Mr. Boston is a brand of booze popular in the city of the same name—there are over 100 labels, including Old Mr. Boston Vodka, Old Mr. Boston Apricot Flavored Brandy and Old Mr. Boston Canadian River—and if the old Boston Patriot fans had any spirit at all it was one of these. Suppose you were 2 and 12 and had no home. But the old order changeth. The Boston Patriots are now, by act of mimeograph, the New England Patriots, and have a new stadium in Foxboro, Mass. (pop. 14,231), a whole slew of new players—most notably Jim Plunkett—and, buoyed by a surprising 2-2 record, a new unalloyed and undistilled spirit.
In their opening game the Pats upset the Oakland Raiders 20-6, a feat that reverberates yet, like the shot at Lexington. Says Jim Colclough, an original Pat who watched from the stands, "It has to be the greatest win in Patriot history. There were all the elements of professionalism." The Pats then lost to Detroit 34-7 and to Baltimore 23-3, neither of which was the greatest loss in Patriot history, that being the 51-10 defeat by San Diego in the 1963 AFL title game.
Last Sunday the Pats, who had not beaten the Jets since 1965, upset them 20-0 as Plunkett threw touchdown passes to Randy Vataha and Ron Sellers and Jim Nance ran 50 yards for the final score. A crowd of some 55,000, who sat through a heavy downpour in Foxboro, gave the Pats a standing ovation at the final gun.
Some of this enthusiasm can be attributed to the opening of Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, midway between Boston and Providence, and named for the beer company that contributed $1.4 million toward its construction. This is the first real home the Pats have had in their 12-year history, and season ticket sales have gone from 9,000 to 45,000 in the past 18 months. No wonder that Team President Billy Sullivan, who was thwarted in his attempts to build a stadium in Boston, now moves through the crowd beaming like a bishop who has won the Cadillac in the diocese raffle.
Above and beyond (or rather, within) the stadium, the Pats show signs of life on the field, and for the first time in years both players and fans have hope. Since last February, the Patriots have had a new general manager, Upton Bell, a clever, forthright football freak who has rebuilt the team to the point where almost half the roster is new. Fans have even been heard to cry out "Bell for mayor!" (presumably Boston, not Foxboro), and, when Bell steps out of his car before a game, he is besieged by kids wanting his autograph. One expects Peter Lawford to line up at halfback, and a closeup of June Allyson in the stands.
On top of all this the team has a certain flair. Leo Monahan, a Boston sports-writer, says, "Something is always going on with the Pats." More often than not, the things have been, uh, unusual. Who else but the Patriots could have existed for 11 years without a front-office switchboard? And when one was installed last spring, it blew up three days later. Who else but the Patriots could have an office assistant named John Birch who happens to live, pat coincidence, in Belmont, Mass., the home town of the society? Who else but the Patriots, shades of Bob and Ray, who got started in Boston, would have an assistant PR man named Wally Carew?
Before the Pats become another coldly efficient Super Bowl team, it is worth taking a backward glance at the bad old days. Jon Morris, the All-Pro center, once told a friend he did not go to the corner grocery because he wanted to stay hidden in his house. Says Fullback Nance, "It was so unreal no one would ever believe it. If I wrote a book, theoretically it would be a bestseller. But then it wouldn't be, because no one would believe what was in it."
Up until this year the Pats were improper Bostonians, a bedraggled band of gypsies who roamed the Hub as though under a curse never to find a home. Unwelcome tenants at Fenway Park, Boston University's Nickerson Field, Boston College's Alumni Stadium and Harvard Stadium, they once played a home game in Birmingham, Ala., which was trying to get the franchise. At times, the Pats even had difficulty finding a practice field. When they managed to get permission to use a public school field in East Boston, local politicians accused them of depriving the kids of a playground. It was almost impossible to view game movies there during the week, the films being shown under the stands, where the players sat on milk cases. Since there were not enough cases to go around, there was a scramble to get under the stands first. The player who got there last not only had to stand but to hang the bed sheet used as a screen. The front office never missed a payroll, but economy was the rule. Once when the Pats flew to Buffalo, the players were told to sleep on top of the bedspreads in the motel or get fined. The team was to get a cut rate if the players did not dirty the sheets.
