Foxborough Stadium Heads For Fantastic Finale

Bob George
December 20, 2001 at 8:16 am ET

Schaefer…is the…one beer to have…when you’re…having more than one!

Honk if you’ve ever had Schaefer beer. Honk again if you can remember your last one. Honk still again if you claim the stuff to be your favorite brew.

I never liked Schaefer. I lop that stuff in the same category with ‘Gansett, Lucky Lager and Piels Real Draft. But I sure loved the “Schaefer Circle of Sports”. It was a regular sponsor of Red Sox Baseball. It once was to the Red Sox what Rheingold was to the New York Mets.



Patriots/Dolphins
Close-Up

Where:

Foxborough Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.

When:

Saturday 12/22/01
10:30 PM EST

Television:

WBZ Channel 4 in Boston

DSS:

DirecTV
Channel 941

Team Records:

Patriots 9-5
Dolphins 9-4

Latest Line:

Patriots by 3

But its most famous connotation in New England was this stadium on Route 1 in Foxborough. Built in 1971 at a cost of $6 million dollars (Drew Bledsoe’s cap number is higher), the bare-bones stadium, which is not much more than a glorified high school crib, kept the Patriots in New England, gave the vagabond AFL team a permanent home, and in its 30-year duration, carved its unique way into the legacy that is Boston Sports, albeit in a kooky and sometimes bizarre way.

This Saturday, all the “kooky” and “bizarre” has a chance to be exorcised permanently. When the Miami Dolphins come to town to play the Patriots in the stadium’s final regular season home game, the atmosphere will be electric, fanatical, and perhaps borderline hysterical.

For nobody of sound mind could have predicted, especially after a 1-3 start and Bledsoe knocked out for the year, that this final regular season game in stadium history would decide the AFC East title, and that this game might possibly extend the life of this stadium into at least one home playoff game.

It is the most baffling fact of what has been a most baffling season for the Patriots.

You have to feel great for Foxborough Stadium. The place that brought you Mark Henderson, backed up toilets, traffic jams and power failures during playoff games has a chance to get a sendoff that Boston Garden never got. For all these years of goofy and seemingly unbelievable stuff, the climax to the 30-year run of this stadium could be one of the most rousing that you’d ever want to see.

December 10, 1978.

If anyone out there cares about this writer’s favorite moment in Foxborough Stadium history, there it is. You got yours, I got mine. Patriots versus Buffalo. If the Patriots win, they clinch the 1978 AFC East.

David Posey’s late field goal did the trick. The Bills played the Patriots tough, like they did four days ago. The Patriots emerged with a 26-24 win, and the AFC East title in their hip pocket. I ran on the field with the rest of the drunken and delirious crowd. I was on the field for only two minutes, when I retreated after seeing this guy bleeding from a gash in his head after getting hit by a whiskey bottle.

Last April, I wrote a soliloquy on my dad’s passing. He and I went to this game, and many others from 1972 to 1981. I have never been to Foxborough Stadium. To me, I’m seeing the end of Schaefer Stadium. Dad and I shared great memories of Schaefer Stadium. The name may change, the section numbers may look different, the scoreboard might be more state of the art. But those silver bleachers and red, white and blue seats are all still there, providing one of the best, if not most comfortable, views of an NFL game in the league.

That division-clinching win was my favorite memory of the stadium. Oh sure, the 1996 playoff wins were more important, and many folks may add this Saturday’s game to the list, maybe at the top if the team plays like we hope they will. But for me, I will treasure that frigid day/night, running on the field, and seeing a division won right before my eyes.

I was once on my way to Boston Garden with my dad to see a Celtics game. We braved a December 1982 snowstorm as we drove across the Mass. Pike from Springfield to Boston. We listened to the Patriots/Dolphins game on the radio. We heard of this snowplow coming out to clear a spot for a John Smith field goal. It was the only score of the game. That night, we learned of Mark Henderson, and how a convict won a game for the Patriots. Hey, if you need to bend the rules, get a convict. Smart, huh?

I saw Steve Grogan’s first start in 1975. I saw win number 12 of Miami’s perfect 14-0 season of 1972. I saw Patrick Sullivan sitting in front of me with his 1985 AFC Championship ring, and a welt under one of his eyes.

And I had a great time with my dad at every game I went to.

As much as I am looking forward to CMGi Field, it will give me some pause when they start to take the wrecking ball to this place (it won’t be blown up like the Kingdome or Three Rivers Stadium, thank goodness). It’s time for this place to go. But it will be hard for me to look up in Heaven and know that one of the favorite places Dad and I used to go to won’t be there anymore.

And I’ll get over it.

But as long as we have the old lady (every female out there will now hate me for calling age 30 “old”) for one more game, let’s do it up in style.

Let’s get out there and punish Lamar Smith to the point that he cries for his mommy.

Let’s get out there and show the Dolphins that they should have hung on to Damon Huard.

Let’s get out there and throw more receivers at Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain than they can handle.

Let’s pretend that Zack Thomas is really Brian Bosworth, and that Antowain Smith is really Bo Jackson.

Let’s bring on the cold weather, so cold that the Dolphin defensive line has frostbite sometime during the first quarter.

Let’s make Miami think that they’re still in San Francisco, except that the team they’re playing this week is better than the one they got shut out by last week.

And finally, let’s show Miami who wants the division title worse. Let’s listen to Bryan Cox say how he’s “still not over the first game” (a 30-10 loss in week 4). Let’s not think about the 2000 game that took 45 minutes to run the game’s final play.

And let’s do it for Schaefer Beer, the Sullivan family, and the town of Foxborough.

Send that stadium off with a rousing, cheering finish. Squish the Fish like they’ve never been squished before. Nail down the inside track to the division title. Set the stage for the most incredible event of 2001: another home game.

That will effectively offset all the agonizing losses, embarrassing moments, and disparaging tales of yesterday. It will leave everyone with a sweet taste in everyone’s mouth over the closing of one of the least fan-friendly stadiums known to man.

And you know what? Foxborough Stadium deserves no less.

The place sells out like Washington, Denver and Exit 16-W do. Imagine, such a dilapidated facility, and the season ticket wait is like the Bruins of 30 years ago.

Bill Parcells and Bob Kraft will get a lot of the credit for the upsurge in Patriot popularity for this, but the real credit goes to Billy Sullivan and this stadium just being here.

You were afraid in 1993 that James Orthwein was going to move the Patriots to St. Louis. The Patriots would likely have moved in 1970 if Sullivan had not been able to build this stadium. After a decade of the Boston Patriots playing at Fenway Park, BC, BU, Harvard and Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, the coming of Schaefer Stadium, however flawed, was a key moment in the history of New England sports.

The Patriots remain white hot. Their new stadium is being hailed as the finest of its kind when it opens next year. Patriot Football has a firm grip on the region, and Red Sox bards will be hard pressed to keep up the Olde Towne Team’s exquisite legacy unless John Harrington doesn’t screw up the impending sale of the team.

And we all owe it to this crummy, uncomfortable stadium, soon to be razed. It cemented (no pun intended) pro football in this region. It established the Patriots as the preeminent team that it is today. And it has provided the region with more fun, entertainment and memories than anyone will ever give it credit for.

The tailgating that makes this place so great won’t go away. The new crib is right next door. This tribute is for the stadium only.

The Patriots need to win badly on Saturday. For the fans, for the team, for the division, for the region.

But most of all, for Schaefer Beer, the Sullivan family, and the town of Foxborough.

To me, it will always be Schaefer Stadium. A great place of camaraderie for my late Dad and I is about to be laid to rest.

There can be no other way Saturday. Patriots win.

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