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New England Patriots: Heard Round the World
The New England Patriots are an NFL franchise that grew from an experiment to be the one of the most dominant teams in any sport, anywhere in the world.
Founded in 1959 as the Boston Patriots, the franchise was the last of eight to form the original the American Football League, a challenger to the NFL. Along with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, the Patriots were a test to see if new pro football teams could compete for ticket sales in the traditional Northeastern market.
It took a while, but the Patriots not only established themselves, they made tickets to New England games the hottest commodity around. They have sold out every home game since the mid-1990s.
Through 2018, the Pats made 26 playoff appearances, and won 20 division championships, 11 conference championships and six Super Bowls. All of those six title seasons came during their phenomenal run during the first 20 years of the millennium.
The newly formed AFL awarded Boston business executive Billy Sullivan the franchise to begin play as the Boston Patriots in the 1960 season.
The Patriots didn't have a regular home stadium, so they played at Nickerson Field, Harvard Stadium, Fenway Park, and Alumni Stadium, during their AFL years.
The team was competitive during those years, posting five winning seasons and making it to the AFL title game in 1963 before getting trounced by the San Diego Chargers.
New Home, New Name
After the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the team embarked on their new association with the NFL, becoming a member of the AFC East, with the Baltimore Colts, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
They also changed their name to the New England Patriots when they moved to Foxboro Stadium in 1971. It would be their home until 2001, when they moved to Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots had their first winning season under the new setup when they went 11-3 under Coach Chuck Fairbanks. Eight winning seasons in the next 10 kept people buying Patriots tickets.
But they never got far in postseason until the magical 1985 campaign under Coach Raymond Berry. With Steve Grogan at quarterback, and a defense anchored by another Hall of Famer, linebacker Andre Tippett, the Pats went 11-5. But they barely made the playoffs, placing third in the tough AFC East.
The magic was in going on the road to win three playoff games against the Jets, LA Raiders and Dolphins to qualify for their first Super Bowl. But they ran into a steamroller in the Super Bowl; the Chicago Bears dominated, 46-10.
Another Super Bowl Try
The next decade was shallow by comparison. Berry's team won the franchise's second AFC East title in 1986, but were eliminated by the Denver Broncos in the first playoff game.
After that, the Patriots went through two head coaches before former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells picked them up in 1996 and made a run to another Super Bowl after an 11-5.
That team featured Drew Bledsoe at quarterback, Curtis Martin at running back, and a defense anchored by defensive end Willie McGinest.
They won the division title and then whipped the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars to capture the AFC crown and make it to Super Bowl XXXI. But they ran into Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in the big game and were outlasted, 35-21.
It was also during those years that the team underwent three ownership changes. In 1988 the Sullivan family sold the team to Victor Kiam. Four years later, Kiam in turn sold the Patriots to James Orthwein. Then in 1994, after two years of ownership, Orthwein sold the team to businessman Robert Kraft.
Belichick Takes Over
In 2000, Kraft and the Patriots handed the coaching duties over to Bill Belichick, a former defensive coordinator for Parcells. Belichick was given free reign over all football operations for the Pats. It was his team, and he made the best of it.
The same year, the Patriots drafted Michigan quarterback Tom Brady as their seventh choice. Brady would tutor under Bledsoe for one season before launching an historic career.
The long-awaited Super Bowl triumph came after an 11-5 regular season in 2001. Brady took over as QB after an injury to Bledsoe in the second game, and he capitalized on the patterns of receiver Troy Brown to complete the season.
The Pats went on to take down the Raiders and Steelers to win another AFC title. Then in Super Bowl XXXVI, New England overcame the St. Louis Rams' vaunted offense with a 20-17 triumph. Brady was the game MVP because he directed a late drive to win the game.
Five More Super Bowls
That was the first of a dominance over the NFL that lasted nearly two decade, Belichick and Brady leading the way.
From 2001 through 2018, the Patriots captured the AFC East title 16 times, won the AFC Championship nine times and won the Super Bowl six times.
They had their slip ups along the way, most notably losing to the New York Giants twice as heavy favorites in the Super Bowl.
The real heart-breaker was after a 16-0 regular season in 2007. They added two more wins to their perfect ledger by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers to win another AFC title. But looking to cap off a perfect season was a little too much. The Giants mounted an unlikely late drive highlighted by David Tyree's incredible "Helmet Catch" to capture a 17-14 upset in the Super Bowl.
That year was in the midst of a nine-year drought between Super Bowl triumphs that ended in a strange way after the 2014 season.
The Patriots and Seattle Seahawks had played a tight game all the way in Super Bowl XLIX. But in a tense final minute of the Patriots with their backs to the wall, Malcolm Butler intercepted a Russell Wilson pass at the end zone to clinch a 28-24 victory. It was the most watched television show in history, and it was the Patriots' fourth Super Bowl triumph.
The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl twice more through 2018. One was an incredible come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. New England rallied from a 28-3 deficit in the second half in that one. And Super Bowl LII was a boring 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams after the 2018 season. But winning the sixth Super Bowl, the Pats tied the Steelers for the most in history.
- Venue: Gillette Stadium
- Location: Foxborough, Mass.
- Opened: 2002
- Capacity: 65,878
- When the Patriots first moved to Foxboro Stadium they proposed changing the name to the Bay State Patriots. That name was rejected by the NFL.
- Pats owner Robert Kraft saved the team from being moved. Before Kraft bought the team for $175 million in 1994, James Orthwein had planned to re-locate the team to St. Louis.
- Since 2005, the song "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne has become the unofficial theme song of the Patriots, played upon their entrance in home games.
- In 2017 the Patriots became the first NFL team to own their team airplanes, when they bought two Boeing 767-300ERs, with one serving as the backup.
Patriots All Time Offensive Leaders*
- Tom Brady 73,951
- Drew Bledsoe 29,657
- Steve Grogan 26,886
- Sam Cunningham 5,453
- Jim Nance 5,323
- Tony Collins 4,647
- Stanley Morgan 10,352
- Rob Gronkowski 7,861
- Wes Welker 7,459
- Stephen Gostkowski 1,775
- Adam Vinatieri 1,158
- Gin Cappelletti 1,130
*- through 2018