February 08, 2005
Remembering The Patriots From Whence They Came
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Home they come, champs again.
The winners of Super Bowl XXXIX returned to Foxborough on Monday to a lively and happy crowd of fans who are seeing literally an annual ritual. It’s now “tradition” that Matt Light be wearing a bathrobe upon return. Troy Brown cannot get enough of the fans, and vice versa. And another Vince Lombardi Trophy comes home, ready to be put in Bob Kraft’s ever-burgeoning trophy case.
We asked this question Saturday, and we need to ask it again. Did this Super Bowl excite you, or did it feel like it was routine? Is this getting to be old hat? Were you a lot calmer than you were during the World Series or either of the previous two Patriot Super Bowls? Has this Super Bowl thing become just a neat annual ritual rather than an awesome event which must be seen to be believed?
This Super Bowl was perhaps more exasperating than exciting. The Patriots did not play their best game Sunday night against the Eagles, yet still won. The Patriots had the Eagles by the throat, yet barely escaped with a three-point win. The Patriots once again won but failed to cover the point spread. The Eagles committed four turnovers yet were right there with a chance to win the game until nine seconds to go. You might be forgiven if you felt differently about this Super Bowl, historical ramifications notwithstanding.
It is assumed that all fans know perfectly well what is going on. The Patriots became only the second team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years, and the eighth team to win two straight. The Patriots are fast becoming one of the greatest teams in league history, if they aren’t already. They have now won three Super Bowls, something which only Green Bay, Washington, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Dallas can also say they have done. The Patriots are history makers of the best kind.
And it is also assumed that you appreciate this if you are a Patriot fan. The rest of this article will perhaps help you to appreciate this even more. Those fans who don’t have the long time perspective on things Patriotic don’t really understand or know what an incredible turnaround this franchise has done. When national experts tend to look at the Patriots as “lucky” or “unlikely champs” (and this is getting to be less of a problem, but for some it still is), you must understand why they say this.
We would like to take you down memory lane, to the land of Sullivans, backed up toilets and drunken slobs in the stands. You will meet people like John Tarver, Jim Cheyunski, Keith Lee and Gene Chilton. You will listen to the ghost of Howard Cosell condemn the fan base on national television and you will see a huckster pushing Remington razor blades. You’ll hear about John Mazur, Ron Meyer and Rod Rust. There’s everything from the Ken Sims Bowl to “One Yard” Dupard. Come with us on this nice little stroll through time, Patriot style.
We begin in 1970, when the AFL officially became the AFC and perched itself under the aegis of the NFL. The Boston Patriots played their home games at Harvard Stadium, the fourth venue they called home since their inception in 1960. Their head case head coach was Clive Rush, who was somehow okay to be on a Jet staff that won a Super Bowl two years prior yet melted down as Patriot head man. Rush is the perfect poster child for the beginning of this story, as he was a symbol of what things were like for the Patriots in this time period.
1970: 2-12. 1971: 6-8. 1972: 3-11. 1973: 5-9
What a coup the Patriots thought they scored in getting a Super Bowl quarterback. Trouble is, Joe Kapp lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in his only big show, 23-7. He then came to Boston and played like Joe Crapp. His passer rating for 1970 was 32.5. Mike Taliaferro did only a little bit better at 41.6. The Patriots did get the number four selection in the draft, Phil Olsen, but the Patriots mistook him for his more talented brother Merlin.
Billy Sullivan didn’t do a whole lot of things right in his tenure as Patriot founder and owner. But he did two things for which he will never be forgotten, in a good way. He brought the team into being. And he kept them here with a Wal-Mart-ish stadium out in the sticks, built on time and under budget. Schaefer Stadium opened in 1971 down in Foxborough. The team was to be renamed the Bay State Patriots, but fearful of the team becoming the B.S. Patriots, the team instead changed its name to the New England Patriots. The Patriots finally had a permanent home, its vagabond days over.
