Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Catching Up with the Busy New England Patriots

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

In the past week, by my count, the Patriots have signed, re-signed, or traded for 8 different players. This has been an unusually active period for the Pats who historically let the first few days of the free agent signing period settle before jumping in looking for deals. This year, Bill Belichick jumped into the trade market on March 8th and when free agency began at 4pm on March 9th, he made a big splash signing a #1 CB to bolster the defense. For those who haven’t been following the Pats moves as closely as I have, here is a recap of the new additions to the roster (in order of acquisition).

TE Dwayne Allen, Traded from the Colts 

Allen was the first domino to fall for the Pats and fills the #2 TE void that was left behind with the departure of Martellus Bennett (signed with the Packers). Allen is an excellent blocker, which is exactly what Bill Belichick looks for in a #2 TE, so he should fit in nicely. Allen has a history of catching passes in the red zone and will likely have a chance to tally some TDs this season opposite Rob Gronkowski.

CB Stephon Gilmore, Signed in Free Agency

The biggest early splash was the 5 year, $65 million deal Gilmore got in free agency from the Pats. The big payday was warranted given that he was one of the top ranking free agents this off-season, it’s just surprising the Pats were the one paying. After 5 years with the Bills and 5 defensive coordinators, Gilmore is ready for some stability. If he works hard and buys into the system (some question there), Gilmore has the size and athleticism to be an excellent #1 CB, especially since he is just 26 years old. The signing did create some issues with CB Malcolm Butler, who will likely be playing somewhere else next season. If not, a Butler/Gilmore secondary could be dominant against the pass next season.

S Duron Harmon, Re-signed

Harmon is a perfect Belichick player. He’s the 3rd safety on the depth chart and plays mostly in nickel and dime packages, but is also an important special teams player. Bill loves guys who get dirty on special teams and can contribute in multiple aspects of the game. Harmon has only missed 1 regular season game in 4 seasons, making him a nice, stable rotational piece.

TE Michael Williams, Re-signed

Many Pats fans won’t even know the name Michael Williams because he didn’t see the field in 2016. Williams is the definition of a depth piece who can be valuable in case of several injuries. In 2015 he appeared in 15 games of the Pats (started 9) and caught 3 passes for 26 yards over that span – he was primarily a blocker. At 26 years old, the Pats like him enough to keep him around, but don’t expect to see his name called unless something catastrophic happens.

WR Brandin Cooks, Traded from the Saints

One could argue this trade was even bigger than the Gilmore signing and may be the best move of the off-season, period. Cooks has been coveted by Belichick and the Pats for years and now he is a Patriot. The 23-year old WR is one of the best receivers in football and the sky is the limit on his potential. The Pats gave up their 1st and 3rd round picks for Cooks, but he has an expiring rookie contract after this season. My guess is that Belichick and Co. hope he signs a longer term deal and stays in New England for the foreseeable future, although he will not come cheap and likely demand top dollar. Cooks had 75+ receptions and 1,000+ yards in his last 2 seasons with New Orleans, which is up there with only Antonio Brown of the Steelers and Odell Beckham Jr. for the Giants in terms of production. Cook adds speed to the Pats receiving options, making them even more potent this upcoming season.

DE Kony Ealy, Traded from the Carolina Panthers

The Pats looked to bolster their defensive line depth by trading for Kony Ealy from the Panthers. Ealy has played in all 32 regular season games the past 2 seasons for the Panthers, but only started 15 of them total. He can get to the QB and is just 25, so could develop into regular starter over time. Ealy is best known for his dominant performance in Super Bowl 50, when he became the only play to force a fumble, get an interception, and record 3 sacks in a game. The potential is there and the risk is pretty low.

DT Lawrence Guy, Signed in Free Agency

Another guy in his mid-20s with potential. Guy is a journeyman defensive lineman who will add depth to the Pats line. He is 6-5, 300lbs and has 67 games under his belt (20 starts). During the past 2 seasons Guy played for the Ravens and started 17 of their 32 games while racking up 5.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. He’s a big body inside who stays at home and won’t light-up a stat sheet. A Belichick special: depth.

