Why no recent Patriots among the 20 nominees? Watch
In today's 24/7-everything-now culture, perspective is irrelevant. So, often, is history. A guy retires, and within five minutes, his "legacy" must be analyzed without time or reflection. Every moment is not just good but better than the last, suggested for inclusion in the category of the best ever.
That may be how it is, but it isn't how it should be. Superlatives are supposed to be sacred, used only for the truly special, the one-half of 1 percent. Transcendence should be an obvious and common generational moment, not merely a poll question.
In Boston, it could be considered forgivable to conflate transcendent with memorable. So much has happened in Beantown sports over the past decades, especially recently when the city went from champions (Celtics), cursed (Red Sox), frugal (Bruins) and irrelevant (Patriots) to champions across the board.
Still, the transcendent and memorable are not identical. Dave Roberts' steal of second in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees was memorable, as was Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass to Gerard Phelan in 1984, the Patriots' going 16-0 in 2007 and the Celtics' title run in 2008.
For me, the transformative moments in Boston sports history should be broken down by team, one each. They are the seminal moments in which the franchise was once one thing and after that moment became something else, something different and something better not only for a week or a month or a season but to this day.
They are, as follows:
RED SOX: The 1967 playoffs
In the winter of 1966, Tom Yawkey was frustrated. He'd owned the Red Sox for 32 years and saw times changing -- but not for him. Baseball was expanding. New parks had sprung up in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Anaheim and New York -- but not Boston. Yawkey wanted a new home for the Red Sox -- and threatened to move the Red Sox, the same way that the Braves had moved to Atlanta, that the Senators had moved to Minnesota.
AP photo The Impossible Dream team gave Boston a dose of pennant fever, and Fenway has been full ever since.
This is not a misprint: Yawkey wanted to move the Red Sox out of Boston!
Plus, the Red Sox were awful, without a winning season for the previous eight years, never finishing higher than sixth. Then came the miracle of 1967, the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox, pennant winners for the first time since 1946. Carl Yastrzemski was the best player in baseball. The ballpark was full of people -- and possibility.
From that day forward, the Red Sox were the unshakable Boston institution we now know. Yawkey never talked about moving the team or wanting a new ballpark again. In the 44 years since those improbable pennant winners, the Sox have been under .500 just six times. The fans have been pouring into Fenway ever since.
BRUINS: The 2010-11 playoffs
Devastating losses have devastating consequences on a franchise -- and a fan base. In 2010, the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead in the conference semifinals to the Philadelphia Flyers with a 3-0 lead in Game 7 at home. The next season, the Bruins lost the first two games of the first round at home to the Montreal Canadiens, their worst nemesis and a team they had never beaten after losing the first two games of a playoff series. A loss spelled doom for coach Claude Julien.
Then they beat Montreal in seven, the finale in overtime.
Then they destroyed the Flyers in a sweep that restored their dignity.
Then they beat a scary Tampa Bay team in seven to play for the Cup.
Howard Bryant defends his picks Watch
Check out the 20 candidates for the
ESPN Boston Hall of Fame: Gallery
And when it was over, and the Bruins had beaten the Vancouver Canucks in seven games, an entire fan base finally exhaled. It may seem too early to tell whether this sudden title will return the Bruins, but it is not. Beating Philadelphia would have been enough. The Bruins' fan base needed just one title to know how, or remember how, it felt to be first.
PATRIOTS: The Snow Game
I turned off the TV that January night in 2002 with two words: "Season's over." It was a fumble. Charles Woodson made a great play. The Raiders were better. Fair and square.
Except the game wasn't over. But the Patriots as we knew them were. From that moment forward, bad luck (Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton's roughing-the-passer call against the Raiders, Glenn Blackwood picking off Tony Eason in '85) disappeared, and when it returned, it represented a bad break, nothing Promethean.
The trio of Kraft-Bledsoe-Parcells created the legitimacy, but it was during the snow game that the Patriots' on-the-field fortunes changed. Was it a bad call? Yes. Was it the right call? Yes. But the Raiders had the remainder of regulation and overtime to make a play as Jermaine Wiggins caught 11 balls. Lonie Paxton made snow angels, and the Patriots were born.
CELTICS: Acquiring Bill Russell
There was Bobby and Ted, but before both there was Bill. In Boston, he was the backbone of a team and a dynasty. Bill Russell often said that it was always better to understand than to be understood.
All the people who care about sports know the Boston Celtics dynasty and Bill Russell's 11 titles in 13 years. They are the bedrock of the modern-sports title conversation and in Boston grounded the city when no other team could win. For those who care about sports and history, they know that Russell was the first African-American head coach in the major four sports and that the Celtics (despite Boston's brutal racial history) actually were pioneers.
For people who care about both, just remember that acquiring Russell from St. Louis for Ed Macauley was the greatest draft-day deal in American sports history. Red Auerbach deservedly got the credit, but Russell had to do the work.
And when the statue of Russell is complete in the coming years, so will be the one open chapter of the city's sports story.
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/hbryant42 or reached at Howard.Bryant@espn.com.