The Best Boston Sports Stories of 2012

Six great tales from the year in sports.

This year, countless stories have been written about Boston sports. Here are a few of the best:

1. “The Last Happy Man,” by Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated

On Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ freakishly big, supremely goofy tight end:

“Can you pull over at the first mini-mart?” he said to his driver shortly after leaving Logan. Moments later Rob returned with a bottle of Monster Rehab, an energy drink that contains a staggering 170 mg of caffeine. Rob is a big fan of energy drinks. In college at Arizona, he would chug a bottle of 5-Hour Energy and then fill it with vodka or tequila to take out on the town. “Sometimes I even fooled myself,” he said. “I’d be like, Hey, that’s not 5-Hour Energy!”

In person Rob can come off like a muscle-bound version of Woody from Cheers. His favorite words are crazy (used to describe all manner of situations, from actually crazy to crazy-good to crazy-unlikely); insane (reserved for stuff that’s supercrazy) and perfect (as in, “Does noon work for you, Rob?” “Perfect!”). Like every Gronkowski male, he rarely goes more than a sentence without laughing loudly, in three beats—Huh-huh-huh!—and then looking around conspiratorially for someone with whom to share the moment. At one point in the car ride he became wistful about his childhood. “Growing up was crazy,” he says. “That was the best time. If I could go back, I’d just go be a kid again. You got no responsibilities, you can do whatever you want and not get in trouble.”

2. “Tom Brady in postgame daze of Super Bowl loss,” by Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports

If you can stomach reliving it, this perfectly captures the disappointment of the Super Bowl:

This was the hurt of winding up with nothing. All the money these guys make, all the glory they receive, it does nothing in times like this, the losing locker room after the biggest of games.

Nobody was taking it quite like Brady though. Others slipped out of their uniforms or headed to the media interview area in full dress. Some shuffled off to the showers or patted each other on the back.

Not Brady. He just kept staring at the floor.

3. “With 1 Word, Patriots’ no-huddle an NFL marvel,” by Greg Bedard, Boston Globe

Breaking down pro football’s most innovative offense:

The Patriots’ system is a blend of both that leans heavily on verbiage. Regular play calls include a word that combines two or three concepts. For example, “crunch” signifies a crossing route, with another “under” route run beneath it. A typical play call would be “39 crack blow.” Three words tell the tale.

“We have a really heavy terminology-based offense,” Brady said. “So everything is really memorization with us, which is actually really hard, I think, for the guys that come in here because things usually don’t make a lot of sense.”

Somewhere in NFL exile, former Patriots receiver Chad Johnson, who came from a numbers-based scheme with the Bengals, might be nodding.

4. “Who Is The Blurry Guy In This Photo, And Why Did Manny Ramirez Steal His Pants?” by Craig Fehrman, Deadspin

The legend of former Red Sox minor leaguer/Manny Ramirez pal Luis “The Machete” Rodriguez:

The friends repeated their routine in 2002, right down to the ending: Manny in Boston, Rodriguez in Pawtucket. Then, in early May, Manny broke his finger sliding head-first into third. After a few weeks’ rest, the Red Sox expected him to rejoin the big-league club. But Manny wanted to get some practice at-bats—and, truthfully, to see Rodriguez—and thus embarked on one of the most notorious rehab assignments in baseball history.

On Manny’s first day in Pawtucket, the Red Sox called the ballpark three times to check on him. But Rodriguez had no idea Manny was even coming. When he walked into the clubhouse that day, early, as usual, he saw an enormous Red Sox duffel bag crammed in his locker. Then he heard Manny holler “Hermano!” and bound out wearing a pair of Rodriguez’s shorts, a pair of Rodriguez’s sneakers, and a shirt Rodriguez’s wife had just bought him—and off of which Manny had decided to cut the sleeves. “His bag was full of clothes,” Rodriguez said. “But what can you do?”

5. “Rajon Rondo: All Grown Up,” by Jackie MacMullan, ESPN Boston

Solving the puzzle that is Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo:

For all his brilliance, three adjectives have muddied Rondo’s image: stonefaced, stubborn, moody.

“Like Bird, right?” Rondo offered. “Danny [Ainge] told me Larry was the same way.’’

That is an accurate assessment. Bird also proved to be aloof and ornery in the heat of competition. No wonder when the Celtics briefly courted Chris Paul with Rondo as trade bait that Larry Legend was among those keenly interested in acquiring him.

BONUS: “End Game,” by Jason Schwartz, Boston magazine

Maybe we’re a bit biased, of course, but Schwartz’s story about the ugly downfall of Curt Schilling’s video game company belongs on this list:

Brett Close, who joined 38 Studios as president in 2007 and soon after became its first CEO, put Schilling’s inexperience into perspective for the study’s authors, Noam Wasserman, Jeffrey Bussgang, and Rachel Gordon. “He really needed Company 101,” Close told them. “For example, the whole concept of vacation was foreign to Curt. He actually said, ‘People get weekends off, right?’” Schilling at one point suggested that people work 14 straight days and then take five days off. It jibed with his baseball experience.

That idea was never instituted, but other questionable ones were. Schilling put his wife, Shonda, on the board of directors. Shonda’s father received a job in IT (by all accounts, he performed admirably), and her mother was given the title “philanthropy and charity manager.” Meanwhile, Shonda’s uncle, William Thomas, became COO. Though a seasoned businessman, Thomas had no experience with video games, much less MMOs. Schilling took to calling him “Uncle Bill” around the office, and even in meetings with outsiders. According to the case study, Thomas told Schilling it was making them look bad and to stop. The nickname caught on with the staff, anyway.