RB Rex Burkhead, Signed in Free Agency

Fitting the same mold, Burkhead is a 26-year old with potential, but little to show for it in his career. He will have to compete with James White and Dion Lewis for a spot in the backfield, but given past injury history at the RB position, it’s a low-risk signing. Burkhead is looking for a chance to play and will likely be motivated to work hard in practice to prove his value. I doubt he will see the field much this year, but could be a safety valve is White and/or Lewis go down for an extended period of time.

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LB Dont’a Hightower, TBD

As of writing this, Hightower had yet to make a decision on where he was signing, but a return to the Pats seemed likely and a decision was expected Wed. The Jets and Steelers were also reportedly interested in his services, but the needle seemed to be pointing to Foxboro.

CB Malcolm Butler, On roster

One of the bigger stories recently had been the discontent of Butler, the Pats #1 CB and Super Bowl hero. Butler is set to make under $4 million this year if he signs the transitional tag, which is a big raise, but still makes him vastly underpaid (see Gilmore’s deal). The Saints may be interested in his services leading to a potential trade in the near future. Stay tuned.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, On roster

Will they or won’t they trade Garoppolo? No one really knows, but the Browns remain the most likely landing spot for the Pats back-up. The Pats don’t have a 1st or 2nd round pick this year, so a trade with the Browns could solve the pick deficit for Belichick. My opinion swings daily on if this will actually happen.

Shut Your Mouth & Pitch: The David Price Story

Getty Images

In Tuesday’s Boston Globe, Stan Grossfeld published an interview with Red Sox starting pitcher David Price that has the Boston media market buzzing. The entire purpose of this interview is to ride in the car with Price as he heads to the ballpark in the morning during spring training. The first several questions tell you exactly what the interview is supposed to be: a puff-piece. A quick, easy, get-to-know David Price interview. It starts with questions about karma, bringing coffee to the training staff, and of course, about Price’s dog Astro. Ironically, the question that started to turn the interview dark was “What is your passion?”

A harmless, bullshit question that had an easy answer, “I have a foundation, Project One Four.” It makes total sense, a chance to promote his charity work and talk about what the charity means to him. Simple. What’s the next sentence out of his mouth? “That’s one of the things that honestly chafed me about being in Boston – with the reporters, not one time did anybody take the time to get to know me or my foundation or anything I do away from the field.” What? Really? You’re that self-centered? Oh here we go…

As my father-in-law said when he read the article, “I liked the first half, then the whole tone changed.” It was as if Price was just waiting for the perfect time to start shitting on Boston. When is he going to fucking realize he is getting paid $30 million to PITCH in the MAJOR LEAGUES. He’s not getting paid to be the Executive Director or Director of Marketing for his charity, he’s paid to PITCH. If he wants to promote his charity, he can just hop on the Twitter-machine he’s so fond of and type until his little heart’s content. Practically every freaking MLB player has a charity that they either created or play a significant role in, it’s not unique, and no David, you are not special. You do your job and the reporters will do their job: report on baseball.

Sadly, then shit got real…

Grossfeld asked another ridiculously benign question, “Tell me something about you that people don’t know. Surprise me.” Price’s response, “People in Boston don’t know anything about me. The only thing I have to do is pitch good. People don’t care about what I do or the type of person that I am. That doesn’t matter.” Overlooking the glaring grammatical mistakes, let’s dig in a bit, shall we? YOU GET PAID $30 MILLION A YEAR TO PITCH. Baseball is entertainment and Price is privileged enough to get paid more in one year than our entire extended families will ever even see in our combined lifetimes. And I know I’m a broken record here, but YOU GET PAID $30 MILLION TO THROW A FUCKING BASEBALL.

