- History of the New England Patriots
The History of the
New England Patriotsbegan when Boston business executive Billy Sullivan was awarded the eighth and final franchise of the developing American Football League(AFL) on November 16 1959. The following winter, locals were allowed to submit ideas for the Boston football team's official name. The most popular choice—and the one that Sullivan selected—was "Boston Patriots". Immediately thereafter, Phil Bissell developed the "Pat Patriot" logo. cite web | title = Official New England Patriots History | url = http://www.patriots.com/history/index.cfm?ac=History | accessdate = 2008-01-13 | work = Patriots.com | publisher= New England Patriots]
The Patriots time in the AFL saw them struggle most years as they never had a regular home stadium.
Nickerson Field, Harvard Stadium, Fenway Park, and Alumni Stadiumall served as home fields during their time in the American Football League. They did play in one AFL championship game, following the 1963 season. They lost to the San Diego Chargers51-10. They would not appear again in an AFL or NFL post-season game for another 13 years.
When the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, the Patriots were placed in the
AFC Eastdivision, where they still play today. The following year, the Patriots moved to a new stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, which would serve as their home for 30 years. During the 1970s, the Patriots had some success, earning a berth to the playoffs in 1976—as a wild card-berth—and in 1978—as AFC East champions. The would lose both games. In 1985, the returned to the playoffs, and made it all the way to Super Bowl XX, which they lost to the Chicago Bears46–10. Following their Super Bowl loss, the returned to the playoffs in 1986, but lost in the first round. The team would not make the playoffs again for eight more years. The changed ownership several times, being purchased from the Sullivan family first by Victor Kiamin 1988, who sold the team to James Orthweinin 1992. Orthwein intended to move the team to his native St. Louis, Missouri, but sold the team two years later to current owner Robert Kraftin 1994.
Though Orthwein's period as owner was short and controversial, he did oversee major changes to the team. Former
New York Giantscoach Bill Parcellswas hired in 1993, and the drastic changes were made the same year to the Patriots uniforms, changing their primary colors from their traditional red and white to blue and silver, and introducing a new logo. Parcells would bring the Patriots to two playoff appearances, including Super Bowl XXXI, which they lost to the Green Bay Packersby a score of 35–21. Pete Carroll, Parcells's successor, would also take the team to the playoffs twice.
The Patriots current coach,
Bill Belichick, was hired in 2000, and a new home field, Gillette Stadiumwas opened in 2002. Under Belichick, the team went to three Super Bowls in four years, and finished the 2007 regular season with a perfect 16-0 record, becoming only the fourth team in league history to go undefeated, and the only one since the league expanded its regular season schedule to 16 games.
The Boston Patriots played in the first-ever game in the
American Football League, against the Denver Broncoson September 9, 1960. Although the team made only two AFL playoff appearances, it had numerous stars. In 1963, eleven Patriots made the AFL All-star team, including Gino Cappelletti, Nick Buoniconti, and Babe Parilli. That year the Patriots made it to the AFL Championship for the first time ever, but lost to the San Diego Chargers51-10. Linebacker Tom Addison, an original Patriot and the first Patriot All-star, founded and was selected President of the AFL Players Association in the mid 1960s. In the late 1960s, fullback Jim Nancebecame an offensive weapon for the Patriots, gaining 1,458 yards in 1966 and 1,216 in 1967, when he was the AFL MVP [ [http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/NancJi00.htm/ Jim Nance statistics] Accessed 25 January 2006.] [ [http://football.about.com/od/nflhistory/l/bl_awardsmvp.htm NFL MVP player of the year] Accessed 25 January 2006.] .
In 1970 the Patriots became a member of the NFL pursuant to the merger of the AFL and NFL that had been agreed to three years earlier. Despite acquiring reigning NFL MVP
quarterback Joe Kappfrom the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots first season as part of the NFL was extremely difficult as they finished 2-12 and finished in sole possession of the newly merged league's worst record.
After bouncing around between four different Boston-area stadiums in their first 11 seasons, in 1971 the Patriots moved into a new stadium in Foxborough (also known as Foxboro), on land granted by the Bay State Raceway. The team was renamed the
New England Patriotsin March 1971, to reflect its new location roughly halfway between Providence and Boston as well as a desire to better position itself as New England's regional NFL team. The original choice, Bay State Patriots, was rejected by the NFL. [cite web | title = It's Now The "BAY STATE" Patriot Squad | url = http://www.newspaperarchive.com/LandingPage.aspx?type=glpnews&search=bay%20state%20patriots&
| work = Gettysburg Times | date = 1971-02-19 | accessdate = 2008-04-16] [cite web | title = Patriots Switch Again, Adding Regional Flavor | url = http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F70710FE3D5D117B93C1AB1788D85F458785F9 | work = The New York Times | date = 1971-03-23 | accessdate = 2008-04-16] The stadium, to be known as
Schaefer Stadium, was built at a cost of about $7.1 million in only 325 days. The stadium was one of the first stadiums in the country to be named after a corporate sponsor, as the Schaefer Brewing Company paid $150,000 for naming rights. Additionally, the town of Foxborough was one of the first in the country to assess a surtaxon every ticket sold.
The first event held at the new Schaefer Stadium was a preseason game against the
New York Giantson August 15 1971. In a sign of things to come, in the days leading up to the game there was great concern with the plumbing at the facility. To ensure the proper functioning of the plumbing a "flush-off" was conducted, where every toilet in the stadium was flushed at the same time, to ensure that the plumbing could withstand the heaviest use.
