Fenway Park was transformed into a football field for a Pats home game in 1963.

Credit: Boston Public Library

How Boston Lost The Patriots And 'New England' Grabbed the NFL's 'Gold Standard'

March 28, 2014

In March of 1971, there was no Twitter. There was no 24-hour sports radio in Boston. No ESPN. It was in the newspaper, 43 years ago this week, that area football fans learned that the Boston Patriots were no more. They were now the New England Patriots.

“The Patriots were gonna be called the Bay State Patriots," said Pat Sullivan, former general manager of the Patriots, laughing. "That concept lasted about two weeks.”

His father, Billy Sullivan, founded the team in 1960 — a charter franchise of the upstart American Football League. The new name was a sign of a new era for the team. In 1970, the AFL had merged with the larger, more established NFL. With that deal came some necessary changes.

"The league had a regulation that said the minimum capacity for a stadium was 50,000 seats," Sullivan said.

'Boston had basically turned their back on the Patriots.'

Through the '60s, the Patriots played home games all over the city – from Boston College to Harvard to Fenway Park. But none of those places met the new NFL requirement. A new stadium would have to be built, and Sullivan wanted it to be in Boston. There was no shortage of ideas as to where.

“The Waterfront along South Boston, which at the time was not a particularly attractive area, a dump in Dorchester — literally a dump, East Boston right next to Suffolk Downs, near where they're now thinking about a casino," he said.

But one by one, the potential deals fell through. Sullivan says that a lack of political will by city leaders made a future for the Patriots in Boston all but impossible.

“It was a combination of things," he said. "Kevin White was the mayor and Kevin White was not particularly that interested in professional sports. There was a lot of turf in-fighting and 'We’re not gonna put it in my backyard' kind of thing.”

Sullivan says that his father was reluctant to look elsewhere, but eventually it became clear that a Patriots stadium in Boston was never going to happen.

“Boston had basically turned their back on the Patriots,” he said.

Outside of Boston, it was a completely different story.

A fire broke out at Alumni Field at Boston College during a Patriots home game agains the Washington Redskins in 1970.
Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

“The overtures from places like Salem, N.H. and Foxboro, and for that matter Birmingham, Al. and Jacksonville and places like that, it was certainly a lot more inviting than what was going on in Boston at that time," he said.

In the end Foxboro won out, because it kept the Patriots close to Boston and …

“'Cause the land was free," Sullivan said. "That was the very simple equation."

It took $7.1 million and just 327 days to construct the 60,000-plus capacity stadium in Foxboro — something Sullivan called an "insane feat.” All told, the Patriots would play there for more than three decades.

In the mid-1990s, when new Patriots owner Robert Kraft was laying plans for the team’s next stadium, he too set his sights on downtown Boston. But just like in the 1970s, a deal was not in the cards. And with the opening of Gillette Stadium in 2002, the Patriots signaled that Foxboro would remain their home for the foreseeable future.

Sullivan says that while he sometimes still dreams of a world where the Patriots play home games in downtown Boston, the move to Foxboro was ultimately a win-win for the team and the region.

“I think the key thing from my perspective — and I know that if my dad were alive, his perspective — is it kept the team in this area which was my fathers primary motivation in everything that he did was to keep the Patriots in the Boston area,” he said.

Foxboro, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots, a name that was officially adopted 43 years ago this week.

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