BOSTON (CBS) — So a funny thing happened the other night at the Garden.
Kevin McHale, walked through that door. Old, maybe. Certainly not gray. Funny as it happened just hours after Rick Pitino himself returned to Boston, coaching Louisville to win at Boston College.
It was Friday night at the Garden, January 30. And as we mentioned on Celtics Tonight, just one of those happenstances of the calendar, it was the 21st anniversary of his #32 retirement ceremony. I remembered being there, fresh faced out of school, doing stats for Glenn Ordway and Jerry Sichting from Johnny’s beloved perch, you know the one, high above courtside.
(Pre-“Big O” by the way… the Big O that day was second-year Suns big Oliver Miller. And when I say big, yeah, I mean it. Those were the days. The Celtic missed the playoffs that year, by the way, the Suns won 56 games but that day, the Celtics shot 51% and won the game with Kevin McHale’s #32 hanging above the Garden for the first time. Chief did his guy proud that day, 17 rebounds (One of my CBS broadcast partners, first in your phone book, first in your heart, Alaa Abdelnaby chipped in five). The teams by the way, combined for one three that day. One. Again, those were the days.
But the other thing I remembered when Friday made me remember that day, that the game itself, was a Super Bowl Sunday afternoon game. The Bills lost their fourth consecutive one that day, ‘how ‘bout them Cowboys’, all that. It wasn’t uncommon for the Celtics to play on Super Sunday… it was however, back in the 90’s, a pipe dream that the Patriots would play the nightcap.
When I left the Timberwolves to come back to Boston in the Fall of 2001, the idea of a Celtics-Pats Super Sunday doubleheader was pretty much confined to Xbox.
In fact, at one point in November, both teams had the same record. But you know the rest of the story. You may not know that all of us in the Celtics traveling party watched the fourth quarter of the snow game, the birth of both the tuck rule and one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties, from a 2-inch portable TV while waiting to take off from Oakland, Michigan. (The Celtics had lost a big fourth quarter lead that night at the Palace, to future-Celtic Chucky Atkins and the Pistons, a team they’d meet four months later in a similarly stunning Eastern Conference Semi-Final).
A week later, we gathered around TV’s at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, Antoine Walker screaming encouragement at Drew Bledsoe (draw your own conclusion about the 2002 fellowship of the two unappreciated second bananas) as he led the Pats to their third Super Bowl.
A week after that, the Pats were in New Orleans and the Celtics were the opening act. As they’d been the first time they’d played the final game at the Superdome 16 year earlier.
Today is the fifth time the Celtics have been the opening act for a Patriots Super Bowl.
January 26, 1986 – Pats-Bears Super Bowl XX
This was the year, of course, the Bears and their Shufflin’ Crew with their 46 Zone and their Refrigerator ruled the day. Imagine Fridge and the ’85 Bears with today’s media. How many times would “Fridge”, “McMahon” and “Rozelle” have been trending?
The Celtics didn’t get to play Super Sunday in 2008, but they did in 1986. And it was a classic. A 105-103 win over the rival Sixers Future NBA coaches that day? Bird, McHale, DJ, Mo Cheeks, Rick Carlisle. The win moved the eventual NBA Champs to the midway point of the season at 33-8. Which is what the score of the football game looked like by the third quarter.
February 3, 2002 – Pats-Rams Super Bowl XXXVI
A week after Antoine shouted Drew to victory in the AFC Title game in Pittsburgh, he was on the floor at the Fleet Center (yeah, remember that?) dropping 27. Sending everyone home happy to watch the 14-point underdog Pats get rolled by the greatest show on turf.
There was an interesting symmetry with the Celtics and Pats in 2001-02. Neither was considered a lock for the playoffs that year. Both were considered too young to make a run, and both according to the script were around .500 in the second half of the season. Then both threw away the script. The Pats’ unforgettable title, and the Celtics coming from the lottery, to within two games of the NBA Finals.
But that day in February, the concrete of that history was still wet cement. The Celtics used a 21-5 run that day, Tommy was loving Walter with two of his four 3’s in the fourth quarter, to beat the Clippers 104-91. The other game that day was closer, but a tad more memorable.