On the field in 1971 was a new quarterback,
Heisman Trophy[ [http://www.nationalchamps.net/NCAA/heisman/heisman_trophy_winners.htm Past Heisman Trophy Winners] National Champs.net.] winner Jim Plunkett[ [http://www.profootballhof.com/history/general/draft/1971.jsp Pro Football Draft History: 1971] Pro Football Hall of Fame.] . Plunkett, from Stanford Universitywas the first overall selection in the 1971 NFL Draftwhich the Patriots received for having finished with the NFL's worst record in 1970 [ [http://home.earthlink.net/~ob1gui/nflsbar/nflrnk70.htm NFL 1970 Team Rankings.] ] .The Patriots also signed free agent Randy Vataha, who had been one of Plunkett's favorite wide receivers at Stanford.
The Patriots continued to have difficulties even after moving to Schaefer Stadium, and went through three coaches in their first four post-merger seasons. One bright spot was the arrival of offensive guard John Hannah in the
1973 NFL Draft, who would anchor the Patriots' offensive line for the next twelve seasons and eventually become the first career Patriot to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This draft also brought running back Sam Cunningham, the team's all-time leading rusher [ [http://www.patriots.com/AllTimeLeaders/index.cfm?ac=Rushing All-time Leaders - Rushing] Patriots.com.] and wide receiver Darryl Stingleyto New England.
In 1973 the team hired
Chuck Fairbanks, who had enjoyed success as head coach of the University of Oklahoma, as head coach. The Patriots showed marked improvement in Fairbanks's first season 1974 finishing 7-7, but with injuries to Plunkett in 1975, regressed to 3-11 that season. Following the 1975 season, Plunkett was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, and eventually would win 2 Super Bowls with the Oakland Raiders.
The draft picks acquired in the Plunkett trade were used to select
defensive backs Mike Haynes and Tim Foxand set the stage for the team's first winning seasons in the NFL. Second-year player Steve Grogan- who had played much of the 1975 season with Plunkett injured - became New England's top quarterback for the 1976 season. The Patriots finished 11-3, their best record in team history to that point, and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1963.
Their opponent in the first round would be the
Oakland Raiders, whose only regular season loss had come at the hands of New England, 48-17. By late in the game, the Patriots were leading the Raiders, 21-17. On a critical third down play late in the fourth quarter, Patriots defensive tackle Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamiltonappeared to get a critical sack on Oakland quarterback Ken Stablerwhich would have forced the Raiders into a fourth down situation and the possible end to their season. However, referee Ben Dreithcalled a roughing the passer penalty on Hamilton, nullifying the sack and giving the Raiders an automatic first down deep in New England territory. Replays would show that there was no illegal contact - a point that Stabler himself would all but concede in interviews years later. The call would ultimately prove fatal to the Patriots, as Stabler would score on a short touchdown run with less than a minute left, and the Raiders held on for a 24-21 win. Partially because of the controversy, the league never assigned Dreith to officiate Patriots games again.
The 1977 season was a disappointing one for the Patriots, aided by contract holdouts by offensive linemen John Hannah and
Leon Gray. The Patriots finished 9-5, one game out of first place, and out of the playoffs.
In a 1978 preseason game against the Raiders, wide receiver Darryl Stingley was paralyzed from the neck down from a tackle by Oakland's
Jack Tatum[ [http://archive.profootballweekly.com/content/archives/features_1998/pollack_080399.asp The amazing courage of Derek Stingley] Pro Football Weekly.] . Tatum, who would write a book called "They Call Me Assassin", never apologized for the hit. Despite this devastating loss, the Patriots would rally and finish 11-5 for their first post-merger AFC Easttitle. However, hours before the final game of the season, coach Chuck Fairbankssurprised many by announcing he would be leaving the team to become head coach at the University of Colorado. Owner Billy Sullivan immediately suspended Fairbanks and hired Ron Erhardtto coach the final game. The team lost its first round playoff game to the Houston Oilers, which also was the first Patriots post-season game at Schaefer Stadium.
For the next two years the Patriots would suffer late-season collapses that would deny them return trips to the playoffs. In 1979 after starting 7-3, the team would lose four out of their last six games, including three in a row to divisional rivals in December, to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs. In 1980, with star running back
Sam Cunninghamholding out all season, the Patriots started 6-1 but finished 10-6, again out of the playoffs. With these performances in mind, a local sportswriter intimated that the team suffered from the "Bozo Syndrome," meaning that they played "like clowns in the clutch." The Patriots continued to slide in 1981, finishing 2-14, including two losses to the Baltimore Colts which were the only two games the Colts won that year.
Following the 1981 season Erhardt was fired and replaced by
Ron Meyer, who had been the head coach at Southern Methodist University. The Patriots had the top draft pick overall in the 1982 NFL Draftand selected Kenneth Sims, a defensive endfrom the University of Texas at Austin, who would largely prove to be a disappointment in his seven seasons with the team.
In the strike-shortened year of 1982, the highlight of the Patriots season was the so-called "
Snow Plow Game," a controversial 3-0 late-season win over the Miami Dolphins. The controversy came in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were preparing for a field goal attempt. Mark Henderson, a convict on work release, used a John Deeretractor with a rotating sweeper to clear a swath of field to aid the Patriots. Kicker John Smith's 33-yard attempt was good, and the points would prove to be the only points scored by either team that afternoon. The win would help put the Patriots in the playoffs, but the first-round rematch in Miami was easily won by the Dolphins.