The Pats were one of the original teams of the American Football League. Lou Saban, the first coach, ran 300 players through the 1960 camp. "Saban would put up a list of cuts in the dorm," says Gino Cappelletti, the last of the original Pats, who retired this year. "He didn't have time to tell everybody personally, and after every practice we'd run like hell for the dorm to see if we got cut. A lot of guys who were cut stuck around a few days, eating three square meals and sleeping there."
Mike Holovak replaced Saban, and in 1963 the Pats actually got into the AFL championship game, the one in which they were trounced by the Chargers. Holovak was able to produce a kind of dock walloper's spirit in the team, but the spirit faded as the flesh aged, and few replacements were forthcoming; in his other role, as general manager, Holovak did not believe in bonuses or no-cut contracts. The scouting was ludicrous. The chief scout was Ed McKeever, the old Notre Dame coach, who lived down in the bayous, and every year on his recommendation the Pats loaded up on players from obscure Southeastern schools. McKeever's scouting reports consisted in part of circled faces in college programs that he mailed to Boston, and the Pats supplemented their late-round draft choices with players from such powerhouses as Tufts and Bowdoin. Excluding the draft to stock the franchises, the Patriots did not pick a player from the West Coast until 1969. (Incidentally, one of the original selections was Ron Mix, seven years an All-Star with San Diego; he was traded for an "unnamed player" whose name was Tom Greene.) When Holovak left, a lot of the Pats' records and papers disappeared, too, creating a sizable gap for future historians. The word around the Pats' office is that Holovak had all the stuff stored in the trunk of his car.
In 1969 Clive Rush became coach. His first press conference was literally electrifying. As Rush grabbed the mike, a live wire sent a charge through him that made his hair stand on end, and he almost toppled over backward. "It was a shocking start," says Leo Monahan.
Convinced that opponents were eavesdropping, Rush endeavored to confuse them by announcing in a loud voice in the locker room, "Nance, you're playing end. Sellers, you're the tackle," all the while vigorously shaking his head "no" at the baffled players. Once, when the Pats were returning to their hotel from the Houston Astrodome, Rush complained to the driver about the roundabout route. "You don't know who you have on this bus!" he exclaimed. "We can go any route we want!" With that, he ordered the driver to stop, got out, halted traffic and airily waved the bus down a one-way street the wrong way.
Another choice morsel of Patsiana concerns Bob Gladieux, cut by Rush the Thursday before the opening game of the 1970 season. Just for the heck of it, Gladieux decided to attend the game with a friend who had a ticket. Gladieux told his friend he would join him after he talked his way in. No sooner had Gladieux passed through the gate than the P.A. boomed: "Will Bob Gladieux please report to the locker room." "What did I do wrong now?" Gladieux wondered. The message was repeated, and Gladieux finally decided to respond, but his pal, who was working on a couple of beers, failed to hear either announcement. As Gladieux walked in the locker room, Rush yelled, "Get dressed. You're activated." With only a few minutes remaining before game time, Gladieux put on a uniform and raced onto the field to join the kickoff team. "Later the guys told me how white I looked," he recalls. "I was in no shape to play. I'd been out ever since I'd got cut." Still, Gladieux made the tackle. With the announcement, "Tackle by Gladieux," his friend in the stands, half in the bag by now, almost fell off his seat. He thought he had lost a week in time.
During the 1970 season the Pats released Rush and replaced him with an assistant, John Mazur, a Notre Dame quarterback under Frank Leahy. Says Mazur, who is head coach this year, "The best thing about history is that it's past. You can only learn from it."
The man responsible for the Pats' future is Upton Bell, 33, who had served as director of player personnel for the Colts. His late father, Bert, owned the Eagles and was NFL commissioner before Pete Rozelle. "From the time I was six, my father was taking me to bars," says Bell. "I spent more time around adults than I did kids. We'd be out until two in the morning talking to owners, officials, players. My father got the owners to agree to the draft by not drinking for three days." After leaving college, Bell got a job as an errand boy for the Colts. Later, he did the drafting for Baltimore, and the first thing he did upon joining the Pats was to beef up the front office. (The New England press guide proudly features photographs of the 11 girls who comprise "the talented secretarial force.") The office, however, is still at Fenway Park. Says Bell: "This franchise has been in left field for a long time—both literally and figuratively."
