The World of October 20, 2004

Past is Prelude

The Boston Celtics have rallied from 3-0 and forced a game seven! They’re just one win away from making back-to-back NBA Finals appearances. New England is abuzz about this improbable comeback and anxious to see what happens tonight. 

Wait a minute…haven’t we been here before? Haven’t we seen a Boston team rally from 3-0 to secure a place in their league’s finals?

If you’re reading a Boston sports website, the answer to that question is obvious. A lot has been written about the 2004 Boston Red Sox, but not a lot has been written about October 20, 2004, the day of game seven of the American League Championship Series. 

The people of October 20, 2004 can relate to you – the uncertainty behind whether or not the comeback would be complete or if heartbreak was on the horizon. They had seen the Red Sox rally to win three straight.

They had seen Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, Dave Roberts stealing second. Those fans witnessed David Ortiz’s clutch home runs, and Alex Rodriguez swatting a ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove on the way to first.

To someone in 2023, these events all seem like elements of an inevitable narrative. We know how the story ends. But the people of October 20, 2004 did not. 

Red Sox fans were also hardened by a hard history of deflated expectations. They had watched the Yankees snatch victory from them before. From Bucky Dent to Aaron Boone, the Yankees were always there to remind the Red Sox of their “proper place” as the loveable losers. 

As that day’s Boston Globe put it …”Terry Francona’s band of history-defying rogues … reached the threshold of the unfathomable.” 

On October 20, 2004 – Red Sox fans across New England were readying for a game seven and their dance with the devil. What was their world like? Let’s go back 19 years in the past, to October 20, 2004. 

October 20, 2004

People in Boston woke up that morning to a chilly 49 degree fall morning. They may have reached for their iPod and played “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas to hype themselves up for the day.

If they were feeling down and pessimistic, maybe they listened to “Pieces of Me” by Ashlee Simpson. Perhaps they even listened to “1985” by Bowling for Soup, which pined for a year 19 years before the “present day” (sound familiar?). 

If they were listening to Ms. Simpson, they may want to avoid watching her performance on Saturday Night Live just three days later. 

Perhaps they were anxiously awaiting the release of the iPod Photo, which was coming out the following week. It would allow them to view photos on their iPod! In a related matter, Boston area cell phone subscribers may have seen a Dunkin Donuts ad when they opened their flip phones to check the weather.

Privacy experts were alarmed and the average person was annoyed. As an Arlington resident told the Boston Globe, “It just seems like a really stupid idea and an invasion of privacy. My cellphone is for people I want to be able to contact and to contact me.

The purpose is not to get a free doughnut.” The iPhone wouldn’t be released for another three years, and smartphones were still far from the norm. In fact, only a quarter of American cellphone users could even receive messages that contained images AND sound. 

With the 2004 presidential election on the horizon, partisan politics dominated the news. President George W. Bush was running for a second term against John Kerry, the United States Senator from Massachusetts.

On October 20, the big news item was Sinclair Broadcasting deciding to pull back from its decision to air a documentary that criticized Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activism. Letters to the Editor in that day’s Globe also reflected the concerns of the day.

One writer accused the media of not holding President Bush’s accountable for his misdeeds while another decried the flu vaccine shortage and criticized the Bush Administration for not being better prepared. Such concerns might be familiar to anyone who follows early 2020s politics. 

Due to the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage just a year prior, Massachusetts also found itself further intertwined with national politics. President Bush and Governor Mitt Romney accused the court of being packed with “activist judges.”

The Globe’s front page carried coverage of SJC Chief Justice Margaret Marshall refuting such charges. Romney would later be a candidate for President in the next two election cycles, 2008 and 2012. 

Perhaps our friend from October 20, 2004 had taken the day off of work and wanted to distract themselves from the worries of the day. They could have gone to the movie theater to see the recently released Team America: World Police or Friday Night Lights (which were both showing at the AMC Fenway).

They may have also gone to see Napoleon Dynamite, which had been out since June, but was still available in a few Boston-area theaters. They may have also chosen to go to Blockbuster (remember that?) to rent an old favorite. If they had thought ahead, they may have gotten a DVD shipped from Netflix. 

As game time approached, they may have gone to the Cask n’ Flagon, a popular bar next to Fenway Park and a gathering spot for fans to watch the ALCS. There is no better place to share your anxiety than a bar filled with other anxious fans. 

The world has changed a lot in 19 years. But one thing has remained the same – the anxiety that we feel for our sports teams. 

Today – we are all the people of October 20, 2004. Let’s go Celtics!

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