February 6, 2005 – Pats-Eagles Super Bowl XXXIV
There was an interesting challenge for the Celtics this day. Actually, there were many challenges for Doc Rivers in his first year as Celtics coach. But the conundrum this day, was where to watch the game. The Celtics had a Noon game in Minneapolis, and a Tuesday night game in Milwaukee.
The decision, fly after the game and watch the Super Bowl in downtown Milwaukee. Luckily, Donovan McNabb wasn’t in charge of travel clock management that day and the Celtics ended up seeing most of the game.
I remember two things abnout the Celtics game that day. One, Gary Payton (yes, remember that year? It was the exact opposite of the Dominique Wilkins Celtics experiment a year earlier. One of the greats of his era, still with plenty on his fastball) who’d been excused from the team to attend to a family matter, flew in the night before the game. And let’s just say when GP had a Noon game? It was more like the end of his day than the beginning. Some of us can’t find our car keys without seven hours sleep. GP walked into Target Center that day on, shall we say, limited rest and simply destroyed Sam Cassell in a road win over the defending Western Conference champions. Look it up.
The other, is that you never really know when you’re crossing paths with the next piece of your franchise’s history. I mean those 2004 Pats? Mike Vrabel was a four-year Steeler. Rodney Harrison was a nine-year Charger.
The leading scorer in the Celtics game that 2005 Sunday in Minneapolis?
February 5, 2012 – Pats-Giants Super Bowl XLVI
In 2012, the lockout Celtics were still finding their older sea legs by Super Sunday. A game from the NBA Finals, their final landing place, seemed a million miles away. With Tony Allen a late scratch the Celtics cruised that day. The game that night if you remember, had been pre-determined.
By 2012, the Celtics had long since regained the throne. The Patriots would have if David Tyree didn’t have gum on his helmet. In fact that 2007-08 season was just that one play from the rare triple crown. One of those years you’ll be telling your kids about, so much they’ll be rolling their eyes or whatever the 2032 equivalent of that is. The Red Sox winning the World Series in Denver, the week the Celtics opened the New Big Three Era, as the Patriots were in the middle of the most dominant regular season in NFL history.
There was a week at the end of December 2007, that will stand alone for a long time. The Celtics, en route to a 29-3 start to one of the best regular seasons in NBA history, won four games, in five nights out West. (By contrast, the Celtics win in Portland 10 days ago ended a 24-game, 23-month Celtics losing streak out west.) After wins in Sacramento, Seattle (yeah, still hurts typing that) and a blowout win over the Lakers at Staples (remember the throwback shorts? The vision of Kwame Brown crammed into those things like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, scarred me for years), the Celitcs went to Utah. Fourth game in five nights, fourth win in five nights, one of the absolute game so the year and one of the bigger regular season games the Celtics had played in decades. Don’t remember it? Of course you don’t. You were watching the Pats beat the Giants to complete the 16-0 season. It was all happening at once.
It was an unimaginable yet wonderful by-product of the last decade, the fellowship between the franchises. Vince Wilfork, David Ortiz, Gronk regulars at the Garden for Celtics games, Doc Rivers engrossed in the Bruins-Canucks Stanley Cup Finals, Paul Pierce returning home to walk the World Series trophy back to Fenway last year.
It’s a golden era. And we’ve gotten to live through it.
Try today to find the oldest member of your family. Ask about Magic’s sky hook, and roughing the passer in ’76, and too many men on the ice. Ask about Buckner, Bucky and the Big Red Machine.
And armed with the knowledge that nothing in promised, let’s remember that before he warned of Larry and Kevin being old and grey, Rick Pitino often talked about the precious present.
Which today, is another Super Sunday.
See you at the Garden.
Sean Grande has been calling Boston Celtics games since 2001. Hear his call of the games alongside Cedric Maxwell on 98.5 The Sports Hub starting 30 minutes prior to tipoff! Click here for a list of affiliates on the Celtics Radio Network.