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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Fenway had never wanted pro football, and the Patriots didn't want Fenway. Alumni Field was just a stopgap site. In any case, two years earlier the National Football League had passed a rule requiring all of its teams—meaning that team in Boston—to produce a stadium or a reasonable blueprint thereof with a minimum seating capacity of 50,000. By 1970 the year of reckoning had arrived. Come March the owners were holding their annual meeting and Billy Sullivan, the Patriots' president, was under instructions to arrive prepared to tell the group all about his plan. Since a pro football franchise was not a thing to be scorned in any civilized city in the world except Boston, offers to buy the team or build it a stadium had come from Tampa, Memphis, Birmingham, Seattle, Toronto, Montreal and, by combining their total resources, three little towns in North Carolina. The Boston city council met under the gun to decide whether to build the stadium. And once again the stadium proposal was defeated. There was, however, still one site within the city environs that did meet NFL requirements, Harvard Stadium. The only trouble was that Harvard was conspicuously unwilling to house the Patriots.
The Harvard-Veeck rivalry, which was not hallowed by tradition or sung about around the tables of whatever corresponds to Mory's, was by then a good six weeks old. It began innocently enough—as these momentous affairs usually do—when I hired John Yovicsin, the Harvard football coach, as a promotion man for Suffolk. He had received permission from his two immediate superiors at the university, but when the story broke, several old crocks gasped in horror. The upshot was that Yovicsin never came to work at Suffolk.
But in the meantime I had been having a little fun with Harvard. "John will give our operation that indefinable something called cla-a-a-ass," I said, giving it the Harvard Square pronunciation and intimating that if Aqueduct could call itself the Big A, we were now qualified to call ourselves the Broad A.
As soon as the first reporters expressed surprise that anybody connected with Harvard would work for a racetrack, I had gone into my commercial about how much we returned to the state in taxes as compared to Harvard, which had not paid a shilling in 330 years. All good clean fun. As an educational institution the school wasn't required to pay taxes. If Harvard is sensitive about that, the remedy is in its hands.
The fracas warmed up. One Harvard official was willing, under the cloak of anonymity, to let the snob in him hang out. "It obviously is not the proper area for a Harvard coach to be in," he sniffed. You have to give those Harvard officials all the credit in the world. Under the cloak of anonymity, they are sometimes willing to tell the truth.
The Harvards had become fair game, and I went after them. I wanted the world to know that personal freedom stopped at the turnstiles as far as Harvard was concerned. I was out to demonstrate to the skeptics that liberalism and snobbery sleep together quite comfortably in Harvard Square. I had myself a field day. On my television show. During guest appearances on TV and radio. In my speaking engagements. If I was sorry for John's sake I was delighted for my own. "In all fairness," I would say, "I think I should have polled our alumni to see whether they approved of Harvard.
"Listen," I'd say. "Nothing is a total loss if you look at it right. We finally have been able to show the country that there is one thing, at least, which the president of Harvard University won't tolerate."
The more I needled Harvard, the more my audiences enjoyed it and promotionally it gave me what I had been searching so hard for, audience identification. A common purpose. Harvard isn't very well liked in the streets of Boston. All their lives my kind of people had wanted to take a whack at Harvard. When I whacked, we were whacking the university together.
I sent a plane over Harvard Stadium during the opening game of the football season. Our harness meet was on at the time, and I was able to greet John and shill their crowd at the same time by having the plane trail a huge streamer that read, HI, JOHN. IT'S EVEN BETTER AT SUFFOLK DOWNS. And back again with, YOUR STUBS WILL ENTITLE YOU TO ADMISSION AT SUFFOLK DOWNS ANY TIME.
The city council vote rejecting the stadium had taken place while I was still getting all the mileage I could out of the Yovicsin Affair. With that vote, all eyes had turned to Harvard Stadium, first Billy Sullivan's and then everybody else's who wanted to keep the Patriots in town. With the agitation about colleges assuming a role of responsibility in their own communities. I didn't think Dr. Pusey would dare to turn the Patriots away. But he did.