This year's overriding situation is a doozy. The newest owner is 68-year-old James Orthwein, a millionaire from St. Louis, part of the Anheuser-Busch money, a man who, according to his media-guide biography, is a sports fisherman of note and has been master of foxhounds at his club in St. Louis for 35 years. He is the owner almost by default, drawn onto the scene to rescue the team from a perilous financial situation.
Previous owner Victor Kiam—the Remington shaver magnate who during his 3½ years at the Patriots' controls was most noted for some sexist comments he made following an alleged sexual harassment incident involving three New England players and Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson—had been close to declaring bankruptcy. Consequently the NFL actually took control of the team for four months, putting two league officials on the Pats' ruling committee to veto any strange business moves Kiam might have wanted to make.
Orthwein became involved when the league could not find local ownership to replace Kiam. Already heading up an effort to bring an expansion team to St. Louis, Orthwein purchased the Pats in May as part of a plan to...well, that is the question. Why did he buy the Patriots? His staled purpose was to do the NFL a favor, to bring some "stability" (his word) to the franchise and, at the same time, to enhance the chances of his being awarded an expansion team in his hometown. Newspapers in New England theorized that Orthwein had purchased the team with the idea of moving it to St. Louis. No, no, he said, he really didn't want to own the team and didn't want to move the team. He simply was trying to help.
Whatever the case, along with minority owner Fran Murray, Orthwein inherited an operation in which he had hired no one. The chief executive officer, Sam Jankovich, and the coach, Dick MacPherson, had both been brought on board by Kiam. Did Orthwein like Jankovich? MacPherson? Did Orthwein like the Pats? Nobody knew. Nobody knows yet. He is a mystery man owning a mystery team that has long been caught up in mysterious financial and legal situations.
"You know what amazed me when I bought the team?" Kiam says. "I found that there were 21 outstanding lawsuits against the team. I'd never heard of that. Did you ever hear of that? Twenty-one lawsuits? A football team?"
The Patriots, expected to be improved after going 6-10 in '91, MacPherson's first season, lost their first three preseason games, all handily. Then in their final exhibition they beat the Green Bay Packers 24-10 in Milwaukee, and the optimism returned. Wasn't this what the team had done a year ago, lose three preseason games and then win the finale in a surprise? This could be a pattern.
Week 1 (Patriots at Miami, postponed). Hurricane Andrew beat the Pats to Joe Robbie Stadium. The game certainly couldn't be played in the midst of the devastation. The Dolphins wanted to switch the game to Foxboro and play their Dec. 27 matchup with New England in Miami. The Pats declined.
Why? The stated reason was that the Foxboro field, torn apart by a U2 concert the previous week, was not ready. The underlying reason was that Jankovich and the rest of management were worried about attendance. This was Labor Day weekend. How many fans would change their plans for Patriot football? New England drew fewer fans than any other team in the league each of the last two years. With the NFL's smallest season-ticket base, estimated at 21,000, Jankovich feared that the crowd would be embarrassingly small. The football decision, coming off the preseason win against Green Bay, certainly would be to play. The business decision was to wait.
Week 2 (Los Angeles Rams 14, Patriots 0). The idea was to start fast on the road. The Rams, a team that lost 40-7 to the Buffalo Bills the previous week, seemed to be a beatable opponent. A big switch was made on game day in the New England offensive line: The Pats brought tackle Pat Harlow off the injured list and into the lineup and moved Eugene Chung, this year's top draft choice, from the left side to the right guard slot, next to Harlow.
When the possibility of such a switch had been mentioned during the week, left tackle Bruce Armstrong warned that it would be a mistake, "a disaster, switching a rookie that soon." It was a disaster. Chung, who had missed half of training camp anyway, and Harlow, who was not in shape, were manhandled. The line surrendered seven sacks. Millen was intercepted four times and left Anaheim with his left arm in a sling. Separated left shoulder.