after the Patriots had just shown that they could win a huge game without the services of Moss, the time was apparently right for Belichick, and he sent Moss to Minnesota for a draft pick.

The initial reaction was shock, but once he was officially gone especially once Deion Branch came back in his place, and certainly after the team pulled off the great comeback win against Baltimore right after the trade people quickly realized what was going on.

Moss was the last piece of house cleaning. He was the last guy there who couldn't see the big picture. Maybe he had reason to be upset; maybe he deserved an extension. But the Pats just didn't want him. Belichick always talks about doing what's best for the team, and he no longer thought that, for whatever reasons, Randy Moss was best for the team.

And he was gone. Then they beat the Ravens (barely). And then the Chargers (barely). Then on Halloween night, Randy Moss and some older gentleman brought the Vikings to Foxboro.

You expected emotions. You expected a little bit of regret. But in the aftermath of the Patriots' 28-18 win, Randy Moss put on another show on the postgame podium. He talked about how much he missed the Patriots, and loved the organization. In the process, he found time to criticize his own head coach and announce that from here on out he'd only be interviewing himself.

The next day he was cut. The Pats were 6-1, and had a cakewalk in Cleveland coming up the next weekend.

The Bruins' season started our sort of sour out in Prague, as they dropped the opener, 5-2, to the Coyotes. But they quickly rebounded with four straight wins. They finished the month on a two-game streak and with a 6-2 record. Tim Thomas was standing on his head, interesting since many assumed he'd be doing so this year in a different uniform. The Bruins were scoring goals. They had a nice crop of rookies and showed no ill effects of a post-playoff hangover. They'd also signed Zdeno Chara to a long term extension. And if they needed any motivation in the mental aspect of the game, all they needed to do was look over and see that Marc Savard was still not playing with the team; still suffering form the effects of that cheap shot by Matt Cooke.

The Celtics were the happiness team on Earth. Maybe the happiest people on Earth. Last season had started with so many negative feelings around it. KG was hurt and miserable. Ray and Rondo were still looking for contracts. Rasheed was Rasheed. Big Baby was unhappy and about to start the season in a cast. It was just a depressing place, and that carried into the season.

The exact opposite was happening this season. Shaq was clicking. Paul was in great shape. KG never looked better. Rondo was well-rested after his controversial cut from Team USA. And the team was so unbelievably motivated. They hadn't gotten over how close they came. They probably never will. And they knew that this year was their last chance to make good on that mess. The vibe was off the charts, and it showed on opening night, when they officially ended the Heat's bid for an 82-0 regular season. In one night, they took the Eastern Conference back

As for the Sox? Well, their owners bought a soccer team for 477 million on October 7.

The Sox were screwed.

Chapter 11 November: This looks familiar . . .

As we approach the end of the year, a lot of this stuff is much more recent, a little clearer on the brain and probably doesn't need thousands of words of back up.

At this point, you remember what happened to the Patriots in Cleveland on November 7. How four quarters made us re-think all the wonderful feelings we'd developed for the post-Moss Patriots, and how then, they didn't lose another game for eight weeks and counting including wins over the Steelers, Colts, Jets, Bears and Packers.

You know this team now. For the first time since probably Brady's injury, they have a real identity again. You know what they're all about and know you exactly what they're going to give you. You watch that no-name defense from August and September, and now you know every single name. You know all about them fine, maybe not Eric Moore. Not yet. You know how that underwhelming draft class turned into easily the group in the NFL. And that Brady is still the best quarterback in the game.

You knew that he wasn't right last year, but you could never put your finger on what it was. Or maybe you just had trouble visualizing just how amazing he used to be. But this year it's clear. The interception record is cool, but it's kind of bogus. You don't need a record like that to symbolize what Brady has done this season. For the last eight weeks, he's been perfect. If not completely, then close. You look at him at the head of this offense, and you wonder how they'll be beat.

