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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Throwback Review - Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium - New England Patriots

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.14

Foxboro Stadium

Route One

Foxboro, MA 20235

Capacity: 60,292

Year Opened: 1971

Schaefer-Sullivan-Foxboro Stadium

Fans who have only been watching the National Football League during the 21st century may be surprised to learn that the New England Patriots were not always the dominant team that they’ve been during the Brady/Belichick era. In fact, for most of their existence, the opposite was true. They were often considered to be the laughingstock of the league, more likely to compete for the top overall pick than for the Super Bowl. The team seemed to make headlines more often for dubious reasons than for anything they accomplished on the field. They were often derisively referred to as “The Patsies.”

The Patriots were nomadic over the early years of their existence. During the first ten years the team played in the American Football League, they called Nickerson Field (1960-62), Fenway Park (1963-68), Alumni Stadium (1969) and Harvard Stadium (1970) home.

After the AFL-NFL merger, the NFL pushed the Patriots to find a permanent stadium as none of their previous homes met minimum league standards for capacity or facilities. In September of 1970 ground was broken on the site of the Bay State Raceway in the small town of Foxborough, MA, located about halfway between Boston and Providence, RI.

The entire stadium was constructed at a total cost of only $7.1 million, all of which came from private entities. No public monies were involved in the project. Schaefer Brewery purchased the naming rights in an early example of corporate sponsorship. When this deal expired in 1982, Anheuser-Busch took over naming rights, but rather than put one of their brands on the facility, they agreed to name the stadium after the Sullivan family, who were then the majority owners of the Patriots. When local businessman Robert Kraft purchased the stadium out of bankruptcy from the Sullivans, he stripped their name and rechristened it Foxboro Stadium.

Food & Beverage 3

Concessions were served out of two stands on either side of the stadium, as well as portable carts located throughout the facility. The food consisted of standard stadium fare (hot dogs, burgers, pizza), average in both quality and price. Long lines were the norm at these stands, especially at halftime. With Foxboro Stadium’s location in the suburbs surrounded by parking lots, most fans preferred to tailgate rather than eat during the game.

Foxboro Stadium was legendary for the excess of alcohol consumed by many Patriots fans, both before the game in the tailgating lots and during the game at the concession stands. Tales of drunken fans who had been overserved could be told by anyone who had ever been to a Patriots game at Foxboro Stadium. In fact, the Foxboro selectmen banned night games at the stadium starting in 1981 due to excessive alcohol consumption and rowdyism by the fans. The ban lasted until 1995.

Atmosphere 2

Back in the days of Foxboro Stadium the Patriots were undoubtedly the fourth team on the Boston sports food chain. As a result of the team’s constant losing, tickets were often easy to come by.

The bare-bones nature of Foxboro Stadium reflected in the game day atmosphere as well. There was a single video board at the south end zone and the open design of the stadium meant that any noise generated was easily dissipated. The Patriots never seemed to enjoy much of a home-field advantage here.

The highlight of the Foxboro Stadium experience was undoubtedly the tailgating before and after games. The stadium was surrounded by acres of unpaved parking lots, giving fans much room to set up elaborate parties. With a relaxed attitude towards these parties, it was not unusual for fans to arrive at kickoff with a good head start towards tomorrow’s hangover. Longtime Patriots fans can tell tales of the amount of fighting that went on here, or the rowdy behavior throughout games. One legendary tale (perhaps an urban legend) speaks of a fan bringing a hibachi grill into the end zone seats, which promptly ended up getting thrown at another fan. Foxboro Stadium was not the place to bring the family.

Neighborhood 1

Foxboro Stadium’s location far from the urban centers of Boston and Providence meant that there was lots of room around the facility for, well, parking lots. There wasn’t much else nearby. There was a trailer park next door to the stadium, which got overrun by fans walking from the tailgates to the stadium (the team paid to move the whole trailer park out of the way further down Route 1 when the Krafts bought the Patriots). In addition, there were a couple of seedy bars and hotels nearby, but really nothing else within walking distance of the stadium. Back then Route One did not look like the developed business area it is today.

Fans 3

The Patriots were the fourth team in a four-team town for much of their early existence. The fact that winning seasons were few and far between during this era didn’t help. Still, the team had its share of die-hard fans who certainly made going to a game in Foxboro interesting.