In 1983 rookie quarterback
Tony Easonwas drafted in the first round, the fourth of six quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Eason would play sparingly in 1983, but would become the Patriots' starting quarterback in 1984. Meanwhile, the team's pattern of not being able to finish seasons strong became apparent again. The team again lost some key games late, and finished out of the playoffs at 8-8.
The Patriots would acquire the top draft pick overall for the
1984 NFL Draftand selected Irving Fryar, a wide receiver from the University of Nebraska. With Tony Eason starting at quarterback, the Patriots got off to a strong 5-2 start. However, after a pair of losses the Patriots fired head coach Ron Meyer, and replaced him with former Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry. The players initially responded well to Berry, winning three of their first four games under him. However, showing once again a failure to finish strong, the Patriots again lost three straight games in December, and again missed the playoffs at 9-7.
1985: First Super Bowl appearance
After struggling to start the 1985 season, new coach
Raymond Berryreplaced Eason with Grogan. But Grogan broke his leg late in the season, and Eason got the starting job again. New England won six straight games and finished 11-5, with a wild card playoff berth. In the first round the Patriots beat the New York Jetsfor their first playoff win since 1963. In the divisional playoff against the Los Angeles Raiders the Patriots forced six turnovers and won 27-20, gaining a measure of revenge for their crushing 1976 defeat and setting up an AFC Championship showdown against the rival Miami Dolphins. The Patriots had lost 20 straight games in Miami at the time, but won this one, dominating the Dolphins defensively again en route to a 31-14 win. Thus the Patriots completed an improbable run to Super Bowl XX, where they faced the Chicago Bears.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, they would be caught in the middle of a bizarre Super Bowl week subplots. Prior to the AFC Championship game, Irving Fryar had cut two fingers with a kitchen knife, requiring them to be put in a cast. At first it was dismissed as a freak accident, but after the conference championship that the truth came out: Fryar's wife Jacqueline had slashed him in a domestic incident after Fryar had knocked her down. It was a distraction that, many thought, epitomized the history of these Patriots - coming as it did in what was otherwise to that point the franchise's finest hour.
In the Super Bowl, though the Bears had not allowed a point in the playoffs, the Patriots took an early 3-0 lead after a
Walter Paytonfumble in the first quarter.
The opening drive would be marked by an injury to
tight end Lin Dawsonwho would be forced to leave the contest with a broken leg. The Bears would go on to score the next 46 points, including a touchdown by William "Refrigerator" Perry. The Patriots would add a meaningless touchdown at the end to make the final score 46-10, the most lopsided defeat in Super Bowl history at the time.
John Hannah, generally considered one of the best guards to play pro football, retired after the Patriots' Super Bowl experience. The Patriots' strength was their passing game, led by Eason and star receiver
Stanley Morgan, who gained nearly 1500 yards receiving. Despite having statistically the worst rushing offense in the league, New England won the AFC East with an 11-5 record, and traveled to Denverto take on the Broncos in the first round playoff game. A late fourth-quarter touchdown pass from John Elwayto Vance Johnsonwon the game for Denver, who would eventually succeed the Patriots as AFC Champions. This would be the team's last playoff appearance for eight years.
Doug Flutie(from Natick, Massachusetts), who won the Heisman Trophy for Boston Collegein 1984, was acquired by the Patriots during the 1987 players' strike and crossed the picket line to play his first game for the Patriots, which was also the last of three games played by replacement players in the 1987 season. Many defensive players for New England also crossed the picket line. However, late-season injuries put the Patriots out of playoff contention at 8-7. In 1988 Flutie played five games before he was replaced by Eason, after which they would alternate as the Patriots' starting QB. Though the Patriots had some success with this atypical arrangement, finishing the season 9-7, the Patriots narrowly missed the playoffs.
During this time, the Sullivan family - who had owned the Patriots since their inception - lost millions of dollars on poor investments, most notably their involvement in producing
The Jackson 51984 Victory tour, headed by family scion Chuck Sullivan. They were never among the NFL's wealthiest owners, and the investments, and specifically the losses suffered from the Victory tour, had a considerable negative impact on the family fortune and compromised in many ways the operation of the Patriots. Consequently, the Sullivans were forced to sell the team to Remington Productsmagnate Victor Kiamin 1988for $84 million USD. Although the Patriots were respectable in 1988, narrowly missing the playoffs, the 1989 season was a disaster for the team. Three of the team's biggest players on defense ( Andre Tippett, Garin Verisand Ronnie Lippett) were injured in the same preseason game. Neither Eason, Flutie, nor Grogan emerged as the starting quarterback, and each rotated the starting quarterback job throughout the season. The Patriots finished the season 5-11.
Following the season, Flutie left for the
Canadian Football League, and long time general manager Dick Steinbergalso left to take a similar job with the New York Jets. Berry was fired and replaced by Pittsburgh Steelersdefensive coordinator Rod Rustfor 1990.
