Ah the good old days lol.... those were the days lots of struggles but fun non the less.This is great for the memories and the laughs.
A massive traffic jam and a plumbing disaster helped usher in a new era in New England pro football.www.bostonglobe.com
Getting to a Patriots game in Foxborough is an ordeal, even for those of us who freely accept that death, taxes, and traffic jams are the three enduring truths of living in and around Boston.
But a half-century later, the night of Sunday, Aug. 15, 1971, what was intended to be a celebration for the opening of the club’s brand new Schaefer Stadium still stands as the Nightmare on Route 1, one of the most risible chapters in the history of the then sad-sack franchise.
Kickoff for the preseason game against the New York Giants was 8:30 p.m. By midafternoon, though, it was clear that a substantial portion of the announced sellout crowd of 60,423 — the largest in Patriots history — would be stuck in traffic well beyond the coin flip. Thousands never made it to the game.
“A sight you can’t believe,” said Upton Bell, then the club’s 33-year-old general manager, recalling 50 years later what he saw from the top of the Schaefer stands around 4 p.m. “Miles and miles of traffic, up Route 1 and back to 95. I could see the Roman legions marching, and it wasn’t good. We were in big trouble.”
Columnist Ray Fitzgerald, the wittiest voice in the Globe sports section, reduced the scene to sci-fi terms.
“Route One looked like the last road out of town,” he wrote for the next day’s paper, “after the announcement that Godzilla had just swallowed City Hall and was looking for dessert.”
For the most part, the night the carburetors died, as Bell dubbed it, has been forgotten to time, and to success. A couple of generations of fans now embrace the Patriots as their darlings, winners of six Super Bowls, chief residents of the $325 million Gillette Stadium, the Kraft family mecca that replaced Billy Sullivan’s slapdash bowl in the forest nearly 20 years ago.
For many fans, their only connection to that era is the lasting annoyance that comes with the game-day commute. It’s far from the gnarled logjam it was 50 years ago, but it remains a pain — made necessary in large part because the Patriots repeatedly were rebuffed on bids to build a home in downtown Boston.
“People forget, no one in Boston wanted them, cared about them,” Bell said.
Sullivan, in fact, watched upward of 30 proposals to build a football stadium in Boston get dixied, forcing the move to the ‘burbs as a last-ditch effort to keep pro football alive here.
“People forget, too,” said Bell, “that Bob Kraft saw all the problems in Foxborough — the traffic, the potholes — and said, ‘I’m outta here!’ He was all set to make them the Hartford Patriots.”
Patriots owner Billy Sullivan addressed the fans at the opener.Frank O'Brien/Globe Staff
The Patriots of 1971 finally could say they had a home, albeit ever so humble, Schaefer constructed in just over 300 days at a cost of slightly more than $7 million. For the many basic comforts it lacked — about 90 percent of its seats were bleacher-style — it had exceptional, unobstructed sight lines.
Above all, it was theirs, after a decade of the Patriots schlepping around Boston to play their home games first at Boston University, then at Fenway Park, followed by Boston College and finally Harvard. They were pigskin vagabonds, even when they shed their AFL beginnings for the NFL. Had Foxborough not worked out, their time here would have been short.
“They’d have been gone to Memphis,” said Bell. “No doubt about it.”
Ken London, a 16-year-old Milton High student in ‘71, had season tickets that first year at Schaefer with his brothers Howie and Steve. The 10-game package cost them each $80.
“The opener was surrounded by so much anticipation,” said London, who years later enjoyed a long run as producer/director of Bruins broadcasts at Channel 38. “I remember going there a few weeks before it opened. I found my seat and just sat there, thinking, ‘This place is the greatest.’ ”
On Aug. 15, Ken and Howie London were stuck for hours in Howie’s Volkswagen Beetle. Some 2 miles from the stadium, following the lead of countless others, Ken finally jumped out and ran to the stadium, zipping through and around cars that were overheated or out of gas, or both.
“I finally got inside late in the first half,” he said. “Carl Garrett, if I remember correctly, had just scored a touchdown and the place was going crazy.”
And older brother Howie? He showed up sometime in the second half.
“I think that’s right,” kidded Ken. “Not sure … haven’t seen him since. I’m pretty sure his VW’s still out on Route 1.”
Hudson’s Paul Karpowicz, now 72, counts himself “among the lucky ones” that night. A high school buddy was home from the service and the two decided to head to the box office early that day to buy a pair of $5 end zone tickets.
“Parked right next to the stadium,” Karpowicz said. “And I know we left early — I think my pal had to be somewhere the next day — and we sailed home. I remember reading the paper the next day, thinking, ‘Geez, what’s all this about the traffic?’ ”
Traffic was only part of the nightmare. Horrific plumbing issues caused scores of stadium toilets to either not flush or overflow. The Foxborough Board of Health, noted Bell, had no choice but to shut the place down, until a “Super Flush” event satisfied health inspectors that the plumbing worked.
“Kid you not,” Bell said. “Every toilet in the place had to flush at the same time. We got everyone we could — team personnel, media members, everybody — to flush a toilet. The call came over the PA, ‘OK, flush!’ And it worked. No one had to pee on the floor. We were saved!”
The town insisted also that there would be no more night games. Beers sold for one buck. Longer drinking hours led to longer lines to the bathrooms, more demand on the toilets. All games had to shift to 1 p.m. starts.
The traffic was still there even as the game proceeded.Don Preston/Globe Staff
The Los Angeles Rams were due in town for the next preseason game, Aug. 29, kickoff 8:30 p.m.
“I had to call the Rams and ask for the switch to 1 o’clock,” Bell said. “Sure, they said, as long as we gave ‘em a draft pick. We didn’t do it, of course. But I mean, you can’t make this stuff up!”
A new Patriots season has begun. Washington was at Foxborough Thursday night for an exhibition game. The traffic flowed, but not with the efficiency of Gillette’s toilets or beer taps.
The game on Aug. 15, 1971, wrapped up at 11:15 p.m. The Patriots won, 20-14. There were still cars in the parking lot trying to get out at 2:30 a.m. Some fans didn’t get home till dawn.
“It was some evening,” wrote the great Ray Fitz, “and if you want to find out more about it, drop out to Foxborough today. I’ll be in the parking lot, trying to find my way out.”