Since the Patriots only arrived on the Boston sports scene in 1960, it wasn’t unusual to find a significant portion of the crowd in Foxboro that rooted for the Giants, who were the closest team for many years. If you were coming to a game against the Giants, Patriots fans could expect to be outnumbered, even into the 90s.

Patriot fans were more known for their rowdy behavior than for their numbers. Foxboro was not a place to bring the family, and it was rare to see many women at a Patriots game back in the day.

Access 2

Foxboro Stadium was built on the cheap and in a hurry in 1970. As a result, the facility had its share of issues, most notably with traffic and plumbing.

During the first game at the new stadium, several sinks and toilets backed up because they couldn’t handle the volume of flushes throughout the game. Fixes were made to keep the stadium open, which were tested during the infamous “Super Flush,” where dozens of volunteers were enlisted to flush every toilet in the stadium simultaneously. The stadium passed and football was able to continue. The bathrooms were never the cleanest place to be, though.

Also legendary for all the wrong reasons was the traffic to and from Patriot games. Located near the intersection of Interstates 95 and 495, one would think that Foxboro Stadium had a good location going for it. Unfortunately, access to the stadium from the interstates was only possible by traveling a few miles on Route One, a four-lane business route that backed up for miles on game day. It would routinely take hours for the parking lots to clear after Patriots games.

Foxboro Stadium hardly looked like a professional venue, even by 1970s standards. Designed and constructed simply, the facility featured a single-tier grandstand on either side of the field, with limited seating in either end zone. The majority of seats consisted of metal bleachers without backs. There were a few sections at midfield which featured individual seats. One positive to Foxboro Stadium was that all seats were angled towards the 50-yard line, providing excellent views from anywhere in the stadium.

A single, narrow concourse ran underneath the seating sections on either side of the field. The concession stands and bathrooms were located here. Long lines were the norm, both to the stands and the bathrooms throughout the game.

The majority of the parking lots were unpaved and the stadium was completely open to the elements. Foxboro Stadium was incredibly hot during the early months of the season and absolutely frigid during the end of the season.

Return on Investment 3

Tickets to Patriots games were pretty affordable to the point where, as high school students in the 80s, we were able to drive up to Foxboro on a Sunday morning and have no problem getting and affording tickets.

As is the case today, parking at Foxboro Stadium was expensive. Concession prices were comparable to other venues in the area. Going to a Patriots game wasn’t cheap, but overall, it was affordable.

Extras 1

There wasn’t much at Foxboro that could be considered extra, but the story of how Robert Kraft was able to prevent the team from moving on several occasions deserves a mention. Originally a season ticket holder, the paper magnate purchased several of the parking lots and other parcels of land surrounding the stadium, including the adjacent race track, over the years. When the Sullivan family went into bankruptcy after sponsoring the Jackson’s “Victory” Tour, Kraft bought the stadium. He enforced the ironclad lease the Patriots had on two occasions, preventing a move to Jacksonville and then to St. Louis. He used the leverage he had through the lease to eventually purchase the team. Under his ownership the Patriots have gone from laughingstock to dynasty, winning six Super Bowls and appearing in ten under his watch. The building of Gillette Stadium and the adjacent Patriot Place has become a model for all subsequent stadium designs.

Final Thoughts

By the late 90s Foxboro Stadium had become outdated and needed replacing. The Patriots went on a well-documented search to build a new stadium in the area, looking at sites in Boston, Providence and Hartford, among others. The Patriots ended up building Foxboro Stadium’s replacement, Gillette Stadium, right next door. The facility’s shopping and entertainment center, Patriot Place, stands where Foxboro Stadium was located.

Foxboro Stadium was never more than a serviceable place for the Patriots to call home. Beset from the beginning with traffic and plumbing issues, it was one of the least desirable places to play in the NFL. Many Patriot alumni recall thinking that Foxboro Stadium compared unfavorably to even their college practice facilities. At least Foxboro Stadium was able to go out with a bang, as the last game played there on January 19, 2002 was the “Tuck Rule” game. That playoff game was played in a blizzard against the Oakland Raiders and featured an unforgettable, controversial ending as the Patriots moved on to their first Super Bowl championship.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.

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