12/27/2004 at 01:00 AM EST
After 86 years, the Boston Red Sox finally reversed the Curse of the Bambino to win the World Series. For fans, reversing a loser mentality may take longer. "A lot of us still expect to wake up and find out this was a dream," says Bill Nowlin, author of several books on the Sox. Driven by the spirit (and bat) of messianic center fielder Johnny Damon (below), the Sox roared back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League championships to win eight straight, trouncing the Yankees and then the Cardinals for the Series crown. Named SPORT ILLUSTRATED'S Sportsmen of the Year, they are the first pro team to be so honored.