Week 3 (Seattle 10, Pats 6). The gimmick was a onetime-only discount, offering 10,000 seats at $10 apiece for New England's home opener. The NFL discourages discounts, but the concern was that the crowd would be an embarrassment. The stadium, located 25 miles from both Boston and Providence, is in the middle of a rustic nowhere. Opened in 1971 as a cut-rate $6.5 million necessity to keep the Patriots in New England, it features backless aluminum seats, dust bowl parking lots and more fistfights per capita than an average tavern on Saturday night. Its location has kept the players isolated from Boston and Providence and kept more sedate fans at home.
"This is a one-shot deal," Pat Hanlon, the team's vice-president of public relations, explained to season-ticket holders, who complained that they were spending $28 and $38 for tickets and now would be sitting next to people paying $10 per seat. "Wouldn't you rather see a full stadium? This is an important game for us. We want to bring these people here, hopefully put on a show and make them come back."
The 10,000 tickets were sold, bringing the attendance to 42,327. The show never happened. The offense was stuffed again. The highlight of the day was the appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales, personal friends of the owner. The worry was that the football equipment would be loaded onto the beer wagon and taken back to St. Louis.
Week 4 (Buffalo 41, Pats 7). No contest. The weather in Foxboro was perfect. The crowd was a sellout. The Patriots were terrible. The Bills cruised. As the New England players left the field, hurrying through a passageway cut into the stands, they ran the familiar gantlet of abusive fans. Chung was advised to "wear a dress." Millen was told to "go back to Atlanta." The word suck was mentioned often.
"It's not the worst thing that could happen," said Lou Assad, a federal marshal who escorted an assortment of beleaguered coaches off the field. "The big trick is when the weather turns cold. These people cut hot dogs into halves, let them freeze and then throw them when the players leave. The things are like rocks."
Jankovich had mentioned the necessity of a sellout or good attendance. He said broadcasting fees and ticket sales are the team's only sources of revenue. The lease with the stadium gives stadium management all revenues from concession sales, parking and luxury boxes. The lease has nine years to run and was established during the 28-year ownership of Pat founder Billy Sullivan. Sullivan also owned the stadium when he sold the team to Kiam in 1988. Kiam decided he didn't want the stadium. He thought he would try to have a municipal stadium built in Boston. Sullivan sold the stadium to a group called K Corp. "Victor made a bad business decision," said Jankovich. "But we have to live with it."
"For a while we thought we wanted to own the team," says Robert Kraft, one of the K Corp owners. "Now that we have the stadium, you realize you're much better off this way. You go to the game, and if the Patriots lose, you're disappointed for about 45 minutes. Then you ask, 'How much popcorn did we sell?' "
Week 5 (New York Jets 30, Patriots 21). The unraveling began in earnest. Hanlon, the p.r. man, suddenly realized that he couldn't stand the sound of his own hopeful words anymore. He quit in the middle of his visit to New York to publicize the game. His friends advised him not to "do anything foolish." He said he wasn't doing anything foolish. Not anymore.
"You go to a place to work, and you say it never will be as good as it's predicted to be, and it never will be as bad as it's predicted to be," said Hanlon. "Well, this was indescribable. That's the only word I have. There are so many variables, so many things beyond your control. There's an issue a day, and rarely does it have anything to do with getting ready for football. You know what's sad? There are very few relationships with the Patriots that are handshake relationships. In fact, there aren't any, which is sad."
The football was again terrible, touchdowns as elusive as handshake relationships. During the second half a blowup occurred in the owner's box at Giants Stadium. Orthwein berated Jankovich on a variety of issues, including the departure of Hanlon. Orthwein later said, "It was just business; these things happen all the time and will happen again, except they'll be private."