The Patriots' worst season in franchise history — a 1-15 record — came under Rust in 1990. During the season, the Patriots were thrown into the middle of a sexual harassment scandal when "
Boston Herald" reporter Lisa Olsonwas sexually and verbally assaulted by several Patriots players in the team's locker room and was later labeled a "classic bitch" by Kiam. Following an investigation into the scandal, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabuefined the team $50,000 USD, and players Zeke Mowatt, Michael Timpsonand Robert Perryman$12,500, $5,000, and $5,000 USD respectively. Rust was fired and replaced by Dick MacPhersonat the end of the season. The Olson scandal and the 1-15 record are cited as the two primary reasons why Rod Rust was told to leave. [ [http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/nfl/nengalnd/patriots.html Lisa Olsen sexual harassment scandal] Accessed 31 January 2006.]
As a final indignity, their season finale against the
New York Giantswould be one of their few sellouts of the year; however, most of the fans at the game that day were Giants fans. The team lost that game, missing a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds, and finished the season 1-15, the worst season in franchise history. Shortly thereafter, the Patriots revamped their front office. Rust was fired and replaced by Dick MacPherson, a New England native who had been the coach at Syracuse University. Additionally, Sam Jankovich, who had been athletic director at the University of Miamiand oversaw the national resurgence of their athletic program (and specifically their football team), was brought on as CEO of the Patriots.
The Patriots showed marked improvement in 1991.
Hugh Millentook over at quarterback partway through the 1991 season, and the Patriots responded to MacPherson's upbeat, positive style. The Patriots improved to 6-10 with several upsets over playoff teams, including wins against the Minnesota Vikingsand eventual AFC Champion Buffalo Billsand were competitive in many of their losses. Attendance and fan interest improved.
Although optimism was high entering the 1992 season, the team was disappointing and finished 2-14, which eventually led to the departures of both MacPherson and Jankovich. Rumors of a possible move to
St. Louis, Missouriintensified when Kiam sold the team to St. Louis businessman James Orthwein, a scion of the Busch family. Orthwein wanted to return the NFL to his hometown of St. Louis and saw the Patriots as a vehicle to make that happen.
The Patriots went about the business of giving the team a brand new look for 1993, in every way. The most dramatic change was the hiring of
Bill Parcells, a 2-time Super Bowlwinner, as head coach. One of the most respected coaches in the history of the game, Parcells brought instant credibility and respectability for the franchise. He was also largely given a free hand with respect to personnel. Changes to the uniforms and logo were rolled out as well. The old "Pat Patriot" logo - which to many was a symbol of the Patriots' ineptitude - was retired and replaced with a stylized Patriot head, designed in tandem with NFL Propertiesthat many fans would eventually call "Flying Elvis". The team's primary color changed from red to blue, and the helmets from white to silver.
With the first pick in the
1993 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected quarterback Drew Bledsoefrom Washington State University. This was only part of a major season of change in New England. Other draft picks such as tight end Ben Coatesand linebackers Willie McGinestand Chris Slade, helped the team immediately. Bledsoe started the season as the starting quarterback, but after losing the first four games, he was injured and replaced with former Dolphins backup Scott Secules, who won one of his two games.
The 1993 season began with an 1-11 record. Of their 11 losses, eight were by 7 points or less, and only two of their 11 defeats were by more than 14 points, both coming before Week 4. Finally, at the end of the season, the Patriots' luck began to turn. They ended their season by winning their last four games in a row, over Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and, most dramatically, over Miami in overtime in the finale - a game that eliminated the Dolphins from the playoffs.
Interest in the Patriots grew both during and after the 1993 season. By many measures, the Patriots were as popular as they had ever been - even more popular than they had been during the 1985 Super Bowl year. Despite this unprecedented interest, however, the franchise was increasingly rumored to be headed to St. Louis, and at times the move looked imminent. Finally, in the 1993 off-season, the issue reached its climax. Orthwein offered Boston businessman
Robert Kraft(who had bought Foxboro Stadium for $25 million USD in 1988 out of bankruptcy court) $75 million USD to break the operating covenant of the lease, which would then free him to move the Patriots to St. Louis. Kraft refused, which continued to bind the Patriots to playing at Foxboro. When it became apparent that Kraft would not allow Orthwein to buy out the Lease, Orthwein put the team up for sale. Kraft bought the team for $172 million USD in 1994, beating out an investor group which included Paul Newmanand Walter Paytonas investors. On February 26 1994, Kraft's first full day as owner of the Patriots, the Patriots sold 5,958 season tickets, shattering by over sixfold the team's prior single-day record of 979. Moreover, since Kraft took control over the team, the Patriots have sold out every home game, including pre-season games.
Halfway through the 1994 season, the Patriots looked flat. They were 3-6 and had lost 4 straight when they faced the
Minnesota Vikingsat home for Week 10. With the season on the line, Drew Bledsoe sparked a second-half comeback by switching to a no-huddle offense. Bledsoe set single-game records for pass attempts and completions, and the Patriots won the game 26-20 in overtime. This led to the Patriots winning their last seven games of the regular season, finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs as a wild card. In their first playoff game in eight years, the Patriots were beaten in the first round by the Cleveland Browns20-13 - the last team to beat New England in the regular season, who were coached by one-time Parcells assistant (and future Patriots coach) Bill Belichick. The Patriots drafted Curtis Martinin the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft, giving the team its best running back in decades. Despite a dramatic opening day win against Belichick's Browns to start the 1995 season, and a sensational rookie campaign by the young Martin, Bledsoe struggled with injuries, the team struggled with inconsistency and the Patriots finished a lackluster 6-10.
