Recalling the Fenway Park Patriots (among others)

Alan Greenwood

Finally there is an advantage for roaming through life on the far north of age 40:

We can appreciate the New England Patriots being in their 11th Super Bowl.

We remember the Fenway Park Patriots, not to mention the Boston University Patriots, the Boston College Patriots and the Harvard Patriots. Some of us even remember the Birmingham, Ala., Patriots.

Yes, on Sept. 22, 1968, the Patriots played the New York Jets at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The short answer for those wondering why is that the Red Sox were booked for a game against the Minnesota Twins on that day.

For those who the thought that the Patriots were born and raised in Foxborough, Mass., further explanation is needed.

In 1967 the Red Sox stunned the baseball world, not to mention New England baseball fans, by winning the American League pennant. (For details on that, google “Impossible Dream” or “Yaz Triple Crown” and you can surmise the most pivotal season in franchise history.)

Before 1967 the Red Sox were drawing an average crowd of three cats and a dog to America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, to quote the boast liberally used by the club’s marketing gurus. Owner Tom Yawkey gladly joined forces with Patriots owner Billy Sullivan to lobby the city and state to build them a multi-use stadium.

Yawkey and Sullivan had the traditional leverage used by big-league teams seeking taxpayer-owned ballyards: A barely audible whisper that they would pack up and leave if they didn’t get new digs.

In 1967, the American League champion Red Sox drew 1,727,832. In 1966, the ninth-place Red Sox drew 811,172. And in 1968, the rejuvenated Red Sox drew 1,940,788.

A lyric little dump morphed into a priceless baseball palace.

Mathematical wizardry was not required for Yawkey to reach the obvious conclusion: He owned the ballpark, unencumbered by any sort of lien. He no longer needed to seek help from the city or state, thus he no longer needed Billy Sullivan.

Sullivan also understood how the dots were connected around him. The city and state would have no problem letting Sullivan take his team and skedaddle.

The Patriots could use Fenway Park through the 1968 season, allowing Sullivan a head start on finding a new home. Among the cities considered a potential hotbed for professional football theire stood Birmingham Ala.

That Alabama alum Joe Namath woud be quarterbacking the Jets on Sept. 22, 1968, enhanced the locale even more.

So, off they went to Birmingham. After possibly using bedsheets to screen game film the night before, the Patriots lost, 47-31, before a crowd of 22,002.

That’s probably about where those numbers would have landed had the game been at Fenway. The lovable losers’ Boston roots were weakening but not torn.

By 1971, the Pats found the means, without public funding, to build a bare-bones home that more than meet NFL requirments. Part of those means came from naming rights sold to a now defunct beer company.

Schaefer Stadium, which became obsolete about an hour after it opened, is now a parking lot for Patriot Place, the site of Gillette Stadium.

They remain lovable in New England but left the lot reserved losers in the dust 18 years ago. The rest of America will undoubtably be rooting for the Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.