They've come along way since the Moss trade in October. Even longer from all the Brady holdout talk over the summer. And an eternity from that awful game against the Ravens last January.

We know how quickly and can change. One fluke injury this Sunday in Foxboro and one bad start three weeks from now in the playoffs, and everything's different.

But this year. It doesn't feeling like it will be.

Right now, the Bruins are back in first place in the Northeast Division. And while, you hope they'll take that momentum and run with it. They've yet to really earn that level of confidence.

At times, Tyler Seguin has looked like an 18-year-old phenom, sometimes he's just looked like an 18-year-old. Tim Thomas is off his playing rocker, so much so that TuukkaTime is on sabbatical. Marc Savard is finally back. It's amazing how this injury lingers for this team. They couldn't forget about the Matt Cooke incident if they tried. It's right there every day. But they'll have to overcome that.

They'll have to overcome a lot of last year's demons if they're going to make this one any different.

But they're off to a good start. Good, not great, but you'd like to think that they have the pieces to get there.

Chapter 12 December: Liverpool's No. 1!!

On the week of Thanksgiving, Victor Martinez signed a four-year, 52 million contract with the Tigers that drove 95 percent of Red Sox Nation to edge of the Zakim Bridge. I was there, too. I was the guy way out on the ledge mumbling something about my grandmother and a zebra. Anyway, when they let Martinez walk, and that sent a message to their fans:

The golden days are over. We'll still spend money, but we're not just going to throw it around like Pacman Jones at a strip club. We're going to be smart, strategic and, basically, a hell of a lot more frugal than you'll like.

That seemed like an unreasonable argument. Even if they hadn't said it outlawed, that's how things were being perceived. And it didn't help that nearly half a billion dollars of cash that could be going to the Red Sox was now sunk into a team across the ocean.

Argghhh! They don't care anymore! They've won their titles and lost their hunger!

December 5: Adrian Gonzalez
December 9: Carl Crawford

We can all shut up now. The racecar owners have spoken.

Just like that, Red Sox Nation is back. Everything is different. The Sox are no longer just another good team. They are one of the very best. They have faces, names and skills to keep millions of fans hyped for 162-plus games. If anything, thanks to pretty much taking last season off, fans are going to treat this season with a level of intensity we probably thought was long gone.

Much like we did with the Patriots and the Celtics, we'd reached the point where we thought the run might be over with the Sox. Not the run of solid teams, but the run of perennial contenders. And like we did with the Celtics and Pats we'll adjust, and because of what we've been through, appreciate it a whole lot more.

Speaking of constant change, the Celtics future changed, or almost changed, drastically while I was typing this incredibly long story.

They spent the first two months of the year feeding off that amazing early season energy, won 14 straight, beat Miami a second time and constantly stepped up to every challenge placed before them. For most of the last few weeks they've been without 100 percent of their All-Star point guard and on court leader. They've been without one or sometimes both of the O'Neal brothers. And they haven't slowed down.

Then, on December 29, Kevin Garnett, who was playing some of the best basketball of his Celtics career, went up for a dunk and came down wincing, and then limping, and is now out for two weeks with a strained muscle in his leg.

What happens with that leg will likely decide how far this team can go. But if he can come back, and maintain that physical and mental dominance he brought to the table over the first few months of this season, the Celtics seemed destined for another shot at Banner 18. And you know which team they'd like to see there.

Truth is, we have impossible expectations here in Boston. That's the price we pay for the last decade of success. But while this year began with that awful month of January, and all those pessimistic feelings about what might come of 2010, December left us with more hope for the 2011 than we ever could've imagined.

Now as long as the Bruins don't go signing Satan again, everything should be cool.Epilogue If youve read this in its entirety, then its most likely already 2011.
Happy New Year!Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?


BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.

11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.

15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.

19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.


 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Boston’s Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
And even that might not be enough.
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
“Here in this league,” he said. “You have to love challenges.”