Phil Stacey column: Changing local landscape can be difficult to accept 

Offensive-minded defenseman Torey Krug, an unresticted free agent, brought a lot to the Bruins during his tenure with the team, including an ability to drop his gloves to protect a teammate or to spark his club.(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Imagine having the ability to know when a momentous time in history ends as it's happening? 

The tragedy at Altamont Speedway in December 1969 pretty much slammed the beaded curtain shut on the peace and love 1960s, although concertgoers probably didn't realize it at the time. Same for the Challenger space shuttle's explosion in January 1986, which seemed to leave a deep chasm in the American public when it came to travelling outside the Earth's orbit.

In sports, however, it's a little bit easier to read through the athletic tea leaves and known when the end of an era is upon us.

I haven't been a Celtics' diehard since Larry Bird retired following the Dream Team Olympics in 1992. I still watched the team the following season, but when they bowed out in a first round playoff loss to Charlotte and Kevin McHale retired on TV following the game, I knew it would never be the same for me — and nearly 30 years later, it still hasn't. I had, in my view, got to witness the Celtics at their absolute peak of perfection in the sport during the Bird Era and it was never going to be better than that, and I made peace with it.

People older than me have made similar claims about the Bobby Orr-Bruins of the late 1960s and into the 1970s, asking why they'd bother to tune in now when the game could never hope to replicate how it was in the Good Ol' Days.

My late father and I would verbally battle about these topics often. I'd literally want to pull my hair out when he'd say to me, as a teenager in the 1980s, that Bird was only the third greatest Celtic of all time, trailing both Bill Russell and John Havlicek. Absolutely ludicrous, I'd respond; the game is so different and requires so much more skill. He'd dig his heels in, get his Irish up, and come back at me with an irrefutable fact: Russell won 9 NBA titles in 11 years, and Havlicek could literally play 48 minutes a game and still dominate without getting tired.

I hated those arguments at the time, feeling I could never convince him of how wrong he was. Now, I sort of miss them.

Which brings us to the present day.

When the Bruins bowed out of the playoffs this week in Toronto, dropping four straight to the Lightning after beating them in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, sportswriters started their team eulogies. The Black-and-Gold as we know them will cease to exist. Torey Krug is almost certainly going to leave via free agency, Tuukka Rask's future is up in the air after the goaltender left the bubble to return home to his family two games into the postseason; Zdeno Chara is 43 years old and showing signs that Father Time may finally get the best of him; and long-time team anchors Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand are all on the wrong side of 30.

The end of an era? If not 'certainly', it's definitely in the 'distinct' possibility' category. Their best players will all be a year older with a ton of tread on their skate blades; one of the NHL's best power play quarterbacks is going to sign a megadeal elsewhere; and their goaltending situation, which has been so solid for over a decade, is suddenly in flux.

We already know it's a new era in Foxborough, with someone other than Tom Brady under center for the first time since 2001 (I'm not counting the opening game, season ending injury in 2008, so cut me some slack). Bill Belichick, as he chases down Don Shula's all-time NFL record for wins (347), remains on the sidelines and making all personnel decisions, so we'll now find out who was more essential to the operation. 

As we know when it comes to the Patriots, we're not talking merely an era ending as much we are a dynasty. There's no other way to put it when you've had six Super Bowl titles and nine appearances in the ultimate game over the last 19 seasons. No matter what success they do or don't have in 2020, the torch has been passed. 

We've gone from watching the greatest Red Sox team, at least in terms of wins and utter dominance, two seasons ago to an embarrassingly putrid project that regularly trots out Triple-A no-names to the mound every night. They aren't just losing with frequency in this 60-game season but are doing so in historic fashion, chasing not only the worst record in Major League Baseball but also the worst team earned run average in Major League history. Let that sink in.

We don't take change well in these parts. Over the last 20 years we've gotten so accustomed to winning — and rubbing everyone's faces in it — that being a so-called 'normal' sports city feels, well, abnormal. Early playoff exits, questions at quarterback, a horrific product on the diamond ... those are things that happen to Detroit and Atlanta and Phoenix, not here in the Home of Champions.

But change, whether we like it or not, is inevitable. And for our sports-crazed region, the two-decade-long gravy train we've ridden with glee is close to making its final stop.

Thank God for those Celtics, eh? What better team for me to get back into them, right? 

 

 

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