Tales from the Vault: Patriot Games

New England Patriots, Ramblings and Rants, Steve Seidman

July 4th is obviously the perfect occasion to celebrate the American patriots of The Revolutionary War. The Vault Keeper thinks the time is also right to salute the Patriots of the American Football League, even though their early gridiron exploits were generally more revolting than revolutionary.

Please Come to Boston

History is rich with stirring tales of the courageous Patriots whose names echo through the verdant fields of New England – and beyond.  I speak of men like Franklin… …Washington…..Jefferson….Adams….Morris….and Hamilton.

Of course, I’m referring to Tony Franklin (PK), Ted Washington (NT), Shawn Jefferson (WR), Sam Adams (OG), Sammy Morris (RB), and Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton (DE).*  These men were all pro football Patriots, and really, how many franchises in American sports can claim such a perfect marriage between team name and city/region than Boston/New England and the Patriots?  I mean, a Lion is a great mascot, but there are only so many Lions in Detroit.  By the same token, you can fly out of Boston, land anywhere in, say, Europe, and find indigenous peoples wearing red sox to be everywhere.

The Boston Patriots were one of the original franchises of the upstart American Football League, which began play in 1960.  Naming Boston’s team the Patriots was pretty much a no-brainer, given Boston’s central role in the American Revolution.   The team’s colors have always been – what else? – red, white, and blue. Still, it should be mentioned that the Patriots name was the result of fan voting.  Otherwise, the club’s original ownership was leaning heavily towards calling the fledgling AFL franchise the Boston Cream Pies.

The Patriots’ beginnings were as humble as those of the Continental Army, an outfit whose ranks were comprised largely of farmers, boot makers, inn keepers, village smithees, and village idiots.  The rewards for joining the Continental Army were meager — in some states, volunteers received 500 dollars for signing up.  Their bonus: a tankard of ale.  In most cases, it was a small tankard of ale.

Lou Saban (AP)

In 1960, it was up to Head Coach Lou Saban – the George Washington of these Patriots – to whip beefy bricklayers, flabby bartenders and gimpy ex-college players into fighting trim.  Although, the football Patriots were paid in the 5 figures, they received no ale bonus.

Saban’s talent for whipping proved to be less than Washingtonian.  His football conscripts were 7-12 before he was replaced by Mike Holovak six games into the 1961 season.  Two years later, the ’63 Patriots represented the Eastern Division in the AFL Championship Game, where they were destroyed by the San Diego Chargers, 51-10. They wouldn’t play in another championship game until Super Bowl XX, when they were decimated by the 1985 Chicago Bears, 46-10.  Thus, the Patriots’ initial championship aspirations were ruined by the best offensive team of the 1960’s and the best defensive team of the 1980’s (and perhaps of all time).

The Continental Army lived hand-to-mouth and lacked sufficient funds, supplies, and ammunition. The Boston Patriots of the early 1960’s also suffered many deprivations. The team practiced on a high school field that was covered by more rocks and dirt than grass.  Certainly, their Independence Day bona fides could not be doubted. They had the Pat the Patriot logo emblazoned on their helmet, and the phone number of the team office was Congress 2-1776.  But their status as a first class football organization was in doubt for quite a while, just as the long term existence of the United States of America was in doubt after the Revolutionary War.  But the USA possessed a strong Constitution.  Boston football fans needed a strong constitution to stomach the Patriots, who spent many years during the 60’s 70’s, and 80’s involved in life, liberty, and the pursuit of a winning record.

Before Belichick became the “Bill” of Rights (6 of the franchises 16 playoff berths were earned with Belichick as head coach, and you can’t get much “righter” than 3 Super Bowl championships), the Patriots committed so many wrongs.  From 1967 through 1970, they suffered four consecutive double-digit loss seasons.  In 1971, the Boston Patriots became the New England Patriots, then proceeded to have five more losing seasons in succession.

1971 also saw the Patriots finally find a permanent encampment when they moved into Schaefer Stadium (later Foxboro Stadium).  For the 11 years prior to ‘71, the Patriots called various local stadiums their home: Fenway Park, Harvard Stadium, Boston College’s Alumni Stadium and Boston University Field.  In this regard, the Patriots were reminiscent of the United States Congress of the 1770’s and 1780’s, who convened in Philadelphia, Annapolis, and Trenton before establishing Washington, D.C. as the nation’s capital.