I feel the need to respond to Price directly, so here it is: If you want people to care about you as a person, David, shut your fucking mouth and perform. Get your ass off twitter and stop being a egocentric dick at every turn. Do you want to know why fans love former players like Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield? They shut their damn mouths and performed. They worked their asses off day in and day out to get better and be the best team players they could. They didn’t fuck around on twitter and shit on Boston to the media. How many Red Sox fans could tell you Jason Varitek’s wife’s name? His kids names? His dog(s) names? Hell, I don’t even know if Tek has a dog and frankly, I don’t give a shit. Why? Because he was paid to play baseball.

The interview just continued to unravel and got worse, but frankly, I’m done. I was in support of the Price contract when he came to Boston. The Red Sox were in need of stability in the starting rotation and he had a track-record of being a workhorse who toed the rubber every 5 days and ate innings. Yes, he had some baggage (*cough* postseason record *cough*), but who doesn’t? if you go out and perform, especially in Boston, no one cares about the other crap (i.e. Manny Ramirez).

I’m going to end with this; a reminder to Price. You were a free agent and signed with Boston, no one forced you to be here. You chased the money into a large media market, a decision of your own free-will, now you have to deal with that decision. For the love of all things good, just shut your fucking mouth and pitch.

Patriots to Sign CB Stephon Gilmore

Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

A busy few days for the Patriots as the free agency period kicks off at 4pm today. Yesterday, the Pats added TE depth in a trade for Dwayne Allen from the Colts and today they are looking to replace the likely opening at #2 CB as Logan Ryan gets a big payday with another team. The Pats are reportedly close to a big contract with former Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore. Nothing is finalized yet (it can’t be until after 4pm), but it appears Gilmore will get $14 million a year with the Pats and could be a very strong #2 CB. The report was from Adam Schefter on twitter.

Gilmore was the Bills first round pick out of South Carolina in 2012 and has been a good player for them. Some believe Gilmore had a down season in 2016, but by the numbers, he seemed to have a solid campaign. He finished the year with 48 tackles, 12 passes deflected, and 5 interceptions (a career high) in 15 games. In his 5-year career, Gilmore has 226 tackles, 4 forced fumbles and 14 interceptions. The biggest concern is that he has not played 16 games in a season since his rookie year. He missed 1 game last year, 4 in 2015, and 2 in 2014.

Overall, his numbers are good and he is considered to be a top-tier free agent this offseason. The price tag is definitely steep at $14 million a year, but many believe he is worth the money. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com and the NFL Network described the price tag on twitter as “Hefty but worth it.”

Patriots Trade for TE Dwayne Allen

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

A day before the NFL free agency period begins, the New England Patriots made their first move. They traded a 4th round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for TE Dwayne Allen and a 6th round pick. The move comes with the knowledge that TE Martellus Bennett is leaving the Patriots after 1 season in Foxboro to get a big payday from another team (seeking $9 million a year – no thanks). Bennett had a nice year for the Pats, but injuries slowed him down as the season wore on.

Allen is the perfect fit for the Pats. He is primarily a great blocker and an decent receiver, exactly what Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels want in their TEs. It’s clear the Pats need protection for when Rob Gronkowski inevitably gets injured and when Gronk is healthy, they need a strong 2nd TE for deception and blocking purposes. Allen has a solid history of making plays in the red zone, another key area for the Pats.

Like every other TE the Pats bring in, Allen has a spotty, injury-ridden past. Since a breakout rookie campaign in 2012 (45 receptions for 521 yards and 3 TDs), Allen hasn’t played a full 16-game season. He missed nearly the entire 2013 season and has missed 8 total games the past 3 seasons. The upside is that Allen just turned 27 and is under team control through the 2019 season at a reasonable salary ($5 million for 2017 and 2018, then $7.4 million in 2019). If he can stay relatively healthy, he’ll be a solid #2 TE for the next few years.

Overall, I give the trade a solid B. Allen is still on the young end, under team control, and he cost the Pats very little (a 2-round drop in the draft). He has the potential to be a very solid player for the Pats, but there are obviously some question marks. A classic Bill Belichick move.

