Boston and New England is suffering a major hangover today as we try to digest what happened yesterday in Foxborough as the Patriots were eliminated by the New York Jets.
However this was not the worst loss the Patriots have ever experienced against the J-E-T-S. 44 years ago at Shea Stadium the then Boston Patriots lost to Joe Namath and the Jets 38-28 in a game that almost killed the franchise forever.
Back in 1966 the Boston Patriots were members of the upstart American Football League which was formed in 1960. But the team was considered just a minor league team at the start as Boston fans preferred the older National Football League and as hard as this is to believe the team they adored were the NEW YORK GIANTS. The Patriots for their first few seasons would not play at home on Sunday afternoon but instead played on Friday nights simply because they knew they could not compete with the Giants being on free TV every Sunday. The old Boston Herald Traveler in fact had a beat reporter assigned to all Giants games but only covered Patriots home games, mainly because they owned the former WHDH-TV Channel 5 which was the station the Giants aired on in Boston. The Globe did cover the Patriots and assigned a young reporter Will McDonough to follow the team and it was the Globe's Phil Bissell who created the 'Pat Patriot' logo that the team used on the helmets until the mid 1990's.
Boston fans actually ignored the NFL until the late 1950's when television started to carry the games. 2 existing NFL clubs started in Boston but moved - The Redskins to Washington, and the Boston Yanks who first moved to Dallas and then wound up in Baltimore as the Colts, who now play in Indianapolis. The NFL before television just could not compete with all the college football teams in Boston.
But because of television the American Football League quickly became a huge problem for the NFL and when NBC gave the league a huge television contract in 1965, the NFL decided to merge to keep player salaries in check. While the merger would not fully take effect until 1970 because of the existing television deals, the two league champions starting with the 1966 season would meet in a winner take all game. That is how the Super Bowl came to be.
The Patriots in 1966 played their home games at Fenway Park which they called home from 1963-68, after 3 years at BU Field (now Nickerson) which was the former Braves Field. Now that the NFL had merged with the AFL, Boston fans started watching the Patriots and the 1966 team was a good one. The team was in a season long struggle with AFL East rival Buffalo. It seemed the season would come down to one game on December 4th at Fenway. Before 40,000 freezing fans the Patriots beat Buffalo 14-3 to take control with only 2 games left in the season at Houston and at Shea Stadium. The game is noteworthy as it was the first time Sports Illustrated ever made an AFL game the cover story and even used a rare black and white cover.
December 12, 1966
Fire From The Ashes
At first no one took Boston's Patriots seriously, but with Coach Mike Holovak fanning embers of pride and toughness and big Jim Nance running strong, the Pats whipped Buffalo to lead the AFL Eastern race
The Pats destroyed the Oilers 38-14 and then all they needed to host the AFL Championship on New Year's Day at Fenway was to beat the Jets in New York. The Jets and Pats had tied earlier in the season at Fenway and Namath had yet to show that he could play the pro game. On that Saturday afternoon he showed a national TV audience on NBC he was worth every penny of the then unheard of salary of $400,000 the Jets had paid him out of college.
It was the first time in my life I had experienced a major sports heartbreak. The Red Sox were still one year away from their rebirth, the Celtics NEVER lost and the Bruins while beloved were also the worst team in the NHL, but that year had a young 18 year old player who showed promise, Bobby Orr.
Will McDonough was convinced the Patriots would have beaten Kansas City at Fenway Park and go to Super Bowl I and he thought that Patriots team might have given Green Bay a better game than Kansas City wound up doing.
Had the Patriots won that game in New York the sports landscape in Boston may have been altered forever. The Patriots and Red Sox were working with Beacon Hill to build a retractable domed stadium at South Station with a new arena for the Celtics and possibly the Bruins. In 1966, Tom Yawkey wanted out of Fenway Park badly and hinted he may well move the team if somebody did not build him a stadium. He was willing to go in with the Patriots so he could sell Fenway to Boston University. The Celtics wanted out of the Garden badly as the Bruins were the landlord of the Garden, but the Bruins were also tenants as the Garden was actually built on top of North Station which was still owned by the Boston & Maine Railroad and they did everything in their power to stop the project. The stadium would have been built by a 'Stadium Authority' and the bonds would be funded by DOG RACING in the arena on nights there were no games.
