Time To Call On The Wrecking Ball

Bob George
January 21, 2002 at 2:38 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – Well, Dad, one of us has to say it. It’s time.

They’re finally going to tear our stadium down. Soon there will be no more section 219. The field I ran on in 1978 will soon be a parking lot. Nobody will ever have to worry about sewage backups or blown transformers. Never again will anyone who goes to see a Patriot game have to complain about an uncomfortable aluminum bleacher seat.

The new palace is almost complete. It will be the best of its kind in the nation. The Patriots will christen the place wearing at least the title of AFC East champs. Hopefully, the Patriots will have much more success in their new crib than the Bruins and Celtics have had in theirs, though both Vault tenants are doing a lot better lately, and are both at or near the top of their divisions.

But it’s finally time to close Foxborough Stadium, and to begin tearing it down. Simply stated, it’s time to call on the wrecking ball.

Somewhere up in the great Hereafter, Dad will view the demolition of the 31-year-old glorified high school field. Instead of exploding/imploding the place (to prevent any damage to CMGi Field), a special machine will come in and take Foxborough Stadium apart, section by section, piece by piece. The demolition should begin soon.

But there will be no further delay. Pittsburgh’s 27-10 win Sunday over Baltimore in the other AFC Divisional playoff game put the padlock on Foxborough Stadium, and prevented one final game next weekend. Pittsburgh is the top seed, and the Patriots must travel to brand new Heinz Field next week to play for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Super Bowl will be held in New Orleans, the only venue in which the Patriots have played in The Big Game.

The Patriots need this new facility much more than they want it. The only redeeming quality about Foxborough Stadium was the sight lines. Like Fenway Park, you were close to the action, but unlike Fenway, every seat in the stadium had a perfect view of the playing field. CMGi will give the Patriots a better locker room and a better clubhouse. Fans will be treated to nice seats and killer luxury boxes. People into aesthetics will marvel at the lighthouse and the overall physical design of the place. Opponents like Oakland who don’t want to mess with snow will be happy with a heating system below the playing surface.

But the memories of Foxborough Stadium will be very hard to let go of. Saturday night’s timeless classic in the snow and cold will hook Patriot Nation as long as they draw a breath. Bad teams, lousy games, rainy weather, traffic jams, backed-up toilets and power failures have come and gone. But the outgoing stadium got something it so richly deserved, and which will define its long term legacy: a sendoff for the ages.

Sendoff Part I was the Miami game just before Christmas. The Patriots won their final regular season home game in stadium history, 20-13. At game’s end, Bill Belichick looked like a little boy out there, then ran up to Lawyer Milloy and told him to lead a handshake patrol around the perimeter of the field. All the Patriot players shook hands with fans before retiring to the locker room. At the time, nothing was clinched for the Patriots, not even a playoff berth. For all intents and purposes, that was it. It was time to thank the fans, in case you would not be able to do it later.

Well, little by little, the other teams began to help the Patriots. Seattle loses to the Giants, playoff berth clinched. Jets lose at Buffalo, home Wild Card game clinched. Patriots beat Carolina, division title clinched. Raiders lose two of last three and Jets lose finale, first round playoff bye clinched.

And the one more game was Saturday night. Cold, snow and the Oakland Raiders. Sendoff Part II.

The weather was supposed to make the Patriots solid favorites, but the Raiders braved the cold weather and actually outplayed the Patriots for most of the game. It was fitting that the game would feature a huge late Patriot rally, a controversial official’s call to help the Patriots, and a thrilling overtime finish.

Save for a repeat of the AFC Championship Game of 1996, you could not have asked for a better finishing game at Foxborough. It now becomes the most famous snow game in stadium history, plowing Mark Henderson out of the picture. The 1978 division clincher was great, but this game had more importance. The 1996 clash with Jacksonville had more riding on the outcome, but this game was much more exciting and controversial.

You could say that Foxborough Stadium saved her best ever game for last.

The wild scene at game’s end, with the players carrying Adam Vinatieri on their shoulders, with Lonie Paxton making snow angels, with the fans screaming and staying long after the game had ended, was worth a million dollars. Given the wintry atmosphere that permeated the evening, it was a surreal experience. With what was at stake, and how the Patriots managed to pull off the win, Saturday night’s game had to be the best.

But next week, the Patriots must travel to Pittsburgh, and a date with a playoff opponent of years gone by. The Patriots must once again familiarize themselves with Kordell Stewart, Jerome Bettis and Jason Gildon. Many of the luminaries from 1996-97 are gone (thank goodness that Kevin Henry is one of them). One of the 1997 heroes for Pittsburgh plays for the Patriots in 2001 (Mike Vrabel).

The Patriots journey not to Three Rivers Stadium, but to a new venue aptly nicknamed the Big Ketchup Bottle. The Patriots hope to make the Heinz Field crowd believe that the visitors are for real, and that playing music by Minnie Ripperton will be more appropriate at game’s end versus anything by the Baja Men.

And it’s time to begin the end of Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxborough Stadium. There will be no more football played in the concrete slab that Jim Plunkett once played in and Chuck Fairbanks once coached in.

Do we all need CMGi? Without question.

But nobody with any common sense should think about the old place and laugh. Yes, there were forgettable moments, lots of them. But the unforgettable moments will last in all of our memories long after the forgettable ones are forgotten.

Foxborough Stadium got exactly what it needed and deserved, and that was a roaring sendoff. The last two games in stadium history were both significant and timeless, and the last one of all will go down as one of the legendary games in the history of New England sports.

And even the last home loss was with honor. It was against the St. Louis Rams, who are back on track to win another Vince this year. It wasn’t against the Bengals, the Cardinals, the Panthers, or God forbid, the Jets. It was against The Greatest Show On Turf. The Patriots held Kurt Warner and the vaunted Ram offense to only 24 points, but came up seven points short.

But it is time to say goodbye to the old place, and to begin its dismantling. Media outlets will show it, for sure. Many fans will rejoice in its destruction. This writer won’t be one of them.

This moment had to come. We need the new stadium. The team, the fans, the Kraft family, everyone. There is no question that the opening of CMGi Field this fall will be one of the more anticipated moments in recent memory.

But in the meantime, we say goodbye to an old friend. And all the memories that have come with her.

It’s time to revisit that parking lot again. When you actually begin to strike the stadium, guys, do it quickly. Dad and I beg of you.

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