TWIST OF FATE: ESPN writer Bill Simmons wrung his hands over how "professional basketball had just been murdered in the city of Boston" after the Celtic's got a bum draft pick. But that fateful pick led, ultimately, to franchise savior Kevin Garnett.
No matter what happens over their next two games, the Patriots will not have gone undefeated in 2007. Remember, if you can, that the team’s year actually included a heartbreaking 38-34 defeat to the Colts in the AFC championship (true, that was back in January, before the 2007–2008 season began, but it was most certainly in 2007). After that loss — and after Indianapolis went on to beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI — it actually seemed like the upstart Colts might supplant New England as the NFL’s marquee franchise.
The loss to Peyton Manning & Co. was perfect fodder for the stereotypical Boston-sports-fan worldview: pessimistic, Calvinist, brooding, angry. Ditto for the Celtics’ ostensibly awful luck in the NBA lottery. Double ditto for the Sox’s summer swoon, which jeopardized a fat lead over the hated New York Yankees, and a near-collapse in the playoffs, which left the team trailing the Cleveland Indians three games to one.
By the time 2007 came to a close, though, a funny thing had happened. It wasn’t just that Boston fans were no longer hexed, or even mildly tormented — it’s that we’d become the exact opposite. We are blessed, anointed — the recipients of a gigantic karmic payback. Instead of soul-crushing defeats, we’re eyeing an unprecedented number of titles across a wide platform of professional sports. We’ve gone from Job to Midas. Everything we root for turns to gold. Clearly, we are the Chosen People of Sports.
So why are we still acting like nothing’s changed?
Land of the silver lining
Some of 2007’s biggest triumphs stemmed from developments that looked grim at the time, but actually proved to be part of Fate’s Rube Goldberg–esque master plan for Boston sports dominance. Flash back, for example, to the NBA draft lottery in June. Throughout a dismal 2006–2007 season, Celtics faithful had one great consolation: thanks to their 24-58 record, second-shittiest in the league, the C’s had a nearly 40 percent chance of landing one of the draft’s two potential franchise saviors, Ohio State center Greg Oden and Texas forward Kevin Durant.
On lottery night, though, David Stern’s bouncing balls stuck the Celtics with the fifth pick, where the best option looked to be dubious Chinese import Yi Jianlian. First Len Bias, then Reggie Lewis, then no Tim Duncan and four disastrous years of Rick Pitino. And then this lottery gut punch. ESPN.com writer and Boston native Bill Simmons promptly brought the old-school angst: “For all intent and purpose, professional basketball had just been murdered in the city of Boston. . . . You can’t even fathom the pain. . . . [W]hen the Celtics got crushed last night, you could feel it everywhere you went.”
Sorry, Simmons, but that’s yesterday’s shtick. The 2007 draft didn’t kill the Celtics — it resurrected them. Without their fall to the fifth pick, the Celtics don’t feel the urgency to trade for seven-time All Star Ray Allen. Without Allen (and the acquiescence of Celtics-great-turned-incompetent-Timberwolves-GM Kevin McHale, and possibly some beyond-the-grave help from Red Auerbach), the Celtics don’t pry former MVP Kevin Garnett away from Minnesota. And without Garnett, the Celtics don’t race to a 20–2 record at press time, including a franchise-best 12-0 at home, establishing themselves as a credible threat to win the NBA Finals. Throw in the fact that Oden ended up sidelined for the season with a very ominous knee injury before he played a single regular-season minute for the Portland Trailblazers, and that Durant is struggling to meet expectations in Seattle, and it’s clear that getting fucked in the draft was the best thing that could have happened to the franchise.
Exhibit B, of course, is the Patriots’ ongoing march to perfection. Goaded by lingering bitterness from the conference-championship loss to the Colts, the Patriots subsequently shipped a fourth-round pick (!) to the Oakland Raiders for wide receiver Randy Moss — always considered a bit of a head case, but also one of the most innately talented players in football history.
This transaction prompted some kvetching about how the Patriots had betrayed their lofty personnel standards. But Moss has been a model citizen since his arrival in Foxboro. More important, he’s caught a team-record 19 touchdown passes, and may break Jerry Rice’s single-season NFL mark of 22 before he’s done. With the addition of Moss, meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady is having the best year by far of his Hall of Fame career, with personal bests in touchdown passes, total yardage, completion percentage, and QB rating. And the Patriots seem destined to become the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to have a flawless season.