Birthday Balloons: Jim Rice

AP Photo

Happy 64th Birthday to Hall of Famer Jim Rice! The Anderson, SC native hit 382 HRs and had 1,451 RBIs over a long 16-year career, all with the Boston Red Sox. In 2009, on his final Hall of Fame Ballot (15th year), Jim Ed was given baseball’s highest honor; being enshrined in Cooperstown.

Is the World Baseball Classic Good for Baseball?

On Monday, in the wee hours of the morning here in the U.S., the World Baseball Classic (WBC) began in Seoul, South Korea. The first game pitted the lowest ranked international team in the competition, Israel, vs host South Korea. The game was tied at 1 until the top of the 10th inning when Israel drove in the winning run, upsetting the host nation. That game began a 2-week international competition aimed at engaging other countries in the sport of baseball awhile providing an opportunity for players to represent their home nations. The tournament will culminate with a title game in Los Angeles on March 23rd, but does anyone even care? Should you even care?

The WBC is an attempt to expand the reach of baseball internationally and for that alone I give it the tip of my cap. Any increased interest in baseball internationally is a great, but how does this impact those in the U.S. and Canada who already have easy access to the sport? Ultimately, it may hurt. Let me explain…

The timing of the WBC is squarely in the middle of spring training. Top stars from around the world have now left their MLB teams to practice and play in high-leverage games around the world with just 2 weeks of training behind them. Normally, these players ease into competition for a month before even thinking about really pushing themselves hard in games that matter. Throwing off the rhythm of a big league ball player could spell disaster as the very long baseball season wears on. It could result in injuries during the tournament or injuries caused by playing several more meaningful games very early in the year, especially for those on teams who reach the finals. The last WBC was in 2013 and the MLB saw a spike in DL stints during the season (521) compared to the season prior (485) and the season following (476)*.

Injuries are bad for baseball, especially if the injured players are stars or well-known commodities. The majority of ticket buyers pay to see their favorites players on their field, not to watch their minor league back-up get some MLB action (even if that young kid is the future). An unknown player won’t sell jerseys and apparel that make the MLB a boatload of money; ultimately reducing revenues, hurting baseball. Realistically the impact is likely small in the scheme of things, but if for example Andrew McCutchen gets injured in the tournament and can’t play for the Pittsburgh Pirates for awhile, that hurts the game of baseball.

I’m sure the WBC really does increase the interest in baseball globally and allows fans in places like South Korea, Mexico, and Japan to see MLB players play live, but for me, a fan of the MLB in the U.S., it feels unnecessary and potentially harmful to the overall product.

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If you are a crazy baseball person like me and want an underdog story to follow, look no further than team Israel. Ranked 41st in the world, they made the 16 team tournament as tremendous underdogs. The next lowest ranked team is 19th ranked Columbia. As of writing this post, they are 2-0 in group play, beating host South Korea and Chinese Taipei. They have 1 game left in pool play vs. powerhouse Netherlands and are almost assured a spot in the final 8 with their first 2 wins. Their roster is filled with mostly minor-league prospects and just a few somewhat familiar names (Ryan Lavarnway, Sam Fuld). Just making the tournament was an accomplishment, forget finishing in the top-half. I’m a sucker for a good underdog story!

*DL stint information provided by www.baseballheatmaps.com.

Way To Early Red Sox Spring Training Predictions

Christopher Evans/Boston Herald

After a week of games, I finally had some time to sit and watch the Red Sox play on Sunday. The eye test can be a powerful tool in evaluating players because stats in the spring can lie (see my thoughts on spring stats here). It is still very early in spring training, but I have some quick observations and predictions.

Kyle Kendrick – Mark my words, before the All-Star break the Red Sox will be leaning on Kyle Kendrick in their starting rotation. With David Price‘s status uncertain at best, the Red Sox are already thinning out in the rotation. The three starters at the end of the rotation, Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Drew Pomeranz, have all had injury issues and raise serious concerns around durability. If one of them goes down, then the Red Sox will be looking at the likes of Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, and Roenis Elias to fill the role; or Kyle Kendrick. The Red Sox took a low-risk flyer on him, but with a strong spring training, he may be the next in line to stabilize the rotation.

