Let’s state the obvious: 2020 was not the year we had hoped for.
It started with the New England Patriots’ wild-card exit against the Tennessee Titans, then came Tom Brady’s departure in free agency, only to have the COVID-19 pandemic halt the Boston Bruins’ Presidents Trophy-winning campaign, force the Boston Celtics into the NBA bubble and forbid fans from entering Fenway Park to watch the Boston Red Sox.
I mean, could it have been any worse? Well, the fact that Boston sports fans weren’t able to cheer on a title winner for the first time in what seemed like forever didn’t help.
But even still, teams around the city did put together some memorable moments for fans, and we decided to look back on the calendar year with 12 Boston-centric superlatives.
So, away we go:
Most Valuable Player: Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
Tatum came into his own during his third campaign, being named to his first All-NBA team after earning his first NBA All-Star honor. Tatum — with the obvious help of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, etc. — propelled the Celtics into Eastern Conference Finals, where they came up short to the Miami Heat.
Offensive Player of the Year: Bruins forward David Pastrnak
The winger was the first-ever Bruin to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s leading goal scorer, after tallying 48 goals in a pandemic-shortened 70-game season. The 24-year-old NHL All-Star finished with a career-best 95 points, and was set to eclipse both the 50-goal plateau and 100-point mark if the NHL had played a full season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley, the 2018 Gold Glove centerfielder, was snubbed for the award this past season, not even being named a finalist despite his American League-leading 1.000 fielding percentage. Bradley had 120 putouts, three assists and zero errors in 55 games this season, not to mention his routine of highlight-reel plays.
Coach of the Year: Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy
Cassidy was named the Jack Adams Award winner for the NHL’s 2019-20 season, given annually to the coach who contributed the most to his team’s success. It was well-earned after Cassidy’s Bruins finished the shortened season 44-14-12, the only team to compile 100 points before the season was halted due to COVID-19.
Teammate of the Year: Bruins center Patrice Bergeron
The Bruins’ top-line center is a Stanley Cup champion on the ice, and one of the most respected teammates off of it. Bergeron, you may remember, was credited with helping ex-Bruin Gemel Smith out of a dark time, but also was said to be Boston’s most generous teammate by those in the organization this year.
Biggest Storyline of the Year: Tom Brady leaving Patriots in free agency
This one wasn’t really up for debate. The greatest quarterback in NFL history left the New England Patriots, a franchise he spent 20 years with while winning six Super Bowls. Brady, of course, went to the Tampa Bay where he’s since helped the Bucs to the playoffs while the Patriots struggled. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Best Game of the Year: Celtics’ Game 7 win over Raptors
The Celtics defeated the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals back in the Orlando bubble. Boston trailed by one after the first quarter and took a one point lead into the fourth. It was close throughout, but behind Tatum’s 29 points and 21 from Brown, the Celtics pulled out a win and advance to the conference title series.
Biggest Surprise of the Year: Patriots not making the postseason
New England fans may have entered the 2020 NFL season knowing the Patriots weren’t the true Super Bowl contenders like each of the previous 20 years, but did anybody think it would end this bad? The Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, were swept by the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills and will uncharacteristically finish the season below .500.
Athlete Boston Should Be Most Proud Of: Celtics’ Jaylen Brown
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has, on numerous occasions, expressed how Brown’s biggest impact will come off the basketball court. He showed that during 2020. Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to his native Georgia to lead a peaceful protest in Atlanta in the wake of George Floyd’s death. And that was just the beginning. He was among the NBA players who continued to speak out about a variety of social justice topics, as well.
Worst Old Take Exposed: Cam Newton will lead Patriots to playoffs
Remember when Patriots fans believed Newton landing in New England made them the favorite to win the AFC East and ultimately earn a playoff berth? Yeah, that proved to be very wrong. We’re not going to put the full blame on Newton, as the Patriots didn’t have the roster and were hurt by COVID-19 opt-outs, but nonetheless the quarterback’s arrival was not what everyone once thought.
Player Most Likely to Have Break Out Year in 2021: Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo
Verdugo was a bright spot in an otherwise down year for the Red Sox, doing it both in the field and at the plate while bringing energy the team needed. The 24-year-old recorded a .308 batting average with 62 hits and 15 RBIs in 53 games, but we expect Verdugo to better those numbers exponentially with a full season on the horizon.
Team Most Likely to Compete for Title in 2021: Bruins
The Celtics could do it, the Patriots could retool and get back to their winning ways and the Red Sox could rebound in Alex Cora’s return. But it’s the Bruins, specifically, who we think have the most potential to compete for the title. The B’s return the top line of Pastrnak, Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and while losing Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug in free agency is a key departure, the reality is the Bruins have been on the cusp each of the last few seasons. Their Eastern Conference semis exit in the NHL bubble was tough to swallow one season after a Stanley Cup loss, but the championship DNA is still there, and so is the experience.