Countdown to the 2016 NHL Winter Classic: 5 Days

The first pro football team in Boston was the Bulldogs. They lasted for only one season in 1929. Three years later, the Boston Redskins became Boston’s NFL team, until 1936, when founder George Preston Marshall decided to move his team to his hometown of Washington, D.C. There was no pro football again in Boston until 1949, when Ted Collins, manager of Kate Smith, had an NFL franchise in his name. The team would be called the Boston Yanks, with the intention of moving the team to New York and have the team play at Yankee Stadium. The team did move to New York in 1949, but didn’t last much longer as the team played two more seasons before spending its final season in Dallas as the Texans.

Boston Businessman Billy Sullivan was trying to find a way to bring professional football back to the Boston area in its fourth attempt. Having failed to be granted an NFL franchise in 1959, Sullivan was granted the eighth and final charter franchise for the new American Football League for $25,000. That team would be known as the Boston Patriots. During their time in the AFL, they made it to the championship game only once, in 1963, where they got blown out by the San Diego Chargers, 51-10. Then came the day that changed football forever: when the NFL and AFL decided to merge and become one league in 1966. One of the mandates of the merger was stadiums seating less than 50,000 were declared to be inadequate for professional football’s needs. The big problem for the Patriots was they truly never had a stadium to call home yet. Boston University’s Nickerson Field sat 10,000, Boston College’s Alumni Stadium sat 32,000, and Fenway Park sat 35,000. Harvard Stadium could seat 52,000, but the University would not lease the stadium to the Patriots. Which led to Bay State Raceway in Foxborough donating some of its land to build the Patriots’ new home (To read more, check out my previous article). With the move, the Boston Patriots became the New England Patriots (originally it was supposed to be the Bay State Patriots, but the NFL denied Sullivan’s request). Ground for Schaefer Stadium was broken in On September 23, 1970, and the $7.1 million facility that sat around 60,000 opened on August 15, 1971. The Patriots home was built at the time when playing on AstroTurf was starting to become commonplace. When Anheuser-Busch bought pouring rights in 1983, Schaefer Stadium was renamed Sullivan Stadium. It would stay that way until 1988, when the Sullivans sold the Patriots and the stadium was renamed Foxboro Stadium. In 1991, the Astroturf surface was replaced by a natural grass surface, but by that time, Foxboro Stadium had become outdated. There was no luxury seats, most of the seating was on bleachers with no seat backs, and worst of all, the plumbing was crap as toilets overflowed constantly in the restrooms, leading to fans having to resort themselves using porta-potties. There was no shade to escape the summer heat, the grass parking lots became buddy when it rained, and during the New England Winter, the benches on the field froze. The final game played at Foxboro Stadium would turn out to be legendary.

On January 19, 2002, the Patriots would face the Oakland Raiders in a AFC Divisional Playoff game. Trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter, amidst blizzard conditions, Charles Woodson thought he had the game-winning turnover when he sacked Tom Brady and Brady fumbled the ball. Officials reviewed the play to see if the ball was “tucked” as in this rule, which was instituted for the 1999 season:

Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.

The controversial overturn of the fumble call gave the Patriots a second chance, and they would cash in on that opportunity when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal that tied the game and forced overtime. The Patriots took the ball and went all the way to the Raiders’ 6-yard line.  Vinatieri would nail a 23-yard field goal to cap off the win and send the Patriots to the AFC Championship game the following week in Pittsburgh. They beat the Steelers, 24-17, to punch their ticket to Super Bowl XXXVI, where they were huge underdogs to St. Louis Rams and “The Greatest Show on Turf”. In one of the most of the dramatic Super Bowls ever played, the Patriots won their first Lombardi Trophy by beating the Rams 20-17 on a walk-off 48-yard field goal by Vinatieri. By that time, Foxboro Stadium would be demolished to make way for Patriot Place, the shopping center that surrounds the grounds of Gillette Stadium.

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