[From the NYT, with credit to Boston Public Library, Sports Temples of Boston collection]
Bill Pennington had a great piece in yesterday’s NYT about the early vagabond years of the Patriots football team, when they were the Boston Patriots and moved from stadium to stadium. For the first decade, they were members of the American Football League. With the AFL-NFL merger, they joined the National Football League in 1970. A year later, they settled into their new stadium in Foxborough, in the remote (at least from my point of view, living in Cambridge then) southern suburbs, half the way to Providence, and re-branded themselves as the New England Patriots, after which things began to improve.
That first decade-plus was something special, as Pennington recalls. They bounced from BU’s athletic field, the one-time home of the Boston Braves baseball team, to Fenway Park to BC’s stadium to Harvard Stadium. Their one year in Harvard Stadium, that first year in the NFL, was my sophomore year. I could have taken a short walk from my room along the Charles to the Anderson Bridge, crossed over, and been at a game. I can’t believe I didn’t go. They won their home opener, against the Dolphins, and proceeded to lose all the remaining home games. OJ rushed for 123 yards when the Bills came; Johnny Unitas quarterbacked the Colts. Talk about missed opportunities!
Pennington tells one story from the 1970 season opener:
The former Notre Dame running back Bob Gladieux had been cut from the Patriots a few days earlier but decided to attend the season opener anyway with a friend.
Seated in the old concrete Harvard horseshoe before the start of the game, the two had already had a couple of beers when Gladieux’s friend agreed to get another round. Just after he left, the public address cackled: “Bob Gladieux, please report to the Patriots’ dressing room.”
Gladieux went downstairs and was told to suit up. Last-minute contract disputes had left the Patriots short. Gladieux, nicknamed Harpo for his flock of frizzy blond hair, hurriedly donned his pads and was soon running down the field on the opening kickoff against the Miami Dolphins.
Back in the stands, his friend wondered why he was alone. He looked up to see the Dolphins’ kick returner go down in the arms of No. 24 for the Patriots.
“Tackle by Bob Gladieux,” the public address announcer said.
Said St. Jean: “When we saw Harpo’s buddy later, he said: ‘I knew I was drinking, but not enough to be hearing things.’ ” The Patriots won the game, one of just two victories in another last-place season.
I was a Giants fan back then. (I could have seen them play at Harvard.) By 1975, I was a Patriots fan, and I suppose I still am. A little. Enough to know who I’ll be rooting for during next week’s Super Bowl. They’ve come a long way. Yet, some of the fun is gone.