Home? A 61,000-seat high school facility? Located off the Boston Post Road with traffic logistics to choke a pig? And with toilets which backed up when test flushed? Only the Patriots. What a damned joke this team is. They can’t even get the new crib right.
Jim Plunkett came along with the new stadium. He would go on to win two Super Bowls. Elsewhere, of course. These were the first days of Carl Garrett and Randy Vataha and the last days of Gino Cappelletti and Jim Nance. Nobody could protect Plunkett, and there were too many Steve Kiners, George Hoeys and Ron Boltons who couldn’t stop the other guys like they had to.
10/18/76: Fans disgrace the organization on a Monday night against the Jets, with fans running on the field, fans throwing objects on the field, and dozens of arrests for drunken disorderly conduct. A drunken fan urinates on an EMT trying to revive a heart attack patient. 12/18/76: Ben Dreith ruins the Patriot season with a horrid roughing the passer call on Ray Hamilton during a playoff game at Oakland which prevented the Patriots from likely winning Super Bowl XI that year. 12/18/78: Before a Monday night season finale at Miami, Cosell gleefully tells the world that Fairbanks has signed a contract to coach the University of Colorado in 1979, and has been fired as Patriot head coach immediately. The AFC East champs lose to Miami, then suffer the only home playoff loss in history to Houston two weeks later.
A ray of hope came in 1973 with the arrivals of John Hannah, Sam Cunningham, Darryl Stingley, and a new head coach, Oklahoma’s Chuck Fairbanks. The Patriots embarked on a seven-year run where they had a few tastes of the playoffs and some excruciating near misses. Along with Russ Francis and Steve Nelson in 1974 and Mike Haynes and Tim Fox in 1976, the Patriots suddenly became a playoff team. The Patriots went 0-2 in their two playoff tilts in the 1970s, losing 24-21 at Oakland in 1976 and losing at home to Houston, 31-14 two years later.
During this period, the Patriots became known as a football version of the Red Sox. They became a good team which choked in the clutch, and had the talent to go all the way but lost key games which they should have won. They also became known for having some of the worst behaved fans in the league, with drunken riots permeating the stands every game. It was worse in the evening, such that ABC stayed away from Foxborough from 1982 to 1995.
Fairbanks’ messy departure on the eve of the 1978 playoffs typified how things worked for the Patriots back then. How could something like this happen, one week after clinching their first-ever division championship at home in front of a delirious home crowd? Bill Parcells had a messy departure, yes, but Fairbanks’ exodus from Foxborough was far worse and ultimately more damaging.
1980: Ten wins, no playoffs. On final weekend, Pats make playoffs if one of four teams loses. All four teams win. 1981: 2-14. Pats lose finale to 1-14 Colts to win top draft pick for 1982. Pats pass on USC running back Marcus Allen and take Texas defensive lineman Ken Sims. 1984: Head coach Ron Meyer fires defensive coordinator Rod Rust. Sullivan fires Meyer. Raymond Berry takes over as head coach and immediately re-hires Rust.
Even when things went good, they went bad. In 1985, the 11-5 Patriots became the first team in NFL history to advance to the Super Bowl by winning three road playoff games. Imagine a six seed making it to the big show today. That’s tantamount to what the 1985 Patriots did. So what happens? They suffer the worst loss (at the time) in Super Bowl history, losing to Chicago 46-10 in Super Bowl XX in a total and utter humiliation. Days later, several Patriots are revealed to having been on drugs for the contest.
1989: 5-11. 1990: 1-15. 1991: 6-10. 1992: 2-14.
If 1970-73 was Dark Ages I, 1989-92 was Dark Ages II. Dark Ages II is the time period in Patriot history which is the main reason why you should love forever what is happening today, and continue to crave more championships. Sullivan had sold the team in 1988 to Victor Kiam of Remington, but no one knew, despite Billy finally pulling out of the organization he created and kept in the area, that Kiam would lead the Patriots into deeper shame than Sullivan or his sons ever did.
