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NFL's Boston Patriots Spent A Year in Harvard Stadium

But Few Students Turned Out to Watch the Football Games


Harvard Stadium is not only the site of countless Crimson victories on the gridiron, it is the answer to a very important sports trivia question.

The stadium is where the National Football League's all-time winningest head coach, Don Shula, coached his first game for the Miami Dolphins.

Shula lost 24-14 to the Boston Patriots, who were playing their NFL season at Harvard Stadium during the fall of 1970.

Although students who wished to forsake Sunday studying had a new means of procrastination, few chose to trek across the Charles to watch the Patriots play seven home games against their National Football League rivals.

"There were not droves of Harvard students trying to get a glimpse of the Patriots," says Gary W. Farneti '71, captain of the Harvard football team. "It was a non-event. Except for the football players who met some of the Patriots, it did not alter life at Harvard."

The Boston Patriots contacted Harvard athletic officials about using the stadium for the 1970 season while their current home in Foxboro was being built.

Harvard initially balked at the request but eventually granted the team the right to play at the stadium, albeit with several conditions, according to Patriots officials.

"I remember it was very hard getting Harvard to approve the use of the facility. There was serious opposition to having a pro franchise there. Eventually one member of the Board of Trustees said it was worthwhile," says Patrick Sullivan, whose father Bill owned the Patriots from 1960 until 1988.

Patrick Sullivan, who now is the owner of Game Creek Video, says Harvard agreed to host the Patriots on the condition that the Patriots play at the Stadium for one year only.

Harvard further demanded that the team replace the field at the end of the season, Sullivan says.

The Patriots also made minor improvements to the press box, he says.

Harvard also refused to let the Patriots use the varsity locker room during the season.

"Harvard told the Patriots that the varsity locker room was only for the Harvard varsity football team," says Boston Globe sports columnist and NBC commentator Will McDonough, who covered the Patriots for the Globe during the 1970 season. "The Patriots were forced to dress in a hotel on Soldiers Field Rd."

The Patriots played the first game in franchise history in Harvard Stadium during the 1960 preseason against the Dallas Texans (who later became the Kansas City Chiefs).

They lost 24-14 before a crowd of 11,000.

In 1960, the Patriots entered the American Football League, which merged with the NFL in 1966.

During the 1960s, the Patriots played at several local stadiums.

Their home stadium shifted from Boston University (1960-62) to Fenway Park (1963-66) to Boston College (1967-69) before the team played a full year at Harvard in 1970.

They moved to Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, their current home, in time for the 1971 season.

"My father's preference was to play at Harvard. It was the biggest facility and the best true football facility," Patrick Sullivan says. "[The stadium] is great in terms of watching a football game.

"From a sideline perspective, it is one of the best football stadiums in the country for watching a game in that you are very close to what is going on the football field," Patrick Sullivan says.

'Like the Retreat from Warsaw'

The Patriots--who became the New England Patriots after they moved to Foxboro in 1971--stumbled to a fifth-place finish in the AFC East during their year at Harvard.

The team won its first regular season game at Harvard Stadium against Shula's Miami Dolphins before a crowd of 32,807.

However, the team was defeated the next week by Joe Namath and his New York Jets, 31-21, before a crowd of 36,040.

And despite the fact that the squad included the likes of current Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer and current Patriot radio color commentator Gino Cappelletti, the Patriots did not win another game at Harvard Stadium.

Overall, the Patriots had a dismal 2-12 record under head coach Clive Rush and ended the season at Harvard by losing to the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 35-14.

"Before the last game of the season against the Vikings, there was a huge blizzard, and of course, Harvard was not going to clear it up. People were standing up the whole game and since the press box was open, we were all standing up too," says McDonough.

McDonough adds, "I remember standing on top of the stadium at the end of the game and looking across the parking lot. It was like the retreat from Warsaw, everyone was trudging the snow, people were throwing snowballs."

Up Close and Personal

The Patriots averaged almost 35,000 fans for each of their seven home games at the Harvard Stadium.

However, during the season, the Harvard community's presence was generally small, and at most games it was non-existent.

"The football team used to get free tickets to the games, but it was a joke," says Harvard defensive end Fred J. Martucci '71. "When some of us went to the games, we never stayed for the whole game--the Patriots were terrible, no, they were worse than terrible."

Farneti says that although some of the football players would "rub elbows" with some of the Patriots on Sunday mornings, they remained unimpressed with the pro team.

"A couple of us would go down to the clubhouse and soak in the jacuzzi and hang out with some of the Patriots," he says.

"It was nothing major," he continues. "They were pretty bad. I remember staring and sizing some of the fellows up and thinking I could be doing that."

The Patriots received little coverage in The Crimson, and stories about the team were usually drawn from the major wire services.

"I went to every Harvard game, but I did not care the least about the Patriots," says Bennett H. Beach '71, a former sports editor of The Crimson. "The interest in watching football was very little at the time, and the Patriots did not quite make it among people here."

Farneti, a linebacker on the Crimson defensive unit, says the political and social upheaval of the late 1960s and the early 1970s was a reason why the Patriots' games were sparsely attended by the Harvard community.

"With the Vietnam War and the protests of the administration, sports on campus were frowned upon. You were wearing a scarlet letter if you were a jock," Farneti says. "Harvard was not the place at that time that was overly impressed with a pro team playing in its stadium."

Despite the low turnout by the Harvard community, the Patriots were happy playing in Harvard Stadium during the 1970 season.

"Most of the games we had in excess of 30,000 people in attendance. It was a professional crowd and not a college crowd," Sullivan says. "[Harvard] was a fun place to go to watch a football game. The environment was nice and our fans enjoyed it. And the players enjoyed playing in front of a large crowd."

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