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20 Super Facts About the New England Patriots

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Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying that the New England Patriots have established a dynasty of truly historic proportions. This team just clinched its record-breaking ninth Super Bowl berth and its seventh in the past 15 years. Here’s some fun trivia worth memorizing before they take on the Atlanta Falcons.

1. THEY WEREN'T THE FIRST PRO FOOTBALL TEAM TO REPRESENT BOSTON.

Massachusetts began flirting with pro football long before the New England Patriots came along. The Boston Bulldogs were created and dismantled in 1929. The Boston Redskins (originally the Braves) came next in 1932, but, after five years, they relocated to Washington, D.C.

2. THEY WERE FOUNDED AS THE "BOSTON PATRIOTS."

The Patriots organization began as the “Boston Patriots," and they were founded as part of the American Football League on November 16, 1959.

3. THEY WON THE AFL'S VERY FIRST PRE-SEASON GAME.

On July 30, 1960, the Patriots won the upstart American Football League’s very first pre-season game by toppling the Buffalo Bills 28-7.

4. A TRI-CORNER HAT USED TO ADORN THEIR HELMETS.

Modern Patriots may wear that star-spangled “Flying Elvis” logo, but their forebears spent the 1960 season rocking a much simpler helmet design—one which consisted of a tri-corner hat sitting atop each player’s number.

5. THEY MOVED A LOT DURING THE 1960S.

Between 1960 and 1971, the Patriots changed venues four times. Nickerson Field, Fenway Park, Harvard Stadium, and Boston College’s Alumni Stadium all took turns hosting the team during that stretch.

6. IN 1970, A FIRE BROKE OUT IN THE STANDS.

In 1970, the Patriots' final game at Alumni Stadium was rudely interrupted when a popcorn machine beneath the bleachers caught fire, scattering a large section of the crowd. "Fortunately, nobody was hurt," said radio announcer Gil Santos, "and it wasn't a huge section of seats that were burned. After the fire was out, everybody found a seat, and the game continued. Popcorn sales, of course, went down."

7. THEY WERE GOING TO BE CALLED THE BAY STATE PATRIOTS, BUT THERE WAS A SLIGHT PROBLEM.

Upon leaving for Foxborough, Massachusetts in 1971, they were re-christened as “The Bay State Patriots.” The name was rejected when people pointed out the abbreviation would be “The B.S. Patriots.”

8. IN THE EARLY YEARS, THEIR STADIUM HAD SOME TOILET PROBLEMS.

Schaefer Stadium (a.k.a. Foxboro Stadium) wasn’t exactly Buckingham Palace. In 1971, the Pats' longtime residence just barely passed a mandatory “flush-off” test—wherein health inspectors flushed every single on-property toilet simultaneously. The test was ordered after hasty repairs were made when it was discovered that the plumbing was insufficiently prepared.

9. A SNOW PLOW OPERATOR BECAME A SPORTS HERO IN 1982. 

On a harsh, wintry day in 1982, snowplow operator Mark Henderson became a New England folk hero when he cleared a patch of field for Patriots kicker John Smith, whose late field goal slew the visiting Miami Dolphins. Incidentally, at the time, Henderson was there on work release from prison.

10. THE 1990S DID NOT GET OFF TO A GREAT START FOR THE TEAM.

The year 1990 was unkind to New England football fans. Not only did the Patriots amass a franchise-worst 1-15 record, but in 11 of those losses, they never even led once.

11. THEY ALMOST MOVED TO ST. LOUIS.

When Missouri native James Orthwein bought the Pats in 1992, he had a single goal in mind: shipping them off to St. Louis. However, at the time, Foxboro Stadium was owned by Robert Kraft, who effectively nixed the idea and purchased Orthwein’s franchise two years later.

12. THEY ALMOST GOT SHIPPED OFF TO CONNECTICUT, TOO.

New England escaped relocation again in 1998. Businessmen from Hartford, Connecticut, attempted to lure Kraft's Pats out of Massachusetts by offering a brand-new, publicly financed stadium. This blockbuster deal fell through when Kraft managed to secure $72 million from the Bay State, with which he eventually constructed Gillette Stadium—the squad's current home.