1990 remains the worst single season in Patriot history. A Week 2 16-14 win at Indianapolis begat a 14-game losing streak to finish the season. Marc Wilson and Tommy Hodson were eminently forgettable Patriot quarterbacks in this Steve Grogan’s final season. The Patriots were outscored by their opponents 446-181. During the 14-game losing streak the offense was held under 20 points 12 times. And the scandal involving Patriot players exposing themselves to then-Herald reporter Lisa Olson (now with the New York Daily News) remains the low water mark in franchise history.
Rust coached the team in 1990, then gave way to former UMass head coach Dick MacPherson. While he restored dignity to the team, along with a cheerleader style of coaching, he could not bring his team to win consistently and he had to step down due to health problems. By 1992, the team was a total woebegone organization, with a disgruntled fan base and players who most likely hated being there.
1996: 11-5 Patriots get into Super Bowl XXXI. Six days before the contest, a story leaks that Bill Parcells intends to leave the Patriots after the Super Bowl to become head coach of the Jets. Patriots go on to lose Super Bowl XXXI to Green Bay, 35-21. 1998: Jets make a now-illegal offer sheet to restricted free agent Curtis Martin which the Patriots have no choice but to decline. Patriots get six draft picks from the Jets over three years for Parcells and Martin, but GM Bobby Grier selects six total busts. 1999: Pete Carroll, who took over as head coach from Bill Parcells in 1997, is fired at season’s end after his players quit on him in several late-season games.
The advent of Parcells in 1993 was a huge boon for the Patriots. It brought them instant respectability and a playoff berth after only two seasons. While Patriot fans could not get enough of the former Giant head man and all his wonderful press conferences and coaching dogma, nobody cared about or realized his dark side. That dark side would eventually, as well as ironically, come to a head when the most important event in team history happened on January 21, 1994.
James B. Orthwein had the Patriots all gift-wrapped for his hometown of St. Louis when Foxborough Stadium owner Bob Kraft stepped up and decided to buy the team and keep them here in the area. Kraft was taking a huge risk, and would make several learning curve mistakes along the way. But his ownership of the Patriots became the cornerstone of what was to follow, and the reason why Parcells would eventually bolt the Patriots after the Super Bowl season of 1996.
Kraft became a meddling owner, and in 1996 overruled Parcells on draft day by selecting Ohio State WR Terry Glenn. Parcells asked for his contract to be shortened a year, and in January 1997 he was off to coach the Jets in return for four draft picks. The Carroll years taught Kraft a lot about letting football people do their jobs. In January of 2000, he cut Carroll loose, and finally smartened up by bringing in football people who he decided to leave alone and let them do their thing.
In came Bill Belichick. In came Scott Pioli. We assume you know the rest, because our journey down memory lane is just now coming up to its finish.
Not even Kraft was spared from the dark days of the Patriots. But it was Kraft who spearheaded the transformation to the champion that his franchise has become. If Sullivan was a small potatoes guy, Kiam was a human brain cramp and Orthwein was a baseball Cardinal fan, Kraft was a simple man who took a chance, learned from his mistakes, and eventually did all the right things to make his team the very best.
And no one knows better than Kraft and his family about this story. He of all people knows full well about from whence the Patriots came from. He was there in the stands at the beginning of the story, cheering for the Patriots with his four sons and wife Myra. Go ahead and ask Mr. Kraft if he feels that this Super Bowl thing is old hat, if you dare.
Now all of you know the story. So get out to that parade on Tuesday and scream your lungs out for the Patriots, two-time Super Bowl champs and the symbol of all that is great about New England. In effect, the Patriots represent all that is good about life, that being how you can make something great out of literally anything, and what a great feeling it is to consistently be the best there is.
For those of us who know the days of Dennis Wirgowski, Ken Toler and Zeke Mowatt, this championship stuff will never get old.
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