The 1995 season was also marked by the Patriots' first home appearance on
Monday Night Footballsince 1981. During the Patriots' last appearance on the program, a number of fans in attendance proved to be rowdy and uncontrollable and there was an abnormally high number of arrests. As a result of this behavior, the Town of Foxborough and the NFL refused to schedule Monday Night home games in New England. (This behavior, which occurred during day games as well, led the Patriots to only sell reduced-alcohol beer for several seasons in the 1980s.)
After the Patriots successful season however, Bob Kraft successfully lobbied the Town of Foxborough and the NFL to schedule the Patriots on a Monday night. The NFL granted Kraft's request, scheduling the Patriots on Monday,
October 23, in a game against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots won the game, 27-14, and the crowd was peaceful and orderly, with only a handful of isolated disturbances and arrests. In appreciation, Kraft took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe thanking fans for their excellent behavior and the Patriots have since hosted several more night games without incident.
Over Bill Parcells' objections, in the
1996 NFL Draftthe team added wide receiver Terry Glennas a first-round draft pick. Despite Parcells referring to Glenn as "she" during a pre-season press conference, Glenn provided much the same spark to the receiving corps that Martin had provided to the running game. On defense, rookie safety Lawyer Milloymade an impact, as did Willie Clay(signed from the Detroit Lions) and second-year cornerback Ty Law. Linebackers Tedy Bruschiand Ted Johnsonarrived on the scene to help McGinest and Slade. Despite all these additions, the Patriots once again started out lackluster in 1996. After an early-season loss to the Redskins at home dropped the Patriots down to 3-3, the Patriots proceeded to win their next 4 games in a row, and 8 out of their last 10 (only losing to the Denver Broncos(who would finish with the AFC's best record) and the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys to finish 11-5, winning the AFC East and earning a first-round bye in the playoffs as a #2 seed. The Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers28-3 in a divisional playoff game played under a thick fog cover, and held off the Jacksonville Jaguars20-6 in the first AFC Championship game played in Foxboro (a game marked by a sudden power " brownout" just as Adam Vinatieriwas to attempt a field goal in the second quarter.) The team advanced to Super Bowl XXXIagainst the Green Bay Packers.
In the months and years after Kraft's purchase of the Patriots, relations between Kraft and Parcells were increasingly strained. This was primarily due to Kraft's wanting Parcells to yield some of his authority over personnel moves to a general manager. Parcells was not interested in yielding authority that he had been granted over personnel when he was hired, and famously complained that "if they're gonna let you cook the dinner, they at least ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." The conflict climaxed in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, with rampant rumors that Parcells would leave the Patriots after the season to take the vacant head coaching job with the New York Jets. Despite these distractions, the Patriots played the Packers close for much of the game, and actually took the lead briefly in the second half. However, two long
Brett Favretouchdowns and a record 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howardsealed New England's fate, with the Packers winning their twelfth title, and third of the Super Bowl era, 35-21.
The Patriots announced an agreement with Connecticut Gov. John Rowland to move the franchise to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1998. The state and the city of Hartford were prepared to build a new downtown stadium as the centerpiece of a massive revitalization effort. However, the deal fell through in 1999, and the Patriots instead decided to build a new facility in Foxborough.
Parcells did take the Jets job in the offseason, and after being rebuffed by former 49ers coach
George Seifert, Pete Carrollwas named the new coach. The new regime, led by personnel man Bobby Grier, was immediately derided for botching draft picks, and the Patriots slipped back further in the standings during each of Carroll's years. In 1997 season the Patriots still won the AFC East with a 10-6 record, but some key losses (including a loss to Parcells' Jets and a 4th-quarter collapse against the Pittsburgh Steelers) meant the team had to play in the wild card round in the playoffs. After having an easy time with the Miami Dolphinsin Foxboro, the injury-plagued Patriots met the Steelers in Pittsburgh for a rematch in the divisional playoff. A late fumble (recovered by future Patriot Mike Vrabel) won the game for Pittsburgh, 7-6.
Parcells convinced several Patriots, most notably Curtis Martin, to join the Jets for the 1998 season. Robert Edwards, a rookie draft pick out of the
University of Georgia, was drafted to be his replacement. After stumbling through the first half of the 1998 season (5-6 after the first 11 games), Bledsoe, playing with a broken finger, engineered late 4th-quarter comebacks against the Miami Dolphinsand Buffalo Billsto save the season. The Bills game was especially controversial, as the game was prolonged due to a series of questionable calls. With two minutes to go and down by five points, the Patriots engineered a drive. However, the Buffalo defense appeared to stop the Patriots on 4th down with a juggled catch out of bounds. The referee needed to determine whether the receiver was inbounds, caught the ball, and achieved first down yardage. The referee on the sideline signaled first down after a conference with other officials. Television instant replays showed that he was short of first down yardage, but the NFL had discontinued use of instant replay the previous season. This was followed by a questionable pass interference call made in the end zone on what would have been the game's final play. The Patriots scored on the final play of the game. In protest, the Bills left the field and let the Patriots kicker Adam Vinateri walk in for a meaningless two-point conversion. Doug Flutie later quipped "They gave them the game, we figured we might as well give them the extra point.” Bledsoe and Glenn were later both knocked out for the season, and the Patriots backed into the last playoff seed with a 9-7 record. Backup quarterback Scott Zolakproved to be no match for the Jacksonville Jaguarsin the first playoff game.
