The New England Patriots haven’t always been the New England Patriots, nor have they always played at Gillette Stadium. In fact, they haven’t always played the best football. When the American Football League awarded Boston businessman William “Billy” Sullivan with a football franchise in November of 1959, the Patriots were born soon after. Just one week later, Northwestern University running back Ron Burton was chosen as the first draft choice. Soon, the eighth and last franchise of the AFL would have a roster full of misfits and NFL castoffs.
The winter following the birth of Boston’s first professional football team, Sullivan seeked name ideas from Boston locals. Reflecting Boston’s role in early American history, “Boston Patriots” became the official team name. While under the AFL, the Boston Patriots didn’t have a home stadium to play at. Their home games were instead played at several stadiums: Boston University’s Nickerson Field (formerly Braves Field), Harvard Stadium, Fenway Park and Boston College’s Alumni Stadium. Fans lined up to see early Patriots stars Jim Lee “Earthquake” Hunt, Gino “The Duke” Cappelletti and Vito “Babe” Parilli. The colors red, white and blue began to fill stadium crowds.
The American Football League merged with the National Football League in 1970, and just one year later, the Patriots would move to their own Foxboro Stadium where they would play for 30 years. To reflect the new location change, the team changed its name to what we’ve grown to know and love, the New England Patriots.
The Patriots would soon see many owner changes. In 1988, the team was sold to Victor Kiam, but just four years later, they were passed off to James Orthwein, who almost moved the team to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Although the change didn’t happen, fans saw other big changes under his watch. The primary team colors changed from red and white to blue and silver. A new logo was also introduced, but not after a new coach would be hired.
In another short two years, now 1994, the New England Patriots were sold to current owner Robert Kraft. From here, things only looked up for the team. Kraft funded a new home stadium in 2002 to hold over 68,000 fans, Gillette Stadium.
It’s no wonder Patriots fans have built so much spirit for their favorite team. In just the past 12 years, while being under Robert Kraft’s ownership, the team has won three superbowls in four years. They became only the fourth team in the league’s history to go undefeated in 2007 and the only team since playing 16 games per season. The Patriots have also made the playoffs in nine of 12 seasons.
Not much has changed in the art of tailgating, though. It’s a time when fans can not only don their team’s colors in face paint, but enjoy a cold beer before their favorite team kicks off. Competing to see whose flag can fly the highest and dressing in sports paraphernalia excites fans like few other things can. The tradition dates back to some of the earliest sporting events. Quite possibly the only thing that has changed is where food once arrived by horse, it now travels along with grills and coolers in specially designed vans, cars, trucks and buses. Despite the changes in the evolution of tailgating and football, one thing has stayed strong: the Patriots’ spirit.
Check out Tailgate Fan to keep the party going at tailgatefan.cbslocal.com.
Victoria Myers is a freelance writer covering all things Boston. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.