DeFelice: No longer in Tom Brady's shadow and now captain, Patrice Bergeron deserves renewed appreciation

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

Oct. 8, 2003. I challenge you to think back on this time before winning was synonymous with Boston.

While you reminisce about where you were in life, here are some cliff notes to help jog your memory:

• George W. Bush was in his first term as president.
• The Patriots had only one Super Bowl banner hanging in Gillette Stadium.
• The Red Sox and Yankees were playing in the ALCS — a series that would end with Aaron Boone sending the Yankees to the World Series and extending the Curse of the Bambino to 86 years.
• Jim O’Brien hadn’t yet resigned as Celtics head coach.

It is also the date Patrice Bergeron made his NHL debut. In the 17-plus years since then, he has put together a Hall of Fame career, helped lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup, and recently become the 20th captain in Bruins history.

With every other Boston athlete from that time period now gone, something we’re reminded of as we watch Tom Brady lead a different team to a conference championship game, Bergeron is now the region’s longest-tenured athlete by several years.

Unfortunately, he has never consistently been recognized by the casual sports fan for his achievements and level of excellence, and still seems to rarely be near the forefront of the Boston sports conversation.

The 35-year old center is one of the greatest two-way forwards hockey has ever seen. He has won every medal and championship his game has to offer.

He’s a two-time World Junior gold medalist (2004, 2005), two-time Olympic gold medalist (2010, 2014) and World Cup of Hockey champion (2016) with the Canadian national program.

He helped lead the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup — the franchise’s first title since 1972.

Did I mention he is a four-time Selke Trophy winner? That’s tied with Canadiens Hall of Famer Bob Gainey for the most in NHL history.

All of the above, and No. 37 is still playing at an elite level. Oh, and that number will be hanging from the Garden rafters soon after he retires.

Over the last 18 years, Bergeron has time and again proven himself to be a clutch performer, profound leader and ultimate professional.

So aside from hardcore hockey fans, why isn't Bergeron unanimously mentioned as one of the city’s most celebrated athletes? When Tom Brady left New England last year, why didn’t the discussion about who would replace him as the region’s biggest sports star start and end with Bergeron?

There are a few reasons for that.

Hockey is in Boston’s DNA. However, it isn’t the nature of the NHL to create drama or put the spotlight on individuals as much as some of the other professional sports leagues.

Take football for example. There’s one local game a week, which means the NFL is consumed similar to how one would have watched The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. It’s must watch storytelling that makes you wait an entire week to see what happens next.

In between episodes, fans and media alike have nothing more to do than write about and discuss anything they can to pass the time.

The NHL, on the other hand, ordinarily has three games a week over the course of an 82-game season. Furthermore, hockey players and coaches don’t typically give too much ammunition to the press for off-ice gossip.

It’s the quiet, professional, non-contentious culture throughout hockey that sometimes enables a city to perhaps overlook star talent, and that has certainly been the case with Bergeron.

The other reason why Bergeron has flown under the radar is who his predecessor was as the city’s longest tenured athlete. Bergeron may be a generational hockey player, but Brady is one of the greatest athletes of all time, period.

Brady was rightfully the center of attention for 20 years. If he were still a Patriot, the attention and admiration would and should still be on him. It’s often stayed on him around here even with him on a different team.

But Brady’s been gone for nearly a full year now. Combine that with Zdeno Chara’s departure and Bergeron ascending to the Bruins’ captaincy, and perhaps it’s time for Boston sports fans to turn their attention to and further their appreciation of an athlete who represents himself and the city in Hall of Fame fashion, on and off the ice.