BLO' IT RIGHT BY 'EM: Foxboro Trip a History Lesson

TOSS SWEEP
Joseph L. Abel

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady turns to pitch the ball to running back Corey Dillon midway through the first quarter.

Before the game, before the tailgate, before the Budweiser Bus and free t-shirts and strains of rock music blaring over the loudspeakers, is an hour.

The hour begins as soon as you depart Boston’s South Station. It starts the second you buy your 10-dollar “special event” commuter rail ticket towards Foxboro, an otherwise invisible hamlet excised from normal subway lines and cities.

This is how you travel to a New England Patriots game: if you don’t have a car, you cram into a single, packed train festooned with Tom Brady jerseys and Red Sox caps turned backwards.

One leaves roughly two hours before game-time. One leaves 30 minutes after. That’s it.

Miss the latter, and you’ll find yourself scrambling to call a taxi that can take you to the Walpole train station. And then, if you’re lucky, Boston.

Miss the former, and you’ll probably never get there in the first place.

The hour to Foxboro is numbing. So much of the excited, childlike enjoyment of going to a game is progressively de-clawed. The accented chatter around you? It can only keep spirits high for so long.

Conversations about Charlie Weis, Corey Dillon, and (naturally) baseball give way to startlingly awkward periods of silence as the train lurches down the track.

The professional football game is a tornado of human sound and motion, and on the train, you sit in one place, in one seat, and stare blankly out the window at trees drifting by. Waiting.

Of course, most Harvard students—and most people in the United States, for that matter—don’t ever have to endure this process in the first place. Tickets to Patriots games, like nearly all pro football games in major cities, are impossibly tough to acquire. Many of them remain in the permanently stiff grasp of season ticket-holders from the beginning of the preseason.

But oh, how very different things once were.

On a January day in 1970, Boston Patriots owner William H. Sullivan, Jr. wanted to move the Patriots out of New England. Why? He wanted a “suitable” stadium.

The Patriots had played the 1969 season nomadically, mostly at Boston College’s Alumni Field—with all of its 26,000 seats—in addition to stints at Fenway Park and Boston University.

And because of the merger of the National Football League and American Football League, which mandated that all 26 pro teams would have stadiums that could seat 50,000 people or more by 1970, Sullivan wanted out of New England unless he got the stadium he wanted.

Vultures circled. Bidders for the Pats included Hugh Morrow III, who led an organization called “Birmingham Pro Football” to try to bring the organization to Alabama.

But Sullivan had his eye on another prize:

Harvard Stadium.

Yes, that Harvard Stadium, with its 40,000 seats and additional room for temporary stands.

Harvard refused to lease it. So Sullivan promoted a bill that would permit the state of Massachusetts actually to assume ownership of the field on the grounds of eminent domain: Harvard, ostensibly, was blocking the completion of a necessary public project.

Yes, way before the controversial decision of Kelo v. New London—way before people tried to reclaim Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s house—there was something along the lines of Patriots v. Harvard.

Ultimately, Sullivan got his way. For a while, at least.

In 1970, the Boston Patriots actually played all their home games across the river. Crowds lined the bridges to Allston and the Soldiers Field area to take in the Pats, the same way people take the long ride on the special events commuter rail to Foxboro today.

But as we all know, things didn’t stay that way for long.

That same summer in 1970, Patriots ownership finally opened a “suitable” stadium in Foxboro. The team was rechristened under the pan-Bostonian banner of New England. And over thirty years later, the Gillette Stadium of today was born.

But for one semi-glorious season, you see, the paths of Harvard and pro football intersected in the biggest way. Sure, it may not have been exactly voluntary. And it may not have been ideal, for either party.

But I guarantee that it would have taken less than an hour to get to the game.

—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at torre@fas.harvard.edu.

Multimedia

WATCH AND WAIT

WATCH AND WAIT

HEADING RIGHT FOR US

HEADING RIGHT FOR US

SACK LUNCH

SACK LUNCH

BRADY BUNCH

BRADY BUNCH

TOM CAT

TOM CAT

TD LT

TD LT

DILL PICKLE

DILL PICKLE

PITCH FORK

PITCH FORK

WATCH AND WAIT

WATCH AND WAIT