SI Vault
Robert H. Boyle
October 18, 1971
They are flushed with success—on the field, where they upset the Jets, and off, where the plumbing passed the test
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October 18, 1971

There's No Need To Pity The Pats

They are flushed with success—on the field, where they upset the Jets, and off, where the plumbing passed the test

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Mr. Boston is a brand of booze popular in the city of the same name—there are over 100 labels, including Old Mr. Boston Vodka, Old Mr. Boston Apricot Flavored Brandy and Old Mr. Boston Canadian River—and if the old Boston Patriot fans had any spirit at all it was one of these. Suppose you were 2 and 12 and had no home. But the old order changeth. The Boston Patriots are now, by act of mimeograph, the New England Patriots, and have a new stadium in Foxboro, Mass. (pop. 14,231), a whole slew of new players—most notably Jim Plunkett—and, buoyed by a surprising 2-2 record, a new unalloyed and undistilled spirit.

In their opening game the Pats upset the Oakland Raiders 20-6, a feat that reverberates yet, like the shot at Lexington. Says Jim Colclough, an original Pat who watched from the stands, "It has to be the greatest win in Patriot history. There were all the elements of professionalism." The Pats then lost to Detroit 34-7 and to Baltimore 23-3, neither of which was the greatest loss in Patriot history, that being the 51-10 defeat by San Diego in the 1963 AFL title game.

Last Sunday the Pats, who had not beaten the Jets since 1965, upset them 20-0 as Plunkett threw touchdown passes to Randy Vataha and Ron Sellers and Jim Nance ran 50 yards for the final score. A crowd of some 55,000, who sat through a heavy downpour in Foxboro, gave the Pats a standing ovation at the final gun.

Some of this enthusiasm can be attributed to the opening of Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, midway between Boston and Providence, and named for the beer company that contributed $1.4 million toward its construction. This is the first real home the Pats have had in their 12-year history, and season ticket sales have gone from 9,000 to 45,000 in the past 18 months. No wonder that Team President Billy Sullivan, who was thwarted in his attempts to build a stadium in Boston, now moves through the crowd beaming like a bishop who has won the Cadillac in the diocese raffle.

Above and beyond (or rather, within) the stadium, the Pats show signs of life on the field, and for the first time in years both players and fans have hope. Since last February, the Patriots have had a new general manager, Upton Bell, a clever, forthright football freak who has rebuilt the team to the point where almost half the roster is new. Fans have even been heard to cry out "Bell for mayor!" (presumably Boston, not Foxboro), and, when Bell steps out of his car before a game, he is besieged by kids wanting his autograph. One expects Peter Lawford to line up at halfback, and a closeup of June Allyson in the stands.

On top of all this the team has a certain flair. Leo Monahan, a Boston sports-writer, says, "Something is always going on with the Pats." More often than not, the things have been, uh, unusual. Who else but the Patriots could have existed for 11 years without a front-office switchboard? And when one was installed last spring, it blew up three days later. Who else but the Patriots could have an office assistant named John Birch who happens to live, pat coincidence, in Belmont, Mass., the home town of the society? Who else but the Patriots, shades of Bob and Ray, who got started in Boston, would have an assistant PR man named Wally Carew?

Before the Pats become another coldly efficient Super Bowl team, it is worth taking a backward glance at the bad old days. Jon Morris, the All-Pro center, once told a friend he did not go to the corner grocery because he wanted to stay hidden in his house. Says Fullback Nance, "It was so unreal no one would ever believe it. If I wrote a book, theoretically it would be a bestseller. But then it wouldn't be, because no one would believe what was in it."

Up until this year the Pats were improper Bostonians, a bedraggled band of gypsies who roamed the Hub as though under a curse never to find a home. Unwelcome tenants at Fenway Park, Boston University's Nickerson Field, Boston College's Alumni Stadium and Harvard Stadium, they once played a home game in Birmingham, Ala., which was trying to get the franchise. At times, the Pats even had difficulty finding a practice field. When they managed to get permission to use a public school field in East Boston, local politicians accused them of depriving the kids of a playground. It was almost impossible to view game movies there during the week, the films being shown under the stands, where the players sat on milk cases. Since there were not enough cases to go around, there was a scramble to get under the stands first. The player who got there last not only had to stand but to hang the bed sheet used as a screen. The front office never missed a payroll, but economy was the rule. Once when the Pats flew to Buffalo, the players were told to sleep on top of the bedspreads in the motel or get fined. The team was to get a cut rate if the players did not dirty the sheets.

The Pats were one of the original teams of the American Football League. Lou Saban, the first coach, ran 300 players through the 1960 camp. "Saban would put up a list of cuts in the dorm," says Gino Cappelletti, the last of the original Pats, who retired this year. "He didn't have time to tell everybody personally, and after every practice we'd run like hell for the dorm to see if we got cut. A lot of guys who were cut stuck around a few days, eating three square meals and sleeping there."

Mike Holovak replaced Saban, and in 1963 the Pats actually got into the AFL championship game, the one in which they were trounced by the Chargers. Holovak was able to produce a kind of dock walloper's spirit in the team, but the spirit faded as the flesh aged, and few replacements were forthcoming; in his other role, as general manager, Holovak did not believe in bonuses or no-cut contracts. The scouting was ludicrous. The chief scout was Ed McKeever, the old Notre Dame coach, who lived down in the bayous, and every year on his recommendation the Pats loaded up on players from obscure Southeastern schools. McKeever's scouting reports consisted in part of circled faces in college programs that he mailed to Boston, and the Pats supplemented their late-round draft choices with players from such powerhouses as Tufts and Bowdoin. Excluding the draft to stock the franchises, the Patriots did not pick a player from the West Coast until 1969. (Incidentally, one of the original selections was Ron Mix, seven years an All-Star with San Diego; he was traded for an "unnamed player" whose name was Tom Greene.) When Holovak left, a lot of the Pats' records and papers disappeared, too, creating a sizable gap for future historians. The word around the Pats' office is that Holovak had all the stuff stored in the trunk of his car.

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