Patriot Acts

There are certainly other casual points of connection between the football Patriots and the fiery patriots who stoked the fires of revolution.  For example, America definitely got a boost in its war against the British by bringing in Hessian soldiers to fight for the loyalist cause.  Similarly, the Patriots brought in Hungarian placekicker Charlie Gogolak for 3 seasons.  Team loyalists certainly felt confident whenever Gogolak lined up to kick an extra point. He made 42 out of 42 during his tenure with the Patriots.**

Here are ten noteworthy things about the Patriots that give us reason to recall a time when America was young and yearning to free itself from the yoke of British tyranny.

Fred Bilentnikoff jumps for a pass against Bob Howard (AP)

1.  1976 AFC Playoffs: On December 18, 1976 the Patriots lost to the Oakland Raiders, 24-21 in Oakland. The Pats led 21-17 late in the 4th quarter, and when Ken Stabler threw an incompletion on 3rd and 18, New England seemed assured of victory.  But a controversial roughing the passer call on Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton negated the play and gave Stabler a new set of downs.  He marched his team to a win over New England — and ultimately to a Super Bowl Championship.  That this game was played during the same year as The American Bicentennial made the pain of defeat so much worse.
Colonial corollary:  The British Parliament responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing the five Coercive Acts of 1774.  The colonists called them the “Intolerable Acts” and these heinous edicts from across the pond radicalized Bostonians. There’s no question that Patriot fans considered the call on Hamilton an “intolerable act” and had this game been played in New England, there’s no telling how radical the response might have been.  New Englanders have a tradition of not taking tyranny lying down.  Their colors don’t run, baby.

Mack Herron

2.  Mack Herron:  Although consigned to the dustbin of NFL history, Patriots running back/kick returner Mack Herron was one of the game’s best “little big men,” at least for one season.  Only 5-5 and 170, Herron scored 12 touchdowns in 1974.
Colonial Corollary: The smallest Founding Father was James Madison, who at 5-4, was smaller than Mack Herron.

3.  Bill Parcells:  As Head Coach of the Patriots, Parcells led the team to Super Bowl XXXI (a 35-21 loss to Green Bay).  As fiery as any anti-British orator, Parcells wanted more say in personnel decisions and complained that “If they’re gonna let me cook the meal, they can at least let me shop for the groceries.”

Bill Parcells (AP)

Colonial Corollary: Neither shopping for groceries nor cooking them was a desirable activity during the 1770’s.  For that matter, eating was nothing special.  Meals varied according to region, but a typical city dweller of the time ate salted cod, fritters, pickles and various custards, tarts and sweetmeats. The sweetmeats were so sweet that many Colonials, notably George Washington, lost their teeth and had to wear wooden choppers, which only increased the demand for various custards.  Procurement of savories and spices was a bit of a chore, as Acme and Safeway were unknown in the 13 Colonies.  There were no Trader Joes to be found, but there was definitely more than one Trader named Joe.  These purveyors of colonial treats were notoriously unwilling to bargain with shoppers.  Outside the cities, most folks cooked up assorted varmints and critters.  City and country folk alike washed down their meals with tankards of ale.
Bill Parcells bonus
: – Parcells once goaded notoriously fragile wide receiver Terry Glenn by referring to him as “she” during a press conference.
Colonial Corollary
: The 18th century was the golden age of male wigs and pony-tails on guys. Colonial males, like their female counterparts, also wore knit hosiery. Add buckled shoes, and you can see why this was an era where there was a certain amount of confusion about gender. Calling a “he” a “she” was pretty common.

4.  The Snow Plow Game: On December 12, 1982, the Patriots defeated the Dolphins 3-0 when New England head coach Ron Meyer ordered a stadium worker named Mark Henderson to use a snow plow to clear the Schaefer Stadium turf so John Smith could have a clean kicking surface. Smith then hit a 33 yard field goal for the game’s only scoring. Henderson, it turned out, was a convict on a work release program.

Revolutionary Reverb: A snow plow could definitely have helped Washington and his frost-bitten troops during the winter at Valley Forge in 1777.  In February, the weary Continental Army was pelted by 3 straight days of snow before the snow turned into rain – and Valley Forge turned into solid mud. Moreover, many of the conscripts in the army were like Mark Henderson: petty thieves and scofflaws, who decided they’d rather serve America than serve time.  Fighting the British and freezing one’s cojones off at Valley Forge was the “work release” of its time.

