January 21

Tom Caron: The bar is set high in New England

It’s a great place to be a sports fan, with so many teams doing well.

BOSTON – We live in blessed times. As New England sports fans, it’s an era where many of our teams have a chance to contend for titles in nearly every season.

That’s little solace for Patriots fans over the next two weeks. We’ll be stuck wondering “what if” while the Super Bowl hype machine cranks up and we are left to watch one Peyton Manning story after another.

That’s the downside of cheering for one of the top teams in the game. We are a victim of our own expectations. We set our sights on the ultimate prize, and can’t help but be disappointed if that goal isn’t attained.

It’s also why the rest of the sports world thinks we’re spoiled rotten. NBA legend Charles Barkley visited the Patriots locker room after the Pats beat the Colts in the playoffs. Afterwards he told reporters we just don’t appreciate what we’re seeing from this team each week.

“In 99 percent of the cities in every other sport, not just football, your team sucks,” Barkley told the assembled media. “You’ve got no chance of winning. The Patriots have a legitimate shot of winning every year. That’s pretty cool. It bothers me that you all don’t appreciate them.”

Sir Charles doesn’t quite get it. He doesn’t get us. We do appreciate them. We understand the big picture and appreciate the fact that our team was one of the only four still playing this past Sunday.

We will look back on this season with admiration. The Patriots overcame multiple injuries to key players. They overcame the distraction of the Aaron Hernandez investigation. They entertained us with one come-from-behind win after another.

Yet they fell short of the goal of winning it all. A team this good has to set its sights that high.

We’ve come a long way from the days when Ray Bourque brought the Stanley Cup back from Colorado to show us what a championship felt like. Thousands gathered at City Hall Plaza to watch No. 77 hoist the Cup, even though he didn’t win it with the Bruins.

That was long before Duck Boats and rolling rallies. Ever since Adam Vinatieri split the uprights in New Orleans we have celebrated one title after another.

In the last 12 years the longest we’ve gone without a championship was that “agonizing” three-year stretch between the Celtics’ 2008 NBA championship and the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Three years without a title? Don’t mention that if you’re in San Diego or Cleveland or Buffalo. Each of those cities haven’t celebrated a title in the Big Four sports in more than 45 years.

We get it. We’re pretty lucky. Just a few hours before the Patriots lost in Denver we watched the Bruins go down to the Blackhawks in a shootout. This was a rematch of last spring’s Stanley Cup Finals when the Bruins lost in six games.

It was Boston’s second trip to the finals in three years, the continuation of a run engineered by the triumvirate of Cam Neely, Peter Chiarelli, and Claude Julien.

Sunday’s game at the United Center reminded us that the black and gold can skate with anyone in the league, and have a real chance of going very deep into the NHL playoffs.

It’s only natural that we’ll be paying closer attention to the ice now that our football season is over.

And we’ll also turn our attentions south.

Those World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox, return to work as pitchers and catchers report for spring training in less than four weeks.

The Sox are expected to be one of the top teams in the American League this season, after winning 97 games (and 11 more in the postseason) last year.

Good thing.

After all, it’s been three long months since we’ve had anything to celebrate around here.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.
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