In my previous post I mentioned how the 2004 Red Sox now remind me of the 1995 Husker football team. I’ve had a few people inquire about the comparison, so I thought I’d elaborate a bit more.
Without question, my two favorite teams are the Nebraska Cornhuskers (football) and the Boston Red Sox. During the Bill Callahan/Steve Pederson era, the Red Sox even managed to usurp the top spot as my favorite team. They’ve been relegated back to number two as Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini have restored some order back to the Huskers.
Both teams are unquestionably the best teams in their respective team histories. And, they are in the conversation as some of the best teams of all-time in the history of their respective sports and sports in general. The ’04 Red Sox and ’95 Huskers are legendary teams.
Growing up in Nebraska I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t a fan of the Husker football team. The 1984 Orange Bowl loss absolutely crushed me, as an eight year old. They’ve always been my team, and the one team I’ve never been quite rationale about in my view of them.
Back in ’95, as the Huskers were making their way toward history, Lawrence Phillips assaulted his ex-girlfriend and was suspended from the team. However, he wasn’t kicked off the team and this infuriated people nationwide. As the national media focused in on the team, other things came to the surface like Christian Peter’s criminal history while at Nebraska. In the midst of the hysteria, Damon Benning was falsely charged with assault. Even thought the charges were subsequently dropped, and his Benning’s innocence proven, the damage was done and people didn’t want to believe the truth about Benning because they saw it as a pattern. Tom Osborne and Nebraska football would do anything to win.
The ’95 season progressed, as Phillips’ backup more than filled the void left by Phillips on the field. You may have heard of him, former NFL star Ahman Green. However, it didn’t matter to most because Phillips was going to be back on the team at some point and it verified their thinking of Nebraska being a renegade program.
The 1996 Fiesta Bowl was great to watch, except for one aspect. How do you cheer for Lawrence Phillips? I remember the group I was watching it with had some trouble with that, but he was a Husker. After his mesmerizing first half performance, and the Huskers decimating the Florida Gators, nobody cared. We just cared that Nebraska was sticking it to everyone who (fairly or unfairly) criticized the program, state and its fans. I remember being somewhat relieved that the score was such a blowout because nobody could say the difference was Lawrence Phillips. No, Nebraska was by far and away the best team and one of the best ever.
The aftermath? Well, I’ve managed to live and travel all over the states and world. Whenever the topic of college football comes up, and I bring up I’m a Huskers fan, inevitably if the person is a fan of college football they bring up Lawrence Phillips. Fair or not, it is brought up. A good portion of them think that Nebraska ran a renegade program and that Osborne was willing to do whatever it takes to win. That meant allowing criminals to be a part of the football team.
Now, I can answer all the accusations that so many Husker fans have down pat.
- Every college football team has convicted felons on their team.
- He was suspended for six games.
- The only reason everyone focused in on Nebraska was because they were the champs.
- There are over 100 players on the team that follow the rules but you aren’t focused on them, just the handful that don’t always follow the rules.
- They are only college aged kids. What do you expect?
- There was no dropoff with Lawrence Phillips out with Ahman Green.
- Tom Osborne has a track record of doing it the right way.
- Don’t people deserve a second chance?
- The media blew it out of proportion.
And so on… Does it make any difference? Nope. In the minds of a faction of college football fans, the ’95 Huskers team is associated with being a win at all costs team. Fair or not that is the thought they have, and from a certain perspective there is evidence to support the belief.
Want to infuriate some Husker fans? Ask them why is it every time Lawrence Phillips gets in trouble the media always brings up the fact he was a former Husker and not reference the other NFL teams he played on. It’s maddening, but people nationwide associate Lawrence Phillips with the ’95 Huskers. I would as well if I weren’t a Husker fan.
The 1995 Huskers are quite possibly the greatest Husker football team and college football team of all-time, they are legendary, but in the minds of many it comes with an asterisk. That asterisk being the program was willing to do whatever to win, like allow criminals (Lawrence Phillips and Christian Peter) to play on the team. The team’s accomplishments aren’t fully appreciated and respected because of that. I’m constantly reminded of that when talking with others. I hate that.
That was then, this is now.
Now we have the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Two days ago we had the revelation that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz failed PED tests in the 2003 season. Immediately, people were ready to throw asterisks next to the Red Sox’s 2004 and 2007 titles. Yankees fans were downright gleeful.
Back in 2004 I had perhaps the greatest sports experience of my life, following the Boston Red Sox. It started coming into its own on July 24 when Jason Varitek fought Alex Rodriguez and the Red Sox overcame a five run deficit to beat the Yankees. The rest of the season was one of the most amazing and fulfilling rides to be a part of. (This of course was magnified by the Red Sox losing so cruelly the previous postseason in game seven of the ALCS.)