5.  Pat the Patriot: The original Boston Patriots logo depicted a stylized Revolution War tricorne hat.  Though that was much preferable to depicting buckled shoes, the hat logo failed to resonate.  Midway through the 1960 season, the tricorne was replaced by a New England militiaman snapping a football.  The logo was nicknamed “Pat the Patriot” by original team owner Billy Sullivan.  Although this was one of the best and most detailed logos for any North American sports team, it was replaced in 1993.
Revolutionary Reverb
: While there is no record of a New England militiaman ever snapping a football, one of the most passionate Patriots was Patrick Henry, whose most famous quote was, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He was also known to scold his fellow liberty lovers by saying, “How many times do I have to tell you — don’t ever call me ‘Pat’.”

Patriots owner, Victor Kiam, greets a fan (AP)

6.  Victor Kiam – Kiam was the Patriots owner from 1988 to 1991. He bought the team with the fortune he amassed as the president and CEO of Remington Products.  He became famous for the TV commercials he did for the Remington electric shaver, which have led many to confuse Kiam’s shaver with “Occam’s Razor” a theorem that claims that simple explanations are basically preferable to complex ones.  The simplest explanation for the Patriots during Kiam’s tenure was “they stunk,” as borne out by their cumulative 21-43 record.
Colonial Corollary: Kiam shared numerous traits with Benjamin Franklin – for example, both men lived in Paris and both came up with quotable maxims, proverbs, and aphorisms (but only Franklin knew the difference between a maxim, a proverb and an aphorism).  Franklin said (among other things): “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty.”  Victor Kiam said (among other things): “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company.”  Franklin, of course, discovered electricity. Without electricity, Kiam’s Remington shaver would have stiffed in the marketplace.  One major difference was that Franklin, a man of the people, published Poor Richard’s Almanac.  Kiam, an entrepreneur and millionaire many times over, didn’t know any poor people named Richard, or any poor people at all.

7.  Patriots-Colts, 1981: Before the great Patriots-Colts rivalry took shape during the 2000’s, before there was Manning vs. Brady, there was a follies-inflected exercise in futility that was played in Baltimore on December 20, 1981. Barely 17,000 were in attendance at Memorial Stadium, and many of those, as the old joke goes, were disguised as empty seats. By any objective standard, the Patriots and Colts of 1980 were two of the worst teams in post-merger history.  When they met on the final Sunday of the regular season, New England was 2-13. Baltimore was 1-14. At stake: the number one pick in the 1982 draft. Many called this game “The Stupor Bowl.”  Steve Sabol referred to it as “The Repus Bowl” (“Repus” is “Super” spelled backwards).  The Colts had lost 14 straight games while giving up 533 points, still an NFL record for most points allowed during a season.  But they had won their season-opener against the Patriots, and they closed out the season with a 23-21 victory over New England.  But it was a Pyrrhic victory for Baltimore, because the Patriots, by virtue of losing both games to the Colts, earned the tiebreaker that guaranteed them the number one draft choice.  On the other hand, they used that pick on Kenneth Simms, a defensive end from Texas.  Sims did records 17 sacks for the Pats.  The only problem was that it took him 8 seasons to do it.

Revolutionary Reverb: The Battle of Bunker Hill, also known as The Siege of Bunker Hill, took place in June of 1775. The British defeated an independent colonial militia in one of the first major battles in the Revolutionary War.  But it was a hollow victory for the Redcoats, who suffered heavy casualties that were not worth the cost of capturing Bunker Hill.  More crucially, the colonial fighting forces suffered minimal casualties and proved that they had the sand to do battle with the more experienced British Army.  In short, a loss by the patriots was really a win.

8.  Bob Gladieux:  A former star running back at Notre Dame, Gladieux had been cut by the Pats during the final days of the 1970 pre-season, but attended the season opener at Harvard Stadium anyway.  Just before the game began, the public address system announced that Gladieux should report to the Patriots’ dressing room. Gladieux, responded to the call and was told to suit up because a couple of contract disputes had left the team short of manpower. Gladieux, who had already drained a couple of cold tankards of ales, put on his uniform and made the tackle on the opening kickoff against the Dolphins. The Pats beat Miami, 27-14 and Gladieux went on to play more 3 seasons in New England.
Revolutionary Reverb
: You might say that Bob Gladieux was “conscripted” into duty against the Dolphins.  In much the same way, the thirteen colonies each had their own militia for defense and required able-bodied men to serve for limited periods during wartime.  The Continental Congress in 1778 recommended that state militia conscripts be drafted for service in the Continental Army.  Alas, there were few Gladieux types back then, and the first stab at national conscription failed to meet the manpower needs of the Continental Army.

