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LEEInks List: Memorable returns to Boston

10.15.10 at 8:32 am ET
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Deion Branch

With Deion Branch catching the door after Randy Moss let himself out, Patriots fans are daydreaming about Super Bowl XXXIX, when Branch was the MVP and the Pats won their third title in four seasons.

The Patriots hope Branch’s second go-round in New England can be as successful as the first, as Branch returns from a rough stint in oblivion in Seattle.

Here’s a look at some other notable returns to Boston teams over the past decade.

10. Delonte West, 2010

West may be most famous for an alleged relationship with LeBron James‘ mother, but the versatile point guard could play a major role for the Celtics this season. Originally drafted by the Celtics out of St. Joseph’s, West was a regular starter in his three years with the team. But after he averaged double digits in his second and third years, the Celtics made way for Rajon Rondo by dealing West to the SuperSonics in June 2007 as part of the Ray Allen deal. Three years later and a few gun charges and rumors later, West finds himself back in Celtic green playing alongside Allen and backing up Rondo. He won’t get his first chance to get out on the court until Nov. 17 because of a 10-game suspension, but look for West to make an impact this season.

9. Ellis Burks, 2004

Burks was heralded as an up-and-coming star when he broke into the big leagues with the Red Sox in 1987, but despite making the All-Star team in 1990, he was often treated as if he failed to live up to his potential in Boston. His existence with the Sox was, at times, uncomfortable, made more so by the fact that he was the lone African-American on the roster at times. When he left the Sox as a free agent after the 1992 season, it was with unhappy feelings about the organization with whom he came up.

He was productive for several years with the White Sox, Rockies, Giants and Indians, forging a .923 OPS from 1993-2003. But in 2004, motivated by the desire to be part of a championship team and convinced that the uncomfortable climate he’d left had improved significantly, Burks returned as a right-handed contributor off the bench for the 2004 season represented the idea that the landscape in Boston had changed. He only played in 11 games for the Sox before a knee injury wiped out almost all of his season, but he returned for the season’s final days and received one last ovation at Fenway after a pinch-hit single, a memorable moment for not just Burks but all those who were present, including Darnell McDonald.

8. Doug Mirabelli, 2006

The longtime Red Sox backup catcher only merits the list because of the theatrics of his return, but what a journey it was. The Sox had dealt Mirabelli to San Diego during the offseason, netting Mark Loretta in return. But the deal backfired when Mirabelli’s replacement, Josh Bard, was overwhelmed by his efforts to catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

So, the Sox re-acquired Mirabelli from the Padres for Bard and Cla Meredith on May 1, 2006. The Red Sox were beginning a series with the Yankees that evening and Wakefield was starting. Mirabelli hopped on a private jet, got a police escort to Fenway Park and arrived at 7 p.m. for a game that was mysteriously delayed 12 minutes, until 7:13. Red Sox officials were so eager to get Mirabelli there on time that they sent him a uniform along with the police escort. In the end, it was all worth it (at least for that night), as Wakefield and the Red Sox defeated the Yankees, 7-3.

Bard became a round-trip footnote when he signed with the Sox prior to the 2009 season. His return was short-lived, however, as he was released in spring training that year.

7. Doug Flutie, 2005

Doug Flutie’s place in New England sports lore had been secured at Boston College in 1984, when he connected on arguably the most famous Hail Mary in football history en route to a Heisman Trophy. A few years later, he was brought to the Patriots under less glorious circumstances. After a trade brought him to the Patriots in 1987, Flutie crossed the picket lines of his striking NFL brethren to play for New England, drawing the ire of his fellow players. He did not play particularly well with the Pats from 1987-89, completing less than 50 percent of his passes and tossing more picks (14) than touchdowns (11).

He left to become a star in the Canadian Football League, and he returned to the NFL with the Bills in 1998. After three years in Buffalo and four seasons with the Chargers, Flutie came back to his native stomping grounds to conclude his career, serving as a clipboard-carrying backup to Tom Brady in 2005. He enjoyed a glorious final NFL moment, successfully executing a drop-kick for an extra point in the regular-season finale, becoming the first player in more than 60 years to execute the maneuver.