Mookie Betts – It never gets old watching Mookie Betts swing the bat. He cleans out the inside fastball like very few can and just looks smooth, whether it’s March or September. Betts had an excellent breakout 2016 campaign and I don’t expect him to fall off in 2017. He hit .318 with 31 HRs last year and finished 2nd in the AL MVP race. Betts is poised to be the next in a long line of superstar outfielders for the Red Sox.

Mitch Moreland – When the Red Sox signed Moreland, I thought he was a low-risk bench player. Unfortunately, Moreland is going to play more than he should in 2017. He’s a mid-.200 hitter at best and frankly, my early impression of his defense is disappointing at best. He feels like a roster-filler for a shitty team that just needs bodies, like the Red Sox opponent on Sunday the Atlanta Braves. Instead, a team that is a legitimate contender has him playing first base several times a week.

Deven Marrero – For a few years now Marrero has looked like an excellent prospect waiting for his chance in the big leagues. My prediction: he will be in the Red Sox lineup by mid-season and never look back. For everyone’s sake, I hope he is playing 1st or 3rd base and not SS. Marrero made a few sensational diving catches and showed off his cannon of an arm on Sunday while playing SS. Given the big question marks at the corner infield spots, this might be Marrero’s best chance to break into the majors.

A Husky for Life: Rip Hamilton

Dave Martin/AP

On Sunday, the Detroit Pistons retired Richard Hamilton‘s #32 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. It was a nice honor for Rip considering he spent 9 of his 14 NBA seasons with the Pistons and helped them win the NBA title in 2004. He made 3 consecutive All-Star appearances with the team (2006-2008) and had a strong impact on the franchise during his tenure. For me, despite a successful NBA career, Rip will always go down as one of the greatest to wear a UConn jersey.

During his 3-year tenure at UConn (103 games), Rip averaged 19.8 pts/game, 4.5 rebounds/game, and 2.6 assists/game. He was an impressively strong and remarkably steady leader who was able to hit a big shot when the team needed it down the stretch, especially during the National Title run in 1999. In his final 2 seasons with UConn, Rip won the Big East Player of the Year and finished with the most field goals in the conference.

“He’s a rare combination of shooting touch and a feel for the game.” – UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun on Rip Hamilton

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The 1998-1999 season is where Rip Hamilton cemented his college legacy. UConn began the season ranked #2 in the country after a deep tournament run the previous season (Lost to #1 UNC in the East Regional Final). They were expected to have a strong team and did, finishing with a Big East regular season title and running the table in the conference tournament with a win over St. Johns in the final (Rip had 23 points and 7 rebounds in the championship game).

Once the NCAA Tournament started, UConn looked like a force to be reckoned with from jump-street. Behind Rip, the UConn team shalacked #16 Texas-San Antonio in the first round (91-66), handled #9 New Mexico in the 2nd round (78-56), and beat #5 Iowa by 10 (78-68) in the regional semifinals. After a tight contest in the regional finals with a potential cinderella team #10 Gonzaga (67-62), the final four was waiting for the Huskies.

Behind 24 points from Rip, the Huskies pushed #4 Ohio State aside (64-58) for a match-up with the vaunted #1 Duke team in the championship game. On March 29, 1999, Duke and UConn faced off for a much anticipated title game that did not disappoint. The talk was all about Duke’s power and UConn was a 9.5 point underdog entering the game. The Blue Devils had 4 future 1st round picks in it’s lineup (Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette, and William Avery) and had won 37 games that season.

Despite all the pro-Duke build-up, UConn was more than ready to play and held Duke in check in the first half of the title game. Down just 2 points (39-37) with 20 minutes remaining, the UConn players believed in themselves and their chances, even if most others didn’t. UConn had been able to shut down superstar Elton Brand, which was critical to keeping the game tight.