Of course the stadium-arena was never built and the Olde Towne Team shocked the baseball world by winning the American League pennant in 1967 and suddenly Yawkey no longer saw a reason to move as the team was drawing fans again. ( Younger members of Red Sox Nation will never believe this, but Opening Day at Fenway Park in 1967 against the Chicago White Sox drew only 8,324.) The Bruins with Orr were selling out every game and the Celtics didn't have the money to build a new arena so the Garden would live until 1995.
The AFL-NFL however put Billy Sullivan the owner of the Patriots in a tight spot. The merger agreement stated that ALL teams must play their home games in a stadium with no less than 50,000 seats. He asked asked for a waiver but Pete Rozelle just laughed at him and pointed out that the Chicago Bears were forced to move out of Wrigley Field for the same reason and the Bears certainly had more clout than the Patriots.
The Red Sox told the Patriots that they could no longer play at Fenway after the 1968 season and Sullivan went to Cardinal Cushing to allow the Pats to play at Boston College in 1969. BC wasn't happy to have the Patriots and when concession workers hired by the Patriots almost burnt the stadium down BC said to look elsewhere.
That left Harvard as the only short term option but they wanted no part of the Pats either. They then said the Pats could play at Harvard only if a new stadium was actually being built.
Enter Bill Veeck.
Veeck was running Suffolk Downs and he hatched a scheme that would have built a new stadium for the Patriots in the Neponset
Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated in July of 1970
Sullivan wanted to get his team into the Harvard Stadium, but he annoyed the Harvards by doing all his negotiating in the newspapers. By the time last December that Sullivan finally got around to officially approaching the college, he had apparently lost any chance.The location in Neponset was located on land being used by the city as a dump but it was right next to the new Red Line extension that was being built to Quincy. The plan was foolproof but one person was against it - Louise Day Hicks - and we all knew where she stood on issues.
Harvard formally turned the Patriots down on Jan. 26, and then a couple of months later the City Council voted 7-2 to reject yet another proposal that had been suggested by Bill Veeck. This called for construction of a stadium in the Neponset section of Dorchester with moneys derived from extra racing days that would go to Suffolk.
"I never figured I would get involved," Veeck says. "I thought Harvard would surely take them in. How could the pitty-pat of professional feet seven times a year manage to desecrate Fair Harvard?" With Harvard and the City Council both turning the Patriots away in quick succession, though, they were forced to go begging further afield. Various cities in other parts of the country were anxious to receive them, as was New Hampshire. The lucky suitor, however, was Foxboro, a town of 14,000 in southern Massachusetts near Providence.
Foxboro is 35 miles from Boston, the home of a state mental hospital and a trotting track. The latter, it is said, attracted the Patriots and encouraged the citizens to vote approval for a 60,000-seat stadium to be built on the track parking lot. It will not be ready until 1971, but last week Harvard finally relented and agreed to permit the Patriots the use of their stadium this coming season.
So the owner of Bay State Raceway, E. M. Lowe, took Veeck's idea and modified it. he would give the Patriots the land free of charge to build what would become Schaefer -Sullivan- Foxbough Stadium and all he wanted in return was the parking money. Billy Sullivan then renamed the team the Bay State Patriots which lasted about a week as Tim Horgan wrote a column in the Herald-Traveler welcoming the new 'BS PATRIOTS'. Sullivan quickly renamed them New England. Bob Kraft years later wound up with the ownership of those parking lots and set in motion his getting ownership of the team.
So that is a nutshell is why while yesterday was a bitter loss for the Pats, the loss in 1966 almost cost us the team completly.