Boston made the postseason and easily made their way to the ALCS to play the Yankees. The Yankees easily pushed them aside in the first three games, with a Game Three massacre. 19-8. The next day, Sunday morning, I was talking with Reid Brown. He tried to be encouraging, but we both said it was highly unlikely. I remember saying something to the effect of, “Jeter won’t let them lose four in a row.” It seemed the Red Sox weren’t going to even win one game, and I didn’t want them to get swept. I watched Game Four just hoping they wouldn’t get swept. Of course, the ninth inning comes and the Red Sox are down by a run. Mariano Rivera comes into the game and it seems like it is all over. Then, two of the most stressful at-bats for me to watch occur. Kevin Millar’s duel with Rivera in which he fouled off pitches until he worked a walk. He would come out and Dave Roberts would come in to pinch run for him. The next at-bat, Bill Mueller’s, was the worst because everyone in the world watching the game knew Roberts was going to try and steal. If Boston was going to have any chance, Roberts would have to steal second when everyone knew he was going to try. Despite the Yankees’ attempts, Roberts steals second. Whew. Then, Mueller gets a basehit which allows Roberts to score. Tie game.
The 12th inning the game is still tied when David Ortiz comes to bat. With a man on he crushes a homerun that sends Red Sox fans bonkers everywhere. (I know this because Jana came out to scold me that someone in the apartment complex we were living at was going to complain to the manager about the noise I was making at that late hour. I didn’t care.)
The next game, Ortiz does it again in the 14th inning by winning the game with a hit. The legend of Big Papi is established. (He’d go on to win the ALCS MVP.) Of course, the Red Sox do the improbable and comeback to win the ALCS against their rivals. Historic and legendary because it was the first time in MLB history that a team in the postseason won a series after being down three games to none. Plus, it was the Red Sox and Yankees, arguably the most historic rivalry in sports. You have their shared histories, the Yankees always winning in the playoffs and the Red Sox finding ways to lose in heartbreaking fashion in the playoffs. None of that mattered anymore as the Red Sox beat the Yankees in 2004, and would go on to win the World Series.
I was caught up in the moment with the Red Sox. One example, I took over a Spanish class I was taking at the time because the professor asked me about the Red Sox shirt I was wearing. This was before Game Seven of the ALCS and I talked non-stop for about five minutes about the historical magnitude of the game if Boston won. It was great.
The 2004 team would go on to win a place in the hearts of baseball fans (minus Yankees fans) everywhere. Even people who didn’t follow baseball were caught up in the moment. The ’04 Red Sox were one of the greatest baseball teams and teams in general of all-time. Of all my favorite teams, the 2004 team are/were my favorite team.
David Ortiz would become one of my favorite baseball players. I loved watching his at-bats and the way he joyfully played the game. He seemed to appreciate and enjoy playing in Boston, which isnt’ always easy. He connected with fans and was considered one of Boston’s own. If not for Tom Brady, he was the favorite athlete in all of New England.
Now? I don’t know. Like I said before, I don’t think the revelation that Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were PED users taints those championships. But in the minds of others? It doesn’t matter. I can say all the excuses…
- Everyone was using. It is the Steroid Era.
- They had no advantage over anyone else.
- Ortiz and Ramirez weren’t busted in 2004 or 2007, but rather 2003.
- PED’s were allowed back then.
- The Yankees, and others, had PED users on their World Series teams.
Doesn’t matter. In the minds of many they consider those teams tainted, and Ortiz and Ramirez to be players who’d do whatever it takes to win.
What’s especially tough is the 2004 Red Sox team was almost mythical at this point. I had a connection with that Red Sox team that was similar to a Nebraska boy following the Huskers. I still enjoyed the ride they took me on in 2004, but now… I don’t know. It’s hard to be frustrated or angry because at this point any baseball fan realizes that sizeable faction of baseball players were using PED’s. It’s not like any team or player had an advantage because seemingly everyone used something.
I knew it was coming, that a prominent Red Sox player would get busted for PED use. And I knew it would be a player I liked. Like I said before, I was hoping it wouldn’t be David Ortiz. Now I can’t appreciate what he did as a player as much as I use to, especially since he use to speak out against PED use so forcefully.
Two of my favorite teams of all-time I now have to defend forever despite their accomplishments on the playing field. Two of my favorite teams are now forever tainted according to public opinion. As a diehard fan of both teams, it (bleep).