The game continued to be neck-and-neck and down the stretch as UConn held a 4-point lead with under 2 minutes remaining. With 1:38 left to play, Langdon hit a huge 3 to shrink the UConn lead to 1. At the other end of the floor, Khalid El-Amin delivered for UConn with a nice baseline shot to bring the lead back to 3 (75-72). After a Ricky Moore foul and 2 made FTs, the game was back to 1 point with under a minute remaining. Could UConn actually pull off the upset or would Duke prove to be too much in the closing seconds?

With 34.3 seconds left, Jim Calhoun called a timeout to regroup with the game hanging in the balance. After the timeout, El-Amin missed a shot badly with 24 seconds left and Duke grabbed the board and a chance to win the game. Duke chose not to call a timeout and after bringing the ball up the floor. Langdon started to drive to the basket and thanks to stifling defense from Ricky Moore, tried to force the play and traveled. El-Amin was then fouled on the inbound play and hit 2 crucial FTs to bring the UConn lead to 3 points. Duke in-bounded the ball to Langdon with 5.4 seconds remaining and he brought it up the court and tried to get a shot off, but the ball came out and the buzzer sounded. It was over, UConn had won the program’s first national title by upsetting the Duke powerhouse.

“We shocked the world!” -Khalid El-Amin

Rip Hamilton was named the final four Most Outstanding Player and walked into the NBA draft as a champion.

“They knew they were going to win. They were going to beat the best, and they did beat the best tonight. As of this moment, we’re the best team in the country.” – Jim Calhoun on the 1999 Championship game

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My congratulations go out to Rip and his family for such a great honor on Saturday and for a great college and NBA career. You will forever be a Husky and a crucial piece of UConn’s first national title.

What to Watch For During Spring Training

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

Let me begin by saying I love spring training. Baseball is my first love, so any sign that the season is around the corner gets me giddy. There is just one problem… It’s too damn long. Pitchers and catchers reported mid-February and won’t play any meaningful baseball until April 2nd on opening day. That’s 6+ weeks of drills and meaningless baseball games, which can be hard for the casual fan to follow. An added challenge for most is that many games are not on TV  or are afternoon games during the week.

Over the years I have developed a system for knowing what to look for (and not look for) during spring training games. Hopefully it helps you decipher what’s really important this time of year.

What to Watch For (and Ignore)

Watch for Pitcher Ramp-Up, Ignore Pitcher Stat Lines

The most reasonable explanation for a long spring training is the need for a slow build-up of stamina for starting pitchers (and even some relievers). In order to reduce injury risk, most pitchers slowly add workload throughout the month of games in order to be ready for opening day. Watch for starters to begin with an inning or two, around 20-30 pitches initially, then slowly add pitches and innings leading to a more normal-looking start in late March.

During that span, ignore pitcher stat lines. There is nothing more frustrating for me than to read an alarmist article about a starter giving up 4 runs in an inning in March. Every pitcher is unique and their throwing schedules vary greatly. Some pitchers will spend an outing just working on their fastball with very few (or no) secondary pitches. Some will work on their curveball almost exclusively at times to try and improve that particular pitch. ERA and record mean very little in the spring, unless you have a pitcher with a fragile level of confidence (a whole other conversation).

Watch for Quality At-Bats, Ignore Batting Averages

Another mistake made in the spring is looking at player batting averages and projecting regular season success based on them. There are sometimes the case of a young player getting hot in the spring and carrying it over into the season, and that shouldn’t be fully ignored, but the majority of the time it just doesn’t matter. If you are watching a spring game, take a look at how the player approaches an at-bat, how many pitches they see, how fluid and comfortable they look in the batters box. Those things can be much subtle, but also more telling than average.

Let’s take the 2016 Red Sox spring training as an example. David Ortiz played in 18 games, had 45 at-bats, and hit .178 with 2 doubles, 1 HR, and 10 Ks. In the first month of the regular season, Ortiz hit .321 with 5 HRs, 11 doubles, and 14 Ks (22 games, 78 at-bats). Ortiz came right out of the gate with a HR and double on opening day and played well in April, even though his spring was bad. Zero correlation in his case. It’s an extreme example, but proves the point.