Joe Kapp (AP)

9.  Joe Kapp: The 1970 Patriots seemingly pulled off a coup when they acquired Joe Kapp.  The year before, the scrappy quarterback had a 12-1 record as a starter, earned pro Bowl honors, and led the Vikings to a Super Bowl. Disgruntled with his salary, Kapp eagerly sought a change of scenery in Boston, where he started 10 games.  Unfortunately for Bostonians, Kapp won only one of those starts.  He threw just three touchdowns against 17 interceptions.  He completed a meager 44.7 per cent of his throws.  Kapp’s single-season passer rating of 32.6 is surely among as the worst ever.  After 1970, Kapp never played another game in the NFL.
Revolutionary Reverb: James Wilkinson is often cited as one of the worst officers of the Revolutionary War.  He was involved in several retreats by Colonial forces and was forced to resign twice.

10.  Patriots Cheerleaders: The Patriots cheerleaders are among the most popular squads in the NFL.  Like many NFL and AFL teams, the Patriots have had cheerleaders as far back as the early 1960s, although they’ve lacked a name as clever as the New Orleans Saint-sations, Chicago Honey Bears, or Buffalo Jills.  There have been attempts to rectify this situation. Among the proposals: The Bella-chicks, the Patri-ettes, and with a nod to the Daughters of the America Revolution, aka the D.A.R., the D.A.R.lings.  The current cheerleading team includes the daughters of former Pats players Doug Flutie and Mark Van Eaghen.
Colonial corollary:  Abigail Adams, who was so supportive of her husband John, one of the Founding fathers, was in a sense a “cheerleader’ for liberty and democracy.  Betsy Ross and Molly Pitcher were also heroines of the Revolution. However, women of the colonial wore puffed caps, ruffled sleeves, heavy petticoats and mittens.  Bare midriffs were extremely rare.  Still, the best-selling “Lasses of Loyalism” calendar raised a fair amount of money to fund necessities of spreading pro-democracy screeds: i.e. quill pens, parchment paper, and post-its.

You Say You Want a Revolution

The American Revolution left us with the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and The United States.  It was such a profound historical event that it also impacted our popular culture in numerous ways.  There were the Boston Patriots, of course. But there were also these:

1. PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS:  Popular rock n’ roll band thrived on the pop charts during the 1960’s with such hits as “Hungry,” “Kicks” and “Just Like Me.” Their “founding father” was named Paul Revere Dick, and he wisely cut off his last name before starting the band.  The group captured the 18th century spirit by wearing tricorne hats, waistcoats, and ruffled cravats. Lead singer Mark Lindsay had a trademark ponytail. Paul Revere and the Raiders attained greater popularity than similar bands such as Benedict Arnold and the Traitors, Nathan Hale and the Swingin’ Spies, Anthony Wayne and the Madmen, Francis Marion and the Swamp Foxes, and Thomas Paine and the Pamphleteers (who during the Punk Rock era became Thomas and the Paines).

2.  REVOLUTION (1985): Al Pacino portrays a reluctant American Revolutionary warrior who has to protect his son from a nasty, effete British army officer who sneers like a Nazi commandant.  This is not to be confused with THE PATRIOT (2000) where Mel Gibson portrays a reluctant American Revolutionary warrior who has to protect his son from a nasty, effete British army officer who sneers like a Nazi commandant.  The action in REVOLUTION is set in colonial New York, or as Pacino calls it “New Yawk.”  The film’s most memorable scene involves Pacino shooting a traitorous militiaman during a meeting held in Ye Olde Tavern.  Since Pacino’s comrades believe he’ll be frisked when he arrives, they tape a flintlock pistol behind the door of the outhouse in back of the tavern.  When the unarmed Pacino goes to relieve himself, he gets the flintlock, then returns and shoots the traitor at point blank range.  Shooting anything at point blank range with a flintlock was a dicey proposition, but Pacino hits the mark.  Despite this tension-packed scene, REVOLUTION was not exactly a box office juggernaut, akin to, say THE GODFATHER.  Movies where men wear buckles on their shoes are rarely successful.

3.  1776: Tune-filled Broadway show won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1969. For some reason, Broadway musicals where men wear buckles on their shoes always do well. Characters such as John Adams, Abigail Adams, and Ben Franklin warble such memorable songs as “Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve,” “Molasses to Rum” and “Sit Down, John.”  Unknown fact about 1776: The producers tried in vain to get Paul Revere and the Raiders to cover “Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve.”

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