Were the 2014 San Antonio Spurs the greatest story of sports redemption in recent years? That was the theory put forth by ABC/ESPN studio commentator Bill Simmons in the aftermath of the Spurs’ demolition of the Miami Heat in this year’s NBA Finals, as he compared them to the 2004 Boston Red Sox. I think Simmons drew a faulty correlation and overlooked another story that’s even better–the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
Simmons, like myself, is a Red Sox fan, and thus it’s natural that he would immediately look for a comparison close to home, but this one doesn’t stand up under closer scrutiny. Let’s review the basics.
San Antonio lost last year’s NBA Finals to Miami in devastating fashion, coughing up a five-point lead with 28 seconds to go in a clinching spot in Game 6, then losing another close one in Game 7 after Tim Duncan missed a bunny shot over Shane Battier that would have tied it. They return to rematch with Miami and blow the Heat out of the gym, winning in five games and all four wins coming by 15-plus points.
The Red Sox of 2003 blew a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning of Game 7 at Yankee Stadium in the American League Championship Series, and ultimately lost in 11 innings. Of course, they came back and won a historic World Series title a year later, eliminating the Yankees in that year’s ALCS after falling behind 3-0 in games.
I understand Simmons’ correlation here, but it’s very limited. The crux of the Spurs’ story is that this was more or less the same cast of players who lost the 2013 NBA Finals going out and beating more or less the same team one year later.
That doesn’t apply in the Red Sox case. In the aftermath of 2003, Boston added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke to the pitching staff. The Spurs, by comparison, didn’t have even one new acquisition that came close to approaching the significance of this. In the aftermath of 2003, the Yankees added Alex Rodriguez. Did Miami, their corollary in this analogy, add even one quality bench player, much less a consensus great talent? No.
Furthermore, the Boston saga was tied up in the franchise’s pursuit of their first World Series title since 1918. San Antonio had already won four rings in the Tim Duncan Era, while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli had three apiece.
The only area the 2004 Red Sox and the 2014 Spurs compare is in a point Simmons made—that after the championship, the heartbreak almost feels like it never really happened.
Now let’s look at the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens spent 2008-11 as one of the best teams in the NFL, but kept getting knocked out of the playoffs, as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots took turns sending the Ravens home. What happened in 2011 was the cruelest cut of all.
Baltimore lost the AFC Championship Game in New England by a 23-20 count. On the final drive, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco first hit receiver Lee Evans in the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown, only Evans had the ball ripped from his grasp before he could come down. Incomplete. Then a chip-shot field goal to force overtime was missed. This is at least as heartbreaking as Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
The roster composition of the Ravens has further similarities. This was a veteran group—Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed on the defensive side, and you had to wonder if this was there last chance. I know I felt the window for Baltimore closed that early evening in Foxboro, the same way I felt it had for San Antonio last spring in South Beach.
Baltimore, like San Antonio, came back and not only won a championship the following year, but they dispatched their nemesis in doing so. The Ravens went back to New England for the AFC Championship Game following the 2012 season and after a slow first half, blitzed the Patriots for three second-half touchdowns and a 28-13 win. Two weeks later, the survived the San Francisco 49ers and won the Super Bowl.
Lewis had a Super Bowl ring from the 2000 season with Baltimore, but most of his teammates did not. That’s what makes this an even better sports redemption story than San Antonio. You had all the right similarities—a mostly veteran team, loses in awful fashion and it looks like the window has closed. They fight back and return to the scene of the crime. And you add one more piece of drama on top of it—it looks like a lot of excellent players will never get a ring. Only they come back and make it happen.
Look, I’m a Red Sox fan, I rooted for the Spurs and I don’t really care for the Ravens. But let’s face it—the 2012 Baltimore Ravens were an amazing story of sports redemption.