December 28, 2011
All Of Us Could Use Boston Patriots 101
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Honk if the only thing you know about Gino Cappelletti is that he is a terrific radio analyst who works alongside the best in the business.
Many of you might say something like "I understand he was a pretty good wide receiver in his day" or something similar. That's good in and of itself, but Cappelletti's radio partner, Gil Santos, thinks Gino should be enshrined in Canton. And Santos ought to know, given that he first started calling Patriot games in 1966 while Cappelletti was still an active player and the franchise was based in Boston, not Foxborough.
Ah, yes. The Boston Patriots. Remember them?
One of the greatest Boston Patriots, Houston Antwine, passed away on Monday at age 72 in Memphis. Antwine was one of the best defensive linemen in AFL history, never mind Patriot history. But most any Patriot fan today knows Antwine only in name, and even that is not a given. Antwine has barely missed induction on three separate occasions to the Patriot Hall of Fame, but only a scant few fans really understand what an injustice that is.
Perhaps a greater injustice is how little the fan base knows about the Boston Patriots. For the first ten seasons in team history, the team played their home games in either Boston or Cambridge before moving into their permanent home in Foxborough in 1971. The Boston Patriots played in an era of Boston sports which was dominated by the Celtics, and later the Red Sox post-1967. The last days in Boston for the Patriots coincided with the great days of the Bobby Orr era for the Bruins. By 1970, the Patriots were clearly number four in rooting interest in the area.
It is perhaps only natural that as time passes, memories fade. Before the Impossible Dream season of 1967, attendance at Fenway for Red Sox games was usually under 5,000, and most times down towards 2,000 or less. Other than Carl Yastrzemski, most Red Sox players from the early 1960s are obscure and totally forgotten. Before Orr came to the Bruins, they were going through a long stretch of no playoff appearances, and other than those on the "Uke Line", you'd be hard pressed to remember any of those players from that era.
Billy Sullivan was awarded an AFL franchise for Boston on the exact day that this writer turned one year old. The Patriots began play in 1960 with Lou Saban as head coach and 36-year-old Butch Songin as quarterback. Some notable original Patriots include Ron Burton, whose son Steve is often seen on television as a sports reporter, Tom Dimitroff, whose son wound up in the Patriot front office and is now the GM for the Atlanta Falcons, and some radio guy named Gino.
Other original Patriots include guys like Jim Lee Hunt, Larry Garron, Jim Colclough, and Bob Dee. Hunt and Cappelletti played for the Patriots during all eleven seasons in Boston. It's a good bet that fewer people know who Hunt was than Cappelletti.
The Patriots had some inherent problems during their stay in Boston, some of which followed them to Foxborough, some did not.
The Boston Patriots were generally vagabond, playing in four different stadiums in the eleven years. It's hard to believe that the Patriots called Fenway Park home for six seasons. But they did, playing also at Nickerson Field, Alumni Stadium and Harvard Stadium. They were at Harvard during the final season they were based in Boston. Given the political state of greater Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as well as the difficulty in obtaining a feasible parcel of land without expropriating residents or businesses, the egress of the Patriots to a rural town seemed the only way to go other than relocating the team.
The Boston Patriots had only one playoff season, that being 1963. Those Patriots finished 7-6-1 and beat Buffalo on the road in an AFL Eastern Division playoff game to reach their only AFL Championship Game. They traveled out to San Diego and played the Chargers in a high school stadium and got walloped, 51-10. They would not see any playoffs again for another 13 years.
The Boston Patriots were mostly good teams over their first eight seasons, then generally bad over their final three seasons. They won 10 games in 1964, the only time in Boston they hit double digits in wins, but missed the playoffs. They only won ten games over the final three seasons.
One major ongoing problem was that Sullivan was not an owner with deep pockets. He had to secure a loan to get the franchise in 1959, and ran the club on a shoestring all throughout the Boston seasons. Even after the franchise moved to Foxborough, the Patriots were never a profitable team under Sullivan. Schaefer Stadium was built on the cheap, hard to get to, had plumbing problems, and was basically a glorified high school facility. Sullivan had to sell the team when his son Chuck literally bankrupted the family thanks to mismanaging a Michael Jackson tour in the late 1980s.
Television coverage also affected the Boston Patriots. Outside of Boston, the Patriots were generally seen on UHF stations, not VHF like the Giants were. Coinciding with the move to Foxborough, UHF reception improved going into the 1970s, and with the advent of cable television, it drew the Patriots into all of New England and not just Boston. But during the 1960s, a good chunk of New England was Giants fans.
All these factors combine to relegate the Boston Patriots to museum status. And the passing of great players like Antwine doesn't get the recognition it should. The Patriots were something like the Beanpot Tournament during their years in Boston, in that they were known inside of I-495 (the circumferential highway was built during this time) but not really known elsewhere.
Maybe the greatest expert on the Boston Patriots was legendary Globe scribe Will McDonough, but he passed away in 2003. McDonough perhaps knew the Boston Patriots better than anyone. If McDonough were still alive, he would be able to write an exemplary piece on Antwine. Those of us who know who Antwine was but never saw him play can only pause to pay respects and to understand his place in franchise history, but cannot say much beyond that with great consternation.
Maybe it's time for someone to stand up and offer a course somewhere named "Boston Patriots 101". Watching Tom Brady wear a Boston Patriot jersey during a 59-0 slaughtering of Tennessee in the snow in 2009 is not enough. As a Patriot fan, it is important that you know as much about your team as possible. It's a lot of fun as a Celtics fan to brag about eight straight titles and eleven in thirteen years, thanks to someone named Bill Russell. But during that same time, your football team was in its embryonic stage, and you should know those Patriots at least somewhat, not like you know today's Patriots, but it should be more than the connection you make with the man on the radio who works with Gil.
Until someone offers Boston Patriots 101, take matters into your own hands. Learn about men like Mike Holovak, Babe Parilli, Jim Nance, Larry Eisenhauer, Nick Buoniconti, and all the other aforementioned men.
And then, when great players like Houston Antwine pass away, you will understand what a huge loss the Patriots sustained on Monday. Thank goodness your owner knows. Bob Kraft, who watched the Patriots grow up along with his sons in the stands, paid terrific homage to Antwine (and his wife Evelyn, who passed away the next day of complications from lung cancer) and understood the moment completely. Antwine will get prime consideration to be inducted into the Patriot Hall of Fame next year, something he should have lived to see.
So go study up on the Boston Patriots. Complain like Santos does that Gino isn't a Canton resident. Find out what Eisenhauer's nickname was and what his relationship with the people who produced the old kiddie show Boomtown was. Watch old film and marvel at someone catching a touchdown pass right in front of the Red Sox bullpen.
And, to humor this writer, see if you don't prefer red jerseys to blue.
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