Bell hired Peter Hadhazy as his assistant. Formerly with the NFL office, Hadhazy knows all the technicalities and rules of the league. Rommie Loudd, a former Patriot linebacker, was named director of pro personnel ("Trades are just as important as drafting," says Bell), and Bucko Kilroy, from Dallas, was put in charge of college scouting and given five full-time assistants. Bell also made the Pats a member of the CEPO scouting combine. Before the season began, Bell ran 180 players through camp, and, between signing free agents, trading and watching the waiver list, he not only improved the Pats immensely but lowered their average age from 28 to 25. "I want-to get youth and let them make their mistakes," he says. "It'll pay off." Among the new faces are Linebacker Steve Kiner from the Cowboys, Cornerback and Receiver Ron Gardin from the Colts and Vataha, a 5'10" wide receiver from Stanford. Vataha, who once worked a summer at Disneyland as Bashful the Dwarf ("Actually I was the biggest dwarf they had. I used to stoop over a lot"), is a crowd favorite not only because of his size but because he can anticipate what his old teammate Plunkett will do when in trouble.
In keeping with Pat tradition, Bell has had a few bizarre experiences of his own. Joe Kapp refused to sign the standard player contract and was ordered out of camp by Rozelle. (More recently, the Joe Kapp Peanut Gallery, a Vancouver bar, had contract problems when it balked at hiring union help.) Phil Olsen, the first-round draft choice in 1970, skipped off to the Rams on an overlooked technicality in his contract. "I goofed," Bell admits. Rozelle awarded the Pats the Rams' No. 1 draft choice and additional compensation to be named later. However, Bell snatched a high draft choice from the Chiefs when he claimed Guard Mo Moorman on injured waivers (Bell then gave him back), and he landed a fifth-round pick when the Raiders tried to sneak rookie Center Warren Koegel through waivers.
Bell was in the stands in Memphis last month when the Pats played a night exhibition against the Jets. To his horror, both teams showed up wearing white shirts and white helmets, and resembled 22 moths fluttering under the lights. In the confusion, Plunkett drilled a perfect pass into the arms of a Jet linebacker standing in splendid isolation.
There was more confusion when Schaefer Stadium opened. A horrendous traffic jam ensued, and some fans could not get to within five miles of the game. Bell climbed up on the roof where he saw so many lights that, "I felt like Nero." Then Foxboro officials threatened to close the stadium for an exhibition with the Falcons since the toilets did not work properly because of insufficient water pressure. Workmen were rushed in, and 16 hours before game time a task force of 320 people, including Billy Sullivan, gathered to flush the 640 toilets in the stadium. (A number of fans had called the Pats, volunteering to lend a hand in what became known as Superflush.) To the timed countdown of one, two, three, all 640 toilets were flushed. This represented the absolute maximum halftime peak use. Most of the toilets were flushed with success, and the Pats got permission to play. Jack Nicholson, Pat PR man, took the Schaefer static in stride. "Pat memorabilia," he says.
Schaefer Stadium, built in just under a year for only $6.2 million, has clean lines, and there is not a bad seat in the house. The players revere it. On the night of their first exhibition they went into raptures over the carpeting in the locker room and, thus inspired, went out and beat the Giants. The fans went crazy. Three of these manic fans have their own Boston radio show, Sports Huddle, and they called up New York funeral homes to see if they wanted the body of the Giants. "They're dead, you know." (Previously the Sports Huddle gang had called London to see if the Pats could get some guards for the offensive line from Buckingham Palace.)
With the new stadium, new players, new front office and new fans, the Pats are exultant. "For the first time I feel like I'm in the big leagues," says Jon Morris. "I never thought of myself in those terms until this year. We were the laughingstock of the league. Before, we'd get behind, then fold our tents and watch the clock run out. No more." To which Nance adds, "No one's messing with our heads now. We don't have to worry about all that picayune stuff that blows your mind. We can relax and do nothing but play football."
On the Pats, Plunkett is the big man, but he is still learning, and once in a while he will call a Stanford formation—such as "green right" instead of the Pats' "split right"—as Vataha breaks from the huddle while the rest of the team stares. Once Plunkett audibled a play that was impossible to run from the formation the team was in; it went for no gain. But Morris is serene. "Jim's not a rookie quarterback," he says. "He's a quarterback, our quarterback."