The line between hopeful and hopeless is fine, at least if you’re a professional sports team in Boston.
It’s kind of like the divide between love and hate. Or pleasure and pain.
Not too long ago, local sports fans were riding high on a regular season wave of success that had the record-setting Bruins and too-talented-to-fail Celtics stamped as title favorites as their postseason’s kicked off. Hope sprung eternal this spring all across New England.
It seemed almost a lock or at least likely that you could take either an NBA title or a Stanley Cup to the TD Garden bank. Heck, dreams of dueling Duck Boat parades weren’t really all that far-fetched.
But alas, Jim Montgomery, Goalie Bob and Patrice Bergeron’s on-ice pals fell prey to the Finals-bound Panthers in the first round, one of the great gag jobs of recent memory in this or any sports city. All the regular season wins and points records didn’t amount to a Boston hill of beans as Matthew Tkachuk took it to the Bruins, leaving the black and gold to skate off into the early offseason if not the sunset.
And while the Celtics got back to the Eastern Conference Finals yet again, their inconsistent play and lackluster leadership wilted under the Heat of Game 7 after fighting back from a 3-0 series deficit. And alas, now Brad Stevens’ impressive roster and questionable coaching staff is left to answer lots of big picture questions while Miami and Denver dual it out for a championship.
Oh, and those Red Sox that were plucky, fun and not in last place? Well, they’re now playing Little League-caliber defense, sitting very much in last place in the AL East and looking more and more like a rudderless also-ran by the Chris-Sale-is-hurt-again day!
So much hope for a trio of teams that was supposed to take Boston and the sports world by storm this spring.
So much for that!
Meanwhile, a Patriots team seemingly mired in the post-Tom Brady misery is making a run to be…wait for it…hopeful heading into a new season.
Sure last January felt like rock bottom. Matt Patricia had predictably and impressively engineered a horrific offense that submarined the once-promising career of a young quarterback in a way that only one with this specific coach’s unique background and set of skills might be capable of.
New England missed the playoffs yet again. Had a losing record for the second time in three years. And Bill Belichick, the most accomplish active Boston sports legend faced massive criticism and even more massive questions about his and Robert Kraft’s team’s future.
But somewhere along the way in the last few months a funny thing happened. While Jayson Tatum’s Celtics were in-fighting their way to a fight-less playoff exit, while the clock struck midnight on Linus Ullmark’s storybook Bruins season and while Chaim Bloom took part in the most tone-deaf trash pickup photo-op in sports history, the Patriots quietly saw an increase in their relative hope.
Sure, it’s a bit much to think New England will win the AFC East, as Sports Illustrated has predicted. And it’s almost impossible to envision the Patriots beating the Eagles, Chiefs and Bills (twice!) on the way to an 11-6 record this fall, as Pro Football Focus’ computers have simulated.
But after seeing Bill O’Brien and Mac Jones get to work recently at OTAs on the new-look, newly competent New England offense, it’s not crazy to think there is more games-are-still-months-away hope at Gillette Stadium right now than at Fenway Park, the Auerbach Center and Warrior Ice Arena combined.
Other than Rafael Devers, a shortstop prospect with way too much organizational weight on his minor league shoulders and a couple pitchers with upside, it’s hard to see exactly where Bloom is taking the home squad in America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.
The sheer fact that people are quite seriously proposing trades to shake up the All-NBA star power and overall franchise for the Celtics tells you how shaken the Green Team fan base is right now.
And the Bruins are in store for at the very least a few notable roster changes that could see the “Last Dance” of Bergeron, David Krejci and Co. in a way that was far less fulfilling than the team upon which said documentary was based.
That leaves the Patriots to sneak up on the competition.
To ride a would-be, maybe franchise QB to a little pigskin optimism. To see if a few other young players – Rhamondre Stevenson, Kyle Dugger, Christian Barmore, Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, Marcus Jones and Christian Gonzalez to name a few – can take the next step toward becoming franchise mainstays and mainstream stars to build around as Belichick chases the NFL all-time wins record.
Yup, it kinda feels like the Patriots are the most hopeful sports franchise in Greater Boston these days of June shorts-and-t-shirts OTAs.
And I, for one, did not see that coming just a few weeks ago.