Although Edwards had a promising 1998, his career was permanently derailed after he suffered a dislocated knee in
Hawaiiwhile playing a game of flag football on the beach - a game that was an officially-sponsored activity that took place during Pro Bowlweekend. Edwards would miss the next three seasons and would not play for the Patriots again (although he did play for the Miami Dolphins as a reserve in 2002).
With no running game and tough competition in the division the 1999 season was tough for the Patriots. The team started 6-2 but finished 8-8, and Carroll was fired.
Throughout his tenure as owner of the Patriots, Robert Kraft attempted to get a new stadium built somewhere in New England. After failing to reach an accord with either the City of Boston or the State of
Rhode Island, in 1998Kraft came close to reaching a deal with the Massachusetts Legislature for Kraft to build a new, self-financed stadium adjacent to the old stadium with the state providing $75 million USD in infrastructure improvements. However, MassachusettsHouse Speaker Tom Finneranrefused to support the bill, saying that he did not want public money benefiting private interests. Unable to overcome Finneran's objections, Kraft reached a deal with ConnecticutGovernor John Rowlandto build a new stadium in Hartford, Connecticutoriginally scheduled to open in 2001. However, after the stadium plan was approved by the Connecticut General Assembly, there were a number of problems discovered with the proposed stadium site that would result in considerable delay of the stadium construction. At the same time, the NFL announced loan incentives where teams in the six largest markets (which included Boston) could be eligible to borrow up to $150 million USD from the league at advantageous interest rates and terms in order to build new stadiums. Furthermore, the Massachusetts Legislature, and Finneran, also indicated that they would be amenable to further discussions with Kraft.
With this in mind, mindful of the mounting issues in Hartford and growing opposition to the deal, in the spring of
1999Kraft announced that he was abandoning the Hartford stadium project. Kraft, preferring to keep the team where it was, eventually reached a mutually acceptable deal with the Massachusetts legislature for the necessary infrastructure improvements. The final hurdle the stadium needed to clear was approval by the citizens of Foxborough on six separate measures. Despite some initial hesitation regarding a proposed dedicated access road for premium ticket holders, the Patriots won approval on each measure by an over 90% majority. This cleared the way for what was originally known as "CMGi Field" to be built adjacent to the old stadium in Foxboro. The naming rights to the stadium were originally purchased by CMGi, an e-commercecompany based in nearby Waltham, Massachusettswhich at the time was parent company to internet auction site uBid.
The stadium would open in the spring of
2002with a "soft opening", including games of the New England Revolutionand concerts. In the months leading up to the grand opening of the stadium in September 2002, CMGi Corporation fell upon difficult financial times and sold the naming rights to the Gillette Companyprior to the grand opening. The stadium was renamed Gillette Stadiumand is sometimes referred to by fans as "The Razor".
Just after Carroll was fired,
Bill Belichick, hand-picked to be Parcells' successor with the Jets, quit after one day to join New England. Now left with the remnants of Parcells' Patriots, which went downhill after the Super Bowl XXXI defeat, Belichick needed to rebuild the team to overcome the poor financial and personnel management he had been left with. Salary was cut, and the movement of hard-working and cheaper free agents began in 2000, and would continue in 2001. After a tough rebuilding season with lots of close losses, the Patriots finished 5-11 in 2000.
The 2001 season started shaky as well. In training camp quarterbacks coach
Dick Rehbeindied of cardiac arreston August 6th. Rehbein was 45. The Patriots lost their opener to the then-lowly Cincinnati Bengals, and in the first post-9/11 game against the Jets, Bledsoe was severely injured, shearing a blood vesselin his chest after being tackled out of bounds by the Jets' Mo Lewis. Terry Glenn had a pre-season contract holdout and was also hit with a drug suspension by the league. Chris Slade had left for the Carolina Panthers, and Ben Coates was gone as well.
Despite these high profile losses, the Patriots were able to find adequate replacements at very low cost. Receivers
Troy Brownand David Pattenhad career seasons, first-round draft pick Richard Seymourrevitalized the defensive line, and Antowain Smith(a free agent signed from Buffalo) ran for 1000 yards.
The big story, however, was quarterback
Tom Brady. In Bledsoe's absence, Brady won three out of his first four starts, setting an NFL record by not throwing an interception in his first 162 career passes. As a result, Brady earned the confidence of Belichick and his teammates, and when Bledsoe was cleared to play, Belichick announced that Brady would remain the team's starting quarterback.
This was not the first time that Belichick had unseated an extremely popular incumbent quarterback. In 1993, when Belichick coached Cleveland, Belichick released popular starter
Bernie Kosarand went with Vinny Testaverdeas the Browns' starting quarterback. Belichick's decision was heavily criticized, yet Testaverde played well for the Browns, eventually leading them to the playoffs, and Kosar never started regularly in the NFL again, justifying Belichick's decision.
Despite Bledsoe's unhappiness about his new role - he was quoted as saying that he 'looked forward to competing to get (his) job back' - he caused no distractions and was supportive of Brady and the Patriots. Led by Brady, who immediately became a fan favorite, the Patriots continued to play excellent football, winning their final 6 games to capture the AFC East with an 11-5 record. The Patriots additionally won a first-round bye as the #2 seed in the playoffs, for the second time in their history.
