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Celtics happily join Boston party
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Celtics coach Doc Rivers is doing his part to keep Boston the hotbed for sports these days, histeam rolling along at 20-3 going into tonight's game with the Bulls.

 

Associated Press

David Ortiz was a major part of the Red Sox success.

 

Associated Press

Tom Brady heads up the Patriot's dynasty in the NFL.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 12/21/2007 12:17 AM

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WALTHAM, Mass. -- How deliriously successful has 2007 been to Boston sports fans?

Well, the Celtics sport the NBA's best record at 20-3 and aren't even the biggest news in town. They struggle to make the front page of The Boston Globe sports section unless there's a game.

That's what happens when the New England Patriots are 14-0 and threatening to make NFL history and the Boston Red Sox have made winning the World Series seem routine. Boston College even had a national-title contender and Heisman Trophy candidate for a while this fall.

"It's very cool, and the fans were already crazy here," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Chicago is as close to it as I've seen for sports crazy. New York is sports crazy, too, but it's so big. In Boston, it's about sports.

"I've been amazed at the passion and the knowledge from … everyone. Old ladies in the grocery store will come up to you and give you opinions. I love it. I like that intensity. I'd rather be relevant than irrelevant."

Rivers grew up in Maywood, which of course gives him a unique perspective on pro sports success. When Rivers was growing up in the late 1960s and '70s, Chicago was renowned for its terrible sports teams.

Those were the days when the Bears went 14 years between playoff appearances, when the Cubs and the White Sox not reaching the postseason in your lifetime seemed a reasonable possibility.

A successful sports year in Chicago back then was if the baseball teams managed to stay out of last place until the Bears played their first exhibition game.

"There just wasn't a lot to cheer for," Rivers said. "You almost expected it growing up. You cheered for your teams and you knew during the playoffs, you watched other teams. That's just how it was as a kid."

Even when Chicago did have a good team, the season usually ended with a spectacular failure. The Blackhawks blew a 2-0 lead at home in Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals against Montreal. The 1975 Bulls had a chance to win the Western Conference finals at home but lost Game 6 and eventually the series to Rick Barry and Golden State.

"My favorite and worst childhood memory, though, was the '69 Cubs collapse," Rivers said. "My dad (Grady) was a rabid Cubs fan and was singing that, 'Hey hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it' song. Me and my brother were White Sox fans. So literally every morning, that's what he woke us up with. Him singing that song.

"Then when the collapse came, he was literally depressed. It was amazing. So we laugh at that a lot."

Rivers, whose father passed away last month, can relate to rooting for individual players. After all, no matter how bad the Bears were, you couldn't go wrong cheering for Walter Payton.

"My favorite NBA backcourt, maybe of all time, was Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier," he said. "They were tougher than any two guys, and they scared the whole league. It was pretty sweet to watch. Those were violent games.

"There was the one stretch the White Sox had with Dick Allen, then Richie Zisk and that whole group, the South Side Hit Men. The final straw with the Cubs for me was when they traded Bill Madlock (after the 1976 season). After that, it was over. I didn't want anything to do with them."

With Boston's teams are on a roll, the younger generation of Chicago fans probably don't appreciate how good they have it. The city's best success stories of the 1970s were the Bears finally ending their playoff drought in 1977 and DePaul reaching the Final Four in '79. Neither team went any further, however.

"Kids now, they've actually seen the White Sox win a World Series," Rivers said. "They've seen the Cubs in the playoffs, the Bears win a Super Bowl and go back a second time, the Bulls winning all those championships. We didn't get any of that."

The Celtics are the new kids to the Boston success story. They had the league's second-worst record last season, then traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during the summer.

Now they've achieved that staple of NBA success, getting a native celebrity to show up with regularly. Mark Wahlberg is on board, so Ben Affleck can't be far behind.

"It's really fun right now because the Patriots come to our games, we go to their games," Rivers said. "Big Papi (Red Sox slugger David Ortiz) was there (Wednesday) night wearing a Ray Allen jersey. A lot of love and it's pretty cool."

Added Allen, a newcomer to the Boston sports scene: "When you do something well here, it's going to touch a lot of rabid people throughout the world.

"Sports just has such a bigger impact than that season. It carries on for generations. This is something that will be talked about throughout history if we do something great here."