With the holiday season comes the end of another year and a chance for introspection. It’s an opportunity to look back on the last 12 months and take stock of what we have, what we need and what we’re going to do in the next year to improve upon the previous year.
It’s also a chance for us to reflect on the lessons learned. As New England sports fans, we have had front-row seats to the greatest cumulative run a city has seen in the history of American professional sports and, quite frankly, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive end in sight.
As 2020 approaches and visions of duck boats dance in our heads, here are some of the lessons we learned about New England sports in 2019:
Big talent isn’t always worth the price
Two words: Kyrie Irving. Two more words: Antonio Brown. The juice ain’t always worth the squeeze when it comes to big-time acquisitions.
The Celtics, with Irving leading the way at least, were rudderless. Sure, they had talent, but little else. Faced with the slightest bit of adversity, they crumbled. Irving would dazzle some nights with his tantalizing talent, and then throw his teammates under the bus the next. It just didn’t work, and the Celtics are better in the long run with Irving in Brooklyn. He’s their problem now.
As for Brown, well, maybe the Patriots learned a lesson themselves this year: If a player is too much for even the Raiders to handle, it’s probably best to stay away. The Brown circus was fleeting, but it was an important reminder that you shouldn’t sell out your culture, especially in a sport like football, unless you’re absolutely certain you can make it work.
Collaboration is key … on Jersey Street, at least
Dave Dombrowski inherited a very good Red Sox core. He augmented it with some shrewd, gutsy trades, and the ultimate result was a historically good 2018 Red Sox team that won a World Series. Less than a year later, the lifelong baseball man was out of a job and replaced by someone who would look just as comfortable in a Silicon Valley startup as he does in a big league front office.
We still don’t know a ton about “chief baseball officer” Chaim Bloom, as his publicly stated plans are as vague as his job title. We do know, however, the Dombrowski autocracy is a thing of the past, and the small-market front office affability of Tampa Bay came with Bloom to Boston. Whether that works in the long run, we don’t know, but that’s the plan, at least.
Tom Brady holds the cards now
Brady’s situation with the Patriots might have been the most interesting storyline of 2019, and it is the No. 1, no-doubt story to watch in the new year, too. Brady finally has control of his future, and his contract will allow him to go to free agency for the first time in, well, forever. The balance of the organization is in his hands. It’s truly difficult to picture him in a different uniform, but as his own father pointed out, other franchise quarterbacks have finished their careers with different teams, including Brady’s boyhood idol, Joe Montana. Stay tuned, because 2020, like many years before it, will be the year of Brady.
Zdeno Chara deserves more credit
We can talk about what Brady has done at his advanced age, but his fellow athletic geriatric, Chara, is still rolling. He’s not going to win a Norris Trophy or even make an All-Star team again. He’s a borderline first-pairing defenseman at this point and probably is best suited for a slightly lesser workload.
All that being said: He’s still one of the most underappreciated athletes in this city’s sports history, and he proved it again in 2019. The man played pivotal Stanley Cup Final games with a dang broken jaw. Then, when an infection cropped up six months later, he waited until the holiday break to get it fixed, so he wouldn’t have to miss multiple games. He’s a machine, and to still be playing more than 21 minutes a night, in that sport at that age, is cyborg stuff.
Never take a good (enough) kicker for granted
Want a sneaky, under-the-radar story of 2019? The injury to Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski. His hip injury led to inefficiency earlier in the season, and the scramble to replace him has been … interesting. It seems like Nick Folk has finally earned some trust, but it was a bumpy ride there for a bit. Good kickers are hard to come by.
The Red Sox belong to Xander Bogaerts now
It’s possible the Red Sox will begin the 2020 season without Mookie Betts and/or David Price on the roster. Trading either would bring on a significant shift in the Boston clubhouse and core, but one reason the club might be able to deal with it is the emergence of Bogaerts. It’s pretty clear he’s the leader of that team now and moving forward. Coming off a five-win season in which he hit 33 home runs and drove in 117 runs, it’s pretty evident he has solidified the run production aspect of his game, and his contract — $20 million per season over the next six years — is going to look like a bargain if this continues.
Rob Gronkowski doesn’t need football
Whether it’s slinging CBD, throwing parties in Miami or doing some TV work, Gronk has made this much clear: He’s going to have a pretty good life without football. But that doesn’t mean we won’t keep bothering him about a return until he’s 50.
Jaylen Brown is … good?
If Brown is missing Irving this year, he sure isn’t showing it in his play. The former No. 3 pick is blossoming into a legit star this season, averaging nearly 20 points per game, and his seven rebounds per contest are a significant jump from his career mark. He continues to play solid defense and looks like every bit worth the four-year, $115 million contract extension he signed in October.