The New England Patriots unimaginable victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday ranks among the most dramatic comebacks in American sports history.
Yet it doesn’t surpass the Boston Red Sox resurrection from the dead to beat impossible odds in winning the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees and going on to capture Boston’s first World Series title in 86 years.
Yes, the Patriots staged an incomparable resurgence, scoring 25 points in 17 minutes, a dizzying display of catchup football that tied the game at 28-28 to force overtime. Then winning the coin toss and promptly marching 75 yards to clinch the 34-28 Super Bowl victory.
It was the first overtime in Super Bowl history and the greatest comeback ever in the 51-year-old game considered the nation’s premier single event of professional sports. You might even rate it among the most astounding endings to a sports event.
It was all of that.
But as amazing as it has been described, it does not surpass what the Red Sox did in October of 2004, reeling off four straight victories to vanquish the Yankees. No other team in professional baseball, which outdates NFL football by a half-century, had achieved such a miracle.
It was a magic year for the Red Sox. Slaying their perennial Gotham dragon to get to the World Series made the latter anti-climactic. Boston swept the hapless St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games to break the “Curse of the Bambino”-- Babe Ruth’s mythical whammy on the Red Sox for trading him to the Yankees in 1920 for $100,000 cash so Boston owner Harry Frazee could finance his girlfriend’s Broadway play, “No, No Nanette.”
The intense pressure to overcome impossible odds didn’t last for 17 minutes like the Patriots uphill challenge in the Super Bowl. The intensity lasted for four do-or-die baseball games in a row in the Red Sox-Yankees showdown.
The play that turned the tide of momentum for the Red Sox: a daring steal of second base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts, now manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the ninth inning of the fourth game with two outs and Boston trailing 4-3 at Fenway Park. Roberts scored on a single by the next batter, third baseman Bill Mueller, sending the game into extra innings. Slugger David Ortiz delivered a two-run, walk-off home run in the 12th inning.
The Red Sox won game 5 in 14 innings on a base hit by Ortiz, moving the final two games to unfriendly Yankee Stadium to complete the Red Sox historic comeback. Game 6 featured pitcher Curt Shilling’s bloody sock victory in yet another nail-biter, leading to completion of the improbable comeback with a 10-3 blowout of the Yankees in game 7.
No Major League team had come from four games down to win a playoff or championship series before. And none since, though the Chicago Cubs came close in the 2016 World Series by overcoming a 3-1 games deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians in winning the final three games. It was the Cubs first World Series title in 108 years.
Football and baseball are different sports with different paths to winning world championships. The player stress and urgency to excel are similar in the moment. But they go on much longer in baseball’s series of games compared with football’s one game outcome.
The New England Patriots, once the doormat of pro football, have earned the eminence as the greatest professional sports franchise in the 21st century. Owner Bob Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady made that possible. Sunday’s Super Bowl stamped them as an unrivaled triumvirate.
The 2004 Red Sox, however, remain king of the pro sports comeback hill – in Boston and elsewhere.
Bill Ketter is senior vice president of news for Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.