Watch for Young Prospects, Ignore Records

After spending time telling you to ignore batting averages, I’m going to slightly modify my stance here in reference to young prospects. Spring is the best time to see young players get reps and try to impress their organization honchos. This may be the only time most fans are able to watch the young guns perform, so take advantage. Sometimes a strong spring for a young player will result in a longer look for a minor league promotion or even a future big-league roster spot. Just ask Jackie Bradley Jr. or Travis Shaw if spring can be the difference in making the MLB roster or not (hint: it did for both of them).

The absolute #1 thing to ignore in the spring is a win/loss record. It is by far the most meaningless stat, because players are slotted in prior to each game to give everyone appropriate playing time. It doesn’t matter if the team is up 10 or down 10, the manager has a plan for player usage and usually follows it closely. On top of that, it is rare that a full regular season lineup is all starting on the same day with an MLB caliber starter on the mound. It will be even less likely this year with the World Baseball Classic happening in conjunction with spring training games. For example, Xander Bogaerts left to play for team Netherlands on 2/28 and won’t play in another game for the Red Sox until at least mid-to-late March, and perhaps not again until the regular season. If you are hoping to see the Red Sox opening day lineup anytime soon, you will be disappointed.

Super Bowl LI: One Month Later

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

In the days following Super Bowl LI, my mind was racing with reflections, observations, and questions. I was in shock and still trying to grasp the gravity of what had happened. That moment almost forced me back to writing after my hiatus, but I decided to catch my breath and reflect on the game during the following weeks. Now, one month later, I can finally take a step back and work through my emotions during the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time.

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Leading up to the game, it felt like destiny and redemption were on the Patriots side. Deflategate had been the top Boston news story for a year and a half and the Pats began the season without their superstar QB Tom Brady thanks to a questionable (I’m being kind) 4-game suspension. The team played well without him (3-1) and when he returned in week 5, he was on a mission. He lit up the league and appeared to have an extra level of motivation (if that’s actually possible). In 12 regular season games, Brady finished with over 3,500 passing yards, 28 TDs (7th best in the NFL), and just 2 interceptions. He had the 5th best completion percentage in football (67.4%) and finished 2nd in the NFL MVP voting (just 4 votes behind his Super Bowl foe, Matt Ryan). Brady led the Pats through the playoffs with relative ease and into the biggest game of the season poised for success.

With Brady at the helm and excitement growing as the game grew near, I felt pretty confident as the ball was teed up for kickoff.  I was ready to finally have deflategate put to bed and watch Roger Goodell painfully smile as Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. All those happy feelings began to drift away when the game started and the dream of a 5th ring appeared to be slipping away in embarrassing blowout fashion.

Because I am a nauseatingly annoyingly optimist, I held a belief (although not strong) that this team could comeback, until the 8:36 mark in the 3rd quarter. After a weak drive to start the 2nd half resulting in a punt, Matt Ryan marched the Falcons down the field and threw a short 6-yard pass to RB Tevin Coleman for a TD, expanding their lead to 28-3. It was over. A 25-point deficit with 23 minutes left in the game is insurmountable. I could see the headlines in the papers the next day “Patriots Hopes Deflated”, “Patriots Embarrassed on the Biggest Stage”, “Patriots Redemption Tour Stopped Short”, and “Falcons Rip Patriots to Shreds” (yes, I know I’m a terrible headline writer…so sue me). Even the obnoxious pain-in-the-ass homer sports fan in me couldn’t see a way to victory and was giving up.

What followed next can only be described as the largest emotional roller coaster a sports fan can ever experience.

