(As the New England Patriots prepare to play their final regular season game, with an undefeated record thus far, the game is scheduled to be simulcast on three networks for the first time since Super Bowl I.)
Nowadays, it’s hard to find someone in this area who is not a Patriots fan. Everyone loves a winner, and we’ve come to expect the Patriots to not only win, but dominate their opponents.
But it was not always thus.
In 1960, my father bought two season tickets to the Boston franchise of the new American Football League. It was the first time professional football would be played in Boston, and he wanted to be a part of it. In 1964, I was finally old enough to join him at the game. One of my earliest memories was sitting in temporary stands, in a snowstorm, watching the Patriots play the San Diego Chargers. I distinctly remember looking down between my feet behind me and seeing the Green Monster of Fenway Park.
He typically took me to six of the seven available home games each season. My sister got one, to be ‘fair’. I think she chose to see the Jets because Joe Namath was ‘cute’. I wonder if she thinks that now. She probably doesn’t know anything about the “Kiss me, Suzy Kolber” incident either, which is just as well for all concerned. But I digress.
Over the next seven years or so, my father and I drove into Boston to ‘home’ games at several stadia, including Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard Stadium. There was always a feeling of being a refugee, or second class citizen, and the Patriots’ performance typically bore that out. They were largely horrible teams then, and we were pleased when they were competitive, let alone if they actually won. All the other teams seemed to have ‘real’ stadia, and ‘real’ teams.
Finally, in 1971, the Patriots got their own stadium, in Foxboro. I had never heard of Foxboro, let alone been there. Since it was quite a distance from our home (we lived north of Boston), many of the local Patriots fans chipped in and hired a bus to take us to and from the games. I still have the ‘evidence’ that I attended the first regular season game at Schaefer Stadium (named after a mediocre local beer), consisting of an “I was there” wallet card and a simulated gold coin. I actually have quite a few of those gold coins. There was a great feeling of hope and change, as the team was renamed the “New England” Patriots, and they actually beat the dreaded Oakland Raiders in that first “real” home game. But they were still not a great team by any stretch.
In 1974, I think it was, they actually opened the season by winning their first five or six games! It was incredible. The Patriots actually got shown on the NFL Films “Game of the Week”; a national pedestal which had, to date, ignored them as the cellar-dwelling hapless Patsies they had been. They were finally a “real” NFL team! The euphoria was short-lived, however, as they lost six of their remaining eight games and finished 8 and 8. Still, a successful season by Patriots standards.
From there, I got my license and my father and I started to take turns driving. Then I went off to college and only made one game a year. I don’t know who my father took with him, but he still went to all the games. The team improved somewhat and was more competitive in those years, but save for the famous “roughing the passer” call in a playoff against Oakland, still never really contended. After my graduation, they got worse again. My dad had moved further north and finally had to cut back on his game attendance, so I usually had the tickets. Oftentimes, I couldn’t even give them away if neither of us could attend for some reason. The Pats had one miracle season in ’85-’86, but got trounced in the Super Bowl by Chicago. Right after that, they had a drug use scandal and the team tumbled back into relative mediocrity. We still attended most every game though.
Finally, in the early 90s, I had my first child, and my dad and I decided to give up the tickets. The stadium was less fun to visit – our seating section, right on the 50 (the 46 to be precise), had gone from the same congenial regulars every week to a random selection of drunks, and it was almost perilous to attend.
Soon after, the stadium and then the team was bought by the Kraft family, and the rest is history. They changed uniforms, cleaned up the stadium, and became contenders within a couple of seasons.
My father, who instilled in me a love for football and the Patriots in particular, passed away before his time, in 1998. Most of the over 150 games we attended together were losses. He saw the Patriots make the Super Bowl twice, and get defeated soundly both times. He never saw the Red Sox win the World Series in his lifetime.
Since then, the Patriots have become the dominant team in the NFL, winning three Super Bowls and likely on their way to a fourth. If they do, they will have won 19 games without a defeat. If I could, I would officially dedicate this season to my father, who as much as anyone alive, deserved to see this amazing achievement.
These are your new grandchildren. As you can see, they’re going to be Pats fans too.