In the final game ever played at Foxboro Stadium, the Patriots hosted the Oakland Raiders in a relentless snowstorm which endured through the entire game. This game became known as the "Tuck Game", when a play originally ruled to be a Brady fumble was reversed by referee
Walt Colemanas an incomplete pass based upon the obscure " tuck rule." After review, Coleman ruled that, because Brady's arm was moving forward when he lost the football, he was deemed to have been in the act of throwing when he lost control of the ball.
Had the call stood, the Raiders would essentially clinched the win; instead the Patriots continued to drive. Into the teeth of a frigid wind and heavy snow, kicker
Adam Vinatieritied the game with a 45-yard field goal in the final 30 seconds. The Raiders did not attempt to run a play at the end of regulation, and after losing the toss to start overtime would not see the ball again, as the Patriots won the game, 16-13.
The team then went to Pittsburgh to face the favored Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. After Brady injured his ankle in the second quarter, Bledsoe (in his last appearance as a Patriot) came off the sideline and immediately led the team to their only offensive touchdown of the game, with the drive culminating in a touchdown pass. In the second half, thanks to help from two special teams touchdowns and two fourth quarter
Kordell Stewartinterceptions, the Patriots upset Pittsburgh 24-17 to advance to Super Bowl XXXVI. It would be the Patriots' third Super Bowl in team history, all of which to that point had been played in New Orleans.
In the Super Bowl, the Patriots faced the heavily-favored
St. Louis Rams, led by league MVP Kurt Warnerand known as " The Greatest Show on Turf", who had beaten the Patriots in the regular season in Foxboro. The Patriots were introduced second, and rather than coming out player-by-player, they were introduced collectively as a team, "the New England Patriots." The team introduction was met with great praise and admiration, and has since been used by each team at the Super Bowl.
In contrast to the regular season game, Bill Belichick devised a defensive game plan that used the blitz very sparingly, but called for chipping the Rams receivers and running back Marshall Faulk as they went into their patterns. This disrupted the Rams' precise passing routes and the entire rhythm of the offense and caused the usually cool under pressure Warner to look shaky in the pocket, being sacked several times. The Patriots forced three turnovers, all of which led to scores (including an interception returned by
Ty Lawfor a touchdown).
Belichick's defense held the Rams high-powered offense in check until the fourth quarter, but after trailing 17-3 early in the fourth quarter, St. Louis scored two touchdowns to tie the game at 17-17. With 1:30 to go and no time outs, and with John Madden on the
FOX Sportstelecast opining that the Patriots should play for overtime, Brady calmly led New England's offense downfield, missing on only one pass (an intentional spike to stop the clock with 0:07 remaining), after which Adam Vinatieriwon the game with a 48-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Patriots their first Super Bowl win in the team's 42nd season.
The Patriots victory parade in Boston was attended by 1.5 million fans. The team was invited to
Fenway Parkfor opening day of the Boston Red Soxseason. The Patriots also became the last major sports team in Boston to win its first championship.
Brady was selected Super Bowl MVP and signed a long-term contract with the team in the off-season. Bledsoe was traded to the
Buffalo Billsin the 2002off-season for a first-round draft pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
The Patriots started the 2002 season on a high note, winning their first 3 games, including a 30-14 opening night win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a rematch of the January AFC Championship Game. However, injuries and problems with the offensive and defensive lines cost the team down the stretch, and the team finished 9-7. Despite a dramatic win over the Miami Dolphins in the season finale in Foxboro, they lost the AFC East title on a third tiebreaker to the New York Jets and missed the playoffs.
2003offseason the Patriots picked up several high profile players in free agency such as linebacker Rosevelt Colvin(who was placed on the injured reserve due to an injury early in the season) and safety Rodney Harrison, as well as trading for nose tackle Ted Washington. Five days before the regular season opening game of the 2003 season, however, the Patriots released Lawyer Milloy when Milloy refused to restructure his contract. The move came as a surprise to many, as Milloy was considered an integral part of the Patriots secondary. Milloy quickly signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills, and helped them beat the Patriots 31-0 at Ralph Wilson Stadiumin Week 1.
The following week the Patriots traveled to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles, who had also been shut out in their opener (17-0 at home by Tampa Bay). The Patriots won this game 31-10, and would lose only one more game for the rest of the season to the
Several big plays marked the team's season: an 82-yard touchdown from Brady to
Troy Brownin overtime against the Miami Dolphins, a 4th-quarter comeback against the Denver Broncos known for an intentional safety, and a goal-line stand against the Indianapolis Colts where Edgerrin Jameswas stopped by Willie McGinest on 4th and goal by from the 2 yard line in the dying seconds, and a revenge 31-0 win over Buffalo in the final game of the regular season.
