Logo History**Team renamed New England Patriots
The American Football League’s eighth franchise is awarded to a group of 10 New England industrialists and sportsmen headed by William H. Sullivan, Jr., the club’s president. The other nine individuals are John Ames, Jr., Dean Boylan, Dan Marr, Dom DiMaggio, Ed McMann, George Sargent, Paul Sonnabend, Joseph Sullivan, and Edgar Turner. The franchise, representing Boston, enters the league the day of the AFL’s first draft, November 22, and makes halfback Gerhard Schwedes of Syracuse its first selection. Mike Holovak, the head coach at Boston College, is named director of player personnel. Ed McKeever is the club’s first general manager. The first player to sign is Clemson quarterback Harvey White.
Lou Saban, little-known coach at Western Illinois, is signed as the team’s first head coach. “He’s a Paul Brown with heart,” says GM Ed McKeever. A local newspaper holds a contest to name the team and Patriots, suggested by 74 people, is the winner. The team adopts the colors red, white, and blue. Billy Sullivan’s biggest problem is finding a facility where his team can play. Fenway Park is unavailable, as are the stadiums of Boston College and Harvard, so Boston University Field is chosen. The club opens its first training camp at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Some 350 players show up for tryouts. One is Ed (Butch) Songin, a former Boston College star and Canadian Football League player working as a probation officer near Boston.
It becomes evident early in camp that Songin is the club’s best passer. A crowd of 21,597 is present for the regular-season opener at Boston University Field, September 9, welcoming pro football back to Boston, but the Patriots lose the game to Denver, 13-10. A week later, the Patriots defeat the New York Titans 28-24 for their first victory. Financially, it is a rocky season for Sullivan. The team loses approximately $350,000, although the average home attendance of 16,500 provides some hope. In the final game of the season, a 37-21 loss to Houston, Saban moves defensive back Gino Cappelletti to flanker, where the Patriots’ best receiver of the 1960s finds a home.
In a five-player trade with Oakland, Boston acquires Vito (Babe) Parilli, the experienced quarterback it feels it needs to build a winning team. But William H. Sullivan, who is hoping for 10,000 season ticket sales, sells barely one-third that amount, and the team is not on solid footing as it begins its second year. When the record falls to 2-3 and fan interest wanes, Sullivan fires Lou Saban and names Holovak head coach, October 19. Holovak stresses defense and the turnaround is almost immediate. The Patriots are 7-1-1 with Holovak as coach, leading the division for a while. Wide receiver/kicker Gino Cappelletti not only leads the team with 45 receptions, he sets the AFL record with 147 points on eight touchdowns, 17 field goals, and 48 extra points. Attendance improves, averaging more than 19,000. The club still loses money, but less than half the amount lost the previous year.
Mike Holovak makes two acquisitions through the draft. Nick Buoniconti becomes the new middle linebacker and the key to the defense, and Billy Neighbors, an All-American blocker from Alabama, turns into the stabilizing force on the Patriots’ offensive line. A victory over two-time defending AFL champion Houston, 34-21, in the second game of the season stamps Boston as a contender. But in their next meeting later in the year, Babe Parilli, now solidly entrenched as the quarterback, is hit just after throwing a pass in the second quarter. His collarbone is broken and he is lost for the season. The Patriots lose the game and their chance at the championship, finishing with a 9-4-1 record.
The Patriots announce their new playing site of Fenway Park, home of the baseball Red Sox, with 38,000 seats. A severe back injury sidelines halfback Ron Burton and a pinched nerve inhibits Babe Parilli. The team plays erratically. The collapse of Houston, a regrouping in New York, a poor start by Buffalo, and the play of Gino Cappelletti (who again leads the league in scoring) keeps the Patriots in the race, eventually allowing them to tie for first place in their division with a 7-6-1 record. In the divisional playoff, Boston defeats Buffalo , 26-8, in a game dominated by heavy snow and Cappelletti’s clutch field-goal kicking. In the AFL Championship Game with San Diego, the patched-up Patriots are no match for the Chargers. Keith Lincoln runs for 206 yards and San Diego scores an easy 51-10 victory.
The Patriots draft Jack Concannon, the All-America quarterback from Boston College, number one. But after a wild bidding war, Concannon decides to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Although there is some criticism of Mike Holovak’s “old folks” roster, he manages to get a lot out of it, closing with a rush that falls just short of a repeat division championship. The keys to the season are Babe Parilli, who throws for 3,465 yards and 31 touchdowns, and Gino Cappelletti, who catches 49 passes and scores seven touchdowns and an AFL-record 155 points. After setting a club attendance record of 199,707, the Patriots announce they have finished in the black for the first time.
Jim Nance, a powerful fullback from Syracuse, is drafted in the nineteenth round and signs with the team. Joe Bellino, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Navy who spent four years in the service, also joins the club. Already weakened by age, the Patriots are further crippled by a series of injuries. Babe Parilli completes only 41 percent of his passes and throws 26 interceptions, and the kicking of Cappelletti, who again leads the league with 132 points, has to carry the Patriots. It doesn’t carry them very far; although they win their last three games, they finish only 4-8-2.
Plans for a mammoth year-round sports complex are revealed for downtown Boston. The price tag, however, is estimated at $80 million, and the method of financing such a project remains a major stumbling block. The key to the Patriots’ season turns out to be running back Jim Nance, who finishes with 1,458 yards rushing, an AFL record. Nance’s presence helps quarterback Babe Parilli enjoy an excellent season. The Patriots battle Buffalo for first place all season, and a late 14-3 victory over the Bills has Boston fans thinking championship. But in the final game of the year, Joe Namath and the Jets knock them out of the lead and cost them the title, 38-28.
Although Jim Nance continues to gain big yardage, the Patriots slip badly, falling to last place. Quarterback Babe Parilli shows signs of age, there is little outside speed, and the defense cannot carry the team. Nance still gains 1,216, tops in the league, but no one else has more than 163 yards.
In an attempt to trade some of the age for youth and enthusiasm, Mike Holovak deals Babe Parilli to the New York Jets for quarterback Mike Taliaferro. But Taliaferro completes less than 40 percent of his passes and eventually loses his job to rookie Tom Sherman. Few of the other Patriots respond with good seasons. Jim Nance injures an ankle that limits his effectiveness. Bad knees knock defensive end Larry Eisenhauer and middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti out of the lineup for a considerable time. Only tight end Jim Whalen, who makes 47 receptions, is a real threat on a team that finishes with a 4-10 record.
Mike Holovak is replaced as head coach by Clive Rush, and the Patriots lose the first seven games of the season. Nick Buoniconti is traded to Miami. The Patriots rally to win four of five games before losing their last two. Key new contributors include running back Carl Garrett, wide receiver Ron Sellers, and tackle Mike Montler, all rookies. Garrett leads the AFL in rushing average; leads the Patriots in receiving, punt returns, and kickoff returns; and is voted rookie of the year. All home games are played at Boston College Alumni Stadium.