The city of Boston owned 2004 sports, with a World Series-Super Bowl parlay. The Red Sox won their first World Series crown in 86 years, while the Patriots were the other end of the championship spectrum—they sealed a dynasty, with their third Super Bowl victory in the last four campaigns.
It wasn’t a championship game though, that most defined 2004. It was the American League Championship Series, where the Red Sox trailed the New York Yankees 3-0 in games, and were then down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4, facing the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera.
A stolen base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts proved to be the pivot point on which the lever of history swung. The Red Sox tied that game and 96 shocking hours later they were celebrating on the field at Yankee Stadium. Their four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series seemed almost anticlimactic by comparison.
The Patriots’ postseason run might been have the most impressive of their three championship years. They had to beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts to get it started, and then went to Pittsburgh to face a 15-1 Steelers team in the AFC Championship Game. The run was completed by beating the Philadelphia Eagles, the best team in the NFC over the previous four seasons, at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville.
Yes, it was quite a year to be a sports fan in Boston. Read here for more detail on both the 2004 Boston Red Sox and 2004 New England Patriots.
In both the MLB & NFL seasons, the runner-ups deserve their own special place in history. The historic nature of the Red Sox run has had the unfortunate effect of obscuring what a tremendous National League Championship Series was played that same year. You can read a game-by-game account of the great seven-game battle waged by St. Louis against the Houston Astros in the NLCS.
And in the NFL, the Philadelphia trip to the Super Bowl was a long time in coming. The Eagles had lost the NFC Championship Game each of the previous three seasons. After a 13-3 campaign in 2004, highlighted by Pro Bowl years from quarterback Donovan McNabb and receiver Terrell Owens, and led by the league’s second-best defense, Philadelphia entered the NFC playoffs as the #1 seed with all the pressure on them.
The Eagles won their divisional round playoff game with the 8-8 Minnesota Vikings, as McNabb tossed two early touchdown passes and led a not-as-close-as-it-sounds, 27-14 win. Michael Vick and Atlanta came to town for the NFC Championship Game, the third straight year the championship had been played at Lincoln Financial.
Philadelphia’s defense completely contained Vick, not letting him run and forcing him into an erratic 11/24 passing day. The Eagles methodically pulled away, 27-10 and for the first time since 1980, were back in the Super Bowl.
The rites of spring were defined by one man—William Davison. He wasn’t a leading scorer, a great assist man, a brilliant coach or even a savvy GM. Mr. Davison made his fortune as a manufacturer of architectural and automotive glass, and with his money, he bought both the Detroit Pistons of NBA and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The Pistons and Lightning both won championships in the same year, making Davidson the only owner in sports history to double dip.
The Pistons won the NBA title as a rarity in professional basketball—a team without a marquee star that derailed the two-time defending conference champs, the top seed in their conference and finally the Shaq-Kobe Dynasty in Los Angeles, all in succession. Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup by winning two tough seven-game series in the conference finals and Cup Finals.
Read more about the 2004 Detroit Pistons
Read more about the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning
The world of college sports was marked by two big showdowns, both involving teams that were ranked 1-2 to start the season, lived up to the hype and built to a postseason battle.
USC and Oklahoma eyed each other up throughout the football season, played in the Orange Bowl for the national championship, although the head-to-head battle did not live up to expectations. The Trojans hammered the Sooners 55-19. Read more about The Massacre In Miami, how each team got there, and the agitation fans of undefeated and third-ranked Auburn felt.
Texas wasn’t in the mix for a national title, thanks to an early loss to Oklahoma, but the Longhorns made it back to a major bowl game for the first time since 1996, and the first time under Mack Brown. There was no shortage of controversy in how they got there.
USC’s playing for the national title opened up a spot in the Rose Bowl, which everyone would assume would be filled by Cal. The Golden Bears had lost only to the Trojans—and given the champs their toughest game at that—were ranked higher than Texas, had a premier quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and the Rose Bowl’s tradition was to choose replacement teams from its conferences of origin whenever feasible.
Brown aggressively lobbied voters, and without compelling on-field reasons, there was a late shift in votes that put Texas ahead of Cal and into the Rose Bowl. The Golden Bears were correctly outraged, although it did set up what would prove to be a great storyline over the next two years. Texas beat Michigan 38-37 when quarterback Vince Young led a drive for a last-play field goal. It was the prequel to what would happen on the same field a year later when Young led the Longhorns to a national title.
On the basketball side, it was UConn and Duke who opened the season 1-2. Their own path to a showdown didn’t have the neat linear movement of USC and Oklahoma. The Huskies finished second in the Big East before winning the conference tournament. Duke won the ACC and survived a couple tough fights in the NCAA Tournament. But they both got to San Antonio for the 2004 Final Four.
UConn fell behind early, thanks to foul trouble on center Emeka Okafor, but Duke had the foul problems late. The Huskies turned an eight-point deficit with four minutes left into a four-point lead with just seconds to play. All that was left was one final desperation shot by Duke to go in—meaningless to the outcome, but it covered the point spread, and became one of Las Vegas’ memorable moments. Read more about the 2004 UConn-Duke game.