Typically, the most exciting week of sports usually takes place in early April, when Major League Baseball has just opened, the NHL and NBA are approaching their playoff seasons, the Masters is staged in Augusta, and the culmination of the NCAA college basketball seasons, the men’s and women’s Final Fours, are also taking place.
But for local sports fans, the next 12 days of the wide, wide world of sports should be must-watch TV, and equal parts spellbinding and soap opera-worthy.
Let’s start with this weekend’s MLB showdown between the Yankees and Red Sox at Fenway Park.
The Sox entered the three-game series owning a two-game lead in the wild-card race over those same Yankees, who took the series opener 8-3 Friday night.
The two longtime rivals took quite different roads to get to this point. On July 29, on the heels of a 14-0 road loss to Tampa Bay, the 53-48 Pinstripers sat in third place, 8½ games behind the East-leading Red Sox and seven back in the wild-card race. But with the trade deadline looming, the Yanks acquired Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo and went on a 23-4 run, which included a 13-game win streak. They subsequently cooled off with a 3-11 stretch, but right now are 86-47 and have the inside track on nabbing that second wild-card berth, should things hold as they are now, although the Jays are just a game behind NY, and suddenly surging Seattle is just two back with nine games remaining.
I mentioned in last week’s column that given Boston’s remaining schedule, no less than an 11-3 finish should be tolerated, but the Sox subsequently ripped off five straight wins (seven overall) and are in the enviable position of probably just needing to go 6-3 the rest of the way — and four of those games are against dreadful last-place teams playing out the string — and watching the three trailing teams fight it out for the last wild-card slot. But either way, this weekend’s battle between the AL East foes should be fascinating, but Boston probably can afford to lose two of three, but absolutely cannot get swept, otherwise the already-fragile Boston baseball fans will likely be gnashing their teeth.
With a couple more days off still in their pockets, the Red Sox will finish the final six-game stretch against cellar-dwellers Baltimore (49-104) and Washington (64-89).
Meanwhile, also taking place in the same three-day period as Boston-NY is the biannual spectacle known as the Ryder Cup, which pits US players against European players in a tightly contested tournament. Europe has won four of the last five matchups and seven of nine, but the fact that this year’s competition is on US soil, in Wisconsin, and European fans will be in short supply because of travel restrictions, the US has a real chance to steal back the chalice (and is already off to a good start, having won six of the first eight four-player matches on Friday; the Americans need 14.5 total points to snatch the Cup back).
Most golf fans would likely be glued to their TVs and devices on Sunday for the final day of the Ryder Cup, but three appealing NFL games will likely steal eyes away.
Early in the afternoon, the 1-1 Patriots host the 1-1 Saints, who haven’t been able to set up stakes in their home New Orleans since Hurricane Ida struck the region in late August and have, as a result, played the equivalent of three straight road games to open the season.
For Patriots fans, the specter of watching new QB Mac Jones’s third game leading the NE offense will be hard to pass up, and then that game is followed by an even more attention-grabbing contest, and that’s the defending Super Bowl champs, the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers, visiting the LA Rams. The last time these two teams met, the Rams won, 27-24, in Tampa last season, dropping the Bucs’ record to a decent 7-4, but as most people know, Tampa Bay went 8-1 the rest of the way, winning the Super Bowl on its home field and then taking the first two games of the 2021 season to improve to 10-1 since the two teams’ last meeting on Nov. 23, 2020.
The Sunday-night headline game isn’t so shabby, either: the Jekyll-and-Hyde Green Bay Packers take on the 49ers and yet another ex-Patriot QB, Jimmy Garoppolo.
Upon the conclusion of these Sunday tilts, all of the attention of football-loving New England fans will be the Pats’ next game: the first matchup between Brady and his former team, which is scheduled for next Sunday night in prime time (naturally).
While I have a feeling both teams will be coming into this monster game with 2-1 records, the stakes will be high for both teams, and a lot of it won’t be resolved on the field.
This past week, both Brady’s dad, Tom Sr., and Tom Jr.’s best friend/trainer, Alex Guerrero, launched uncharacteristic broadsides against Pats head coach Bill Belichick and the organization for how they handled TB12’s final years in Foxboro. This likely has less to do with the upcoming showdown than with the publication of an upcoming book about the Brady-Belichick dynamic, “It’s Better to Be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness,” by ESPN writer Seth Wickersham. Wickersham wrote a borderline hatchet piece in early 2018 that essentially predicted the eventual breakup between the star QB and the longtime coach, but it was much more critical of Brady and Guerrero than it was of Belichick. That leads one to the believe that the book — interestingly embargoed for mass release until after the Bucs-Pats clash — will again be more favorable to Belichick than Brady, and that could be why Brady himself has taken veiled shots at his former coach through traditional and social-media outlets leading up to the showdown.
Either way, the lead-up to the Sunday-night return of Brady (and, not to be forgotten, Rob Gronkowski as well) should provide irresistible catnip to fans of the player(s), coach, and organization(s).
Two days later, on day 12 (appropriately) of this sports lollapalooza will be MLB’s AL wild-card game, taking place perhaps at Fenway, or maybe at the House that Ruth Built, or maybe even elsewhere.
It’s not the 12 Days of Christmas, but it’s pretty close for sports fans in New England.