13. TOM BRADY'S COLLEGE CAREER DIDN'T PORTEND HIS SUPERSTAR STATUS.

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He may be a future Hall of Famer, but during his collegiate days, nobody would’ve mistaken Patriots QB Tom Brady for a big-shot. At one point, Brady was the seventh quarterback on the University of Michigan’s depth chart.

14. BRADY COULD HAVE PLAYED PRO BASEBALL INSTEAD.

Speaking of Brady: the Montreal Expos drafted him as a catcher in 1995. (He didn't play.)

15. THE TEAM'S SUPER BOWL VICTORIES HAVE BEEN CLOSE.

Each of New England’s four Super Bowl victories was decided by four points or fewer.

16. THEY'VE GOT THE LONGEST WINNING STREAK IN PRO FOOTBALL HISTORY.

The franchise claimed 21-straight regular and postseason wins from 2003-2004, an NFL record.

17. IT TOOK NEARLY 30 MINUTES FOR EITHER TEAM TO SCORE IN SUPER BOWL XXXVIII.

Though the Pats eventually prevailed over Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII, viewers had to wait 26 minutes and 55 seconds before either team scored. However, the teams scored 37 combined points in the fourth quarter, the most ever in a single quarter of a Super Bowl.

18. VLADIMIR PUTIN MIGHT HAVE ONE OF ROBERT KRAFT'S CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS.

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Vladimir Putin: jewelry thief? Kraft claims that, while visiting Russia, he had to bid one of his championship rings “dasvidanya.” Allegedly, President Putin had asked to hold it, remarking “I could kill someone with this ring.” Kraft complied, at which point the statesman pocketed the keepsake and left. Kraft later said it was a gift. Putin curiously said he has no memory of the event. “You know, I do not remember either Mr. Kraft or the ring," he told AFP. "They handed out some sorts of souvenirs."

19. GAME OF THRONES AUTHOR GEORGE R.R. MARTIN HAS LIKENED THE TEAM TO THE LANNISTERS.

Game of Thrones creator and Giants/Jets fan George R.R. Martin has said that, in his mind, the Patriots are the NFL’s Lannisters.

20. BILL BELICHICK RENAMED HIS BOAT AFTER THE 2015 SUPER BOWL.

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Head coach Bill Belichick—who won two Super Bowl titles as a defensive coordinator with the Giants and four as head coach of the Pats—owns a boat he calls VI Rings. Up until 2015, it had been known asV Rings, but he renamed it in 2015, after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX. Who knows? After this Sunday, he just may have to re-christen it VII Rings. (We’re betting he wouldn’t mind the touch-up.)

Additional Sources:
Then Belichick Said to Brady…: The Greatest New England Patriots Stories Ever Told, by Jim Donaldson
The Patriot Way: The History of the New England Patriots
Patriots.com

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Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
davi_deste via eBay
davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.


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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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Arizona Teen Becomes First Female to Earn a College Football Scholarship
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In recent years, women have made great strides in male-dominated sports. Currently in the NBA, Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman have proven their worth as assistant coaches for the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings, respectively, while Sarah Thomas made news as the first official female referee in the NFL in 2015. Now, an Arizona teenager named Becca Longo is joining their ranks.

On April 12, Longo, an 18-year-old kicker from Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, signed a letter of intent to receive an athletic scholarship and play for the Division II football team at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado. She is the first woman to be on scholarship at a Division II school or higher—a fact Longo herself didn't even realize until her high school coach informed her at the signing ceremony.

Longo’s kicking prowess in high school was highlighted by her making 30 out of 33 extra point attempts during her senior season, which caught the attention of Adams’s head coach, Timm Rosenbach. She also sent the school a highlight reel and began following coach Rosenbach on Twitter to show him what she could do.

"She's kind of put herself out there to let everyone know she wants to do this," Rosenbach told CNN. "If she's able to compete at a level we think she's able to compete at, we should afford her that opportunity to do that."

Longo’s persistence led to a visit from Adams’s offensive coordinator, Josh Blankenship, who told the young kicker that the school was interested in her being on the team. But being on scholarship doesn’t mean a spot on the starting roster is guaranteed. The kicking spot is up for grabs, according to Rosenbach, and there are two other kickers who Longo will have to beat out for the job. But despite the pressure, Longo told ESPN, "I'm ready to compete. I don't really have any expectations beyond that."

In addition to the football team, Longo has also committed to play basketball at Adams State next year.

[h/t CBS]

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