From the depths of despair, a tiny glimmer of hope began to emerge later in the 3rd quarter when RB James White caught a 5-yard TD pass from Brady. Some life. A heartbeat. Maybe they can at least make this game competitive. Then, just as quickly as the glimmer arrived, it left when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. Was that not the perfect example of how the game had gone for the Pats? If they couldn’t even do the little things right, then there was certainly no chance of a huge comeback. The missed extra point error was compounded by the next play; a botched onside kick that Gostkowski himself ran into before it went 10 yards. No one knew it at the time, but the sequence of events following that botched kick would turn the game around for the Pats.

The Falcons began the drive essentially in field goal range, especially with their kicker, Matt Bryant‘s incredible leg.  So naturally, you would expect Atlanta to shorten the game by running and taking some time off the clock. Right? Wrong. They pass on first down to TE Austin Hooper for a 9-yard gain.  Ok, I’ll give them that one; a nice pass to pick up a solid chunk of yards while catching the defense off balance. Now they could stick to the ground game, waste some clock, and go to Mr. Automatic for a field goal to increase the lead to 22. Thankfully for the Pats, after a 2nd down run that resulted in a holding penalty on T Jake Matthews, the Falcons decided the passing game was the bees knees. After the penalty, 2nd down and long, the Falcons decide to try another pass to Hooper, but this time the result was basically no gain, bringing up 3rd down. Still in long field goal range, offensive coordinate Mike Shanahan dialed up another passing play that ended with Pats LB Kyle Van Noy and DE Trey Flowers planting Matty Ice into the turf for a massive sack that pushed Atlanta out of field goal range.

After that disaster of a possession from the Falcons, the slivers of hope began to grow and gain momentum. With 9:48 left, Gostkowski hit a short field goal to bring the deficit to 16 points (just 2 scores). Despite being frustrated with just a field goal, the optimist in me began to return. “This is just a 2 score game…How the hell is this just a 2 score game?” Just a little over a minute of game time later, my mood shifted from optimistic to legitimate excitement and anxiety. With Matt Ryan once again back to pass, LB Dont’a Hightower came around the edge and got a clean shot on him knocking the ball out, a fumble recovered by DT Alan Branch.  All of a sudden, it seemed like this comeback was a real possibility. All of the stars were beginning to align. Could this really be happening?

I don’t need to narrate the entire game, we all know what happened. The Pats went on to grab 2 scores and 2 2-pt conversions in the final 6 minutes of regulation to force OT in dramatic fashion. Once the game got to OT and the Pats won the coin toss, the game was over. Just like the 2004 Red Sox after they finished the incredible comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, no one was going to stop them from winning the championship at that point. I saw no way the Pats defense was getting back on the field. There has been no greater QB in football history with the game on the line than Tom Brady. As the Pats drove down field, my anxiety level was sky-high, despite feeling like the game was under control. When Super Bowl hero James White crossed the goal line to win the game, the emotional roller coaster was at it’s peak. From confidence, to sinking feelings of embarrassment, to hope re-emerging, to high-wire anxiety, to child-like joy, this game had it all. Heart attack city. It was so emotional and I was in such shock that it took until this past week, nearly a month later, to fully grasp what I witnessed on February 5th. That was the definition of a game to remember.

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Jim Davis/Boston Globe

In the days following the game, a lot was made of where this sports moment ranks in the landscape of Boston sports lore. Boston fans have no shortage of amazing teams, memories, and comebacks to draw from, but for me, it was an easy choice: #2 behind the 2004 Red Sox. The 2004 Red Sox will likely never be surpassed in my mind. Breaking an 86-year curse and coming back from the brink of elimination in the ALCS against your most bitter rival is sports perfection and invoked an emotional reaction that sticks with me to this day. Besides the 2004 Red Sox, Super Bowl LI is without a doubt #2. As a game, most of it was not a particularly well-played game or entertaining to watch, but from midway in the 3rd quarter to the TD in OT, the mounting comeback is as an intriguing a story as there is in sports. The twists, turns, and big moments were almost too many to count. Add in a little deflategate redemption and the moment gains even more weight.

For some reason, the Patriots and Super Bowl dramatics go together like frosting and a cup cake. You can’t have one without the other.

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