6. Glen Murray, 2001

Murray was selected by the Bruins with the 18th pick in the 1991 NHL draft. He showed promise in Boston before being traded to the Penguins after the 1994-95 season along with Bryan Smolinski in a deal for Kevin Stevens and Shawn McEachern. He lasted two years in Pittsburgh before being sent to the Kings.

Murray was reacquired early in the 2001-02 season from the Kings along with Jozef Stumpel (also making a return to Boston) in a trade that sent holdout center Jason Allison (and Mikko Eloranta) to Los Angeles. After his return, Murray gave the B’s six solid years, including a 92-point season in 2002-03 (his best in the NHL).

5. Antoine Walker, 2005

After a successful stint with the Celtics to begin his career, Walker returned to Boston for the last 24 games of the 2004-05 season. Walker was named to three All-Star Games in his first seven seasons and teamed up with Paul Pierce to lead the Celtics to two playoff appearances, including the Celtics’ first postseason appearance in seven years.

In October 2003, Walker was traded to the Mavericks as part of a five-player (and one draft pick) deal. The Celtics used the draft pick to take Delonte West. Walker was shipped back to Boston 16 months later in a deal with the Hawks. The University of Kentucky product helped the Celtics earn the No. 3 seed in the East and was the hero of Game 6 against the Pacers before the Pacers dominated the Celtics in Game 7. Walker has talked about making another comeback, but if he does, he’ll likely be taking his shimmy elsewhere.

4. Theo Epstein, 2005

The youthful general manager helped the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years and fled Fenway Park a year later in a gorilla suit. After being hired at 28 as the youngest general manager in MLB history, Epstein led the Sox to three consecutive playoff appearances. But after the team was swept in the 2005 ALDS by the White Sox, Epstein decided he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue and rejected a three-year extension. On Halloween, Epstein ducked out of Fenway in a gorilla suit to avoid the waiting media, only to return to the front office three months later with a new title of general manager and executive vice president. His return was pretty successful for the Red Sox, too, as they won their second World Series of the century in 2007.

3. Tedy Bruschi, 2006

He never left the Patriots, and he only missed the first six games of the 2005-06 season, but Bruschi’s return was one of the more celebrated in Boston history. Bruschi suffered a mild stroke and partial paralysis just after the 2005 Pro Bowl and announced in August that he would sit out the season. But after continuing his rehabilitation, Bruschi was cleared before Week 6 and he played in the team’s Sunday night game against the Bills. The linebacker had a strong return under the lights with seven combined tackles and was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. He went on to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year (along with Steve Smith) and helped the Patriots reach the Super Bowl in 2008 as one of the team’s defensive captains.

2. Bill Belichick, 2000

Belichick spent only one season on the staff of former Patriots coach Bill Parcells, serving as an assistant head coach in 1996, after he’d been fired as Browns head coach. The year was an unqualified success, as the Pats advanced to the Super Bowl. But Belichick followed Parcells after the season to the Jets, and spent the next three seasons as the assistant head coach/secondary coach. He was the heir apparent to the Jets head coaching job when Parcells retired after the 1999 season.

But at the press conference that was supposed to serve as Belichick’s introduction as Jets coach, he instead announced his resignation from that position. Within a month, the Patriots and owner Robert Kraft — who had developed a close relationship during Belichick’s season as an assistant in New England — hired Belichick, parting with a first-rounder for the coach.

Belichick’s return to New England at the start of the 21st century set the stage for the team to became the NFL’s most dominant franchise of the last decade. Three Lombardi trophies suggest that Belichick’s return to New England was momentous.

1. Curt Schilling, 2004

Schilling never technically donned a Boston Red Sox jersey in a game before 2004, but the pitcher was drafted by the team in 1986. After two years in the Red Sox system, he was traded to Baltimore along with center fielder Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker. Four trades and 163 wins later, Schilling made his way back to Boston in November of 2003 in a deal with Arizona.

Schilling went on to win 21 games, finish second in the Cy Young voting and help the Red Sox make the playoffs in 2004. Add to that a win over the Yankees in the ALCS with an injured ankle and the Red Sox’ first World Series title since Babe Ruth played for them, and Schilling’s return could not have been more successful. The pitcher would throw his last pitch as a Red Sox three years later, helping the Sox win their second title in his four years here.

Read More: Antoine Walker, Curt Schilling, deion branch, Tedy Bruschi