The Patriots had the NFL's best record at 14-2 and for the first time in their history earned the top seed in the AFC playoffs, ensuring
home-field advantagethroughout. Their opponent in the divisional playoff was the Tennessee Titans. Played in a temperature of 4 °F (-16 °C) (making it the second-coldest game in NFL history) the Patriots and Titans played close until Adam Vinatieri kicked the go-ahead field goal with 4 minutes left. An incomplete Steve McNairpass on 4th down with 1:40 left won the game 17-14 for New England. The Patriots then faced the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC Championship. The New England defense frustrated Colts quarterback Peyton Manningall day, forcing him to throw four interceptions (three to Ty Law) and sacking him three times. Despite only one offensive touchdown by the Patriots, the Patriots were dominant. Still, the Colts remained in the game until the very end, when a late Vinatieri field goal with 10 seconds left gave the Patriots their final margin of victory, 24-14. The Patriots were back in the Super Bowl, this time to face the Carolina Panthers. Super Bowl XXXVIIIwas one of the closest championship games ever played. After a defensive battle for most of the first half, the teams traded touchdowns late in the second quarter, then more quick strikes by both teams made the score 14-10 Patriots at halftime. The third quarter was scoreless, but Antowain Smithscored on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 21-10. Carolina scored two more touchdowns (but failed to convert the two-point conversion on both) to take a 22-21 lead. The Patriots answered with a long drive that culminated in a trick pass to linebacker Mike Vrabel, followed by Kevin Faulk's run for a two-point conversion that put the Patriots up 29-22 with 2:51 left to play. Undaunted, the Panthers drove quickly downfield and, as he had done two years previous with the Rams, Ricky Proehl's late touchdown catch and extra point tied the game at 29 with 1:08 to play. As he had two years prior, Brady led the Patriots on another dramatic, game-ending drive, which culminated with a Vinatieri 41 yard field goal with four seconds left. The Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years, 32-29; and Brady was once again named MVP. The victory also made the 2003 Patriots the first team ever to win - or for that matter, even reach - the Super Bowl after having been shut out on opening day.
The Patriots made more big moves in the 2004 offseason to make sure a repeat of the disappointing 2002 season did not happen. Their biggest move was obtaining running back
Corey Dillonfrom the Cincinnati Bengals. These moves paid off, as the Patriots finished the regular season at 14-2. On October 10they set the record for the number of consecutive wins (regular and post-season) in NFL history, at 19, after beating the 0-4 Miami Dolphins, 24-10. On October 24they broke the record for the most consecutive regular season victories at 18 after beating the New York Jets, 13-7. They also extended their overall winning streak to 21. The streak finally came to an end on October 31when the Patriots were beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-20. On December 12, the Patriots clinched the AFC East division championship for the third time in the past four years, earning the team a berth in the playoffs. The Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship game by beating the Indianapolis Colts, 20-3. In the AFC Championship, they beat the top-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers 41-27, advancing to Super Bowl XXXIXto face the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots went on to defeat the Eagles 24-21 to become the first team in six years (and the eighth in history) to repeat as NFL Super Bowl champions, and only the second team ever to win three Super Bowls in four years (the first was the Dallas Cowboys, winning Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX.)
The Patriots entered the
2005off-season knowing that, if nothing else, Belichick's top two coordinators would be moving on to their own head coaching jobs. In December, offensive coordinator Charlie Weishad accepted an offer from the University of Notre Dameto be their head coach. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennelalso left to be head coach of the Cleveland Browns, the team that had fired Belichick following the 1995 season.
Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the offseason came just five days after the Pro Bowl, when linebacker
Tedy Bruschisuffered what was determined to be a very mild stroke. In the aftermath, still wanting to remain part of the Patriots, Bruschi remarked that he would re-evaluate his condition for playing football at the end of the 2005 season. After failing to secure a decision by his doctors to clear him for practice in early July 2005, Bruschi decided to sit out the 2005 season. However, on October 17, 2005, he announced that he would be returning to the Patriots as an active player.
A highlight of the season came for the Patriots after their bye week, when
Tedy Bruschigot medical clearance to return to action. Bruschi's first game back was at home on October 30against the Buffalo Billsin front of an appreciative crowd. Motivated in part by the return of Bruschi, the Patriots won the game 21-16. The Patriots could not maintain this momentum the next week however, losing at home to the Indianapolis Colts for the first time since 2000, 40-21.
Despite early inconsistency, the Patriots clinched their third-straight AFC East division title with a late-season four-game winning streak. This streak included a shutout victory over the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 28-0, and a 31-21 road victory over the Jets on ABC's final Monday Night Footballgame. In the final minutes of that game, 43-year old Doug Flutie replaced Tom Brady, while the Jets used 42-year old Vinny Testaverde to replace Brooks Bollinger. It marked the first time in NFL history that two quarterbacks over the age of 40 played against one other. Despite losing to the Dolphins 28-26 at home in the final week of the season, the Patriots clinched the 4th seed in the AFC playoffs. The final regular season was notable as in that game, backup quarterback Doug Flutie (in what would be his final regular season game) converted the first successful drop kickfor an extra point since 1941.
The Patriots won their first round playoff game, beating the fifth-seeded
Jacksonville Jaguars28-3 at Gillette Stadium. A number of individual records were set in this game, including New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady setting records for consecutive playoff wins, at 10 apiece. Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest also set records for 4.5 sacks in one game (a statistic that became official in the NFL in 1982) and a career playoff sack record with 16 sacks.
The Patriots' season came to an end on
January 14with the Patriots' 27-13 loss to the second-seeded Denver Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High. This game featured five New England turnovers as well as a number of disputed officials' calls. Although the loss handed Brady his first career postseason loss (10-1), Brady remained undefeated in the postseason at home. The Patriots thus became the eighth team in NFL history to fail on a chance to win the Super Bowl in three consecutive seasons (the last team with such an opportunity was the 1999 Broncos).
Notes and references
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