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Mike Downey

Where Are the Real Patriots?

January 22, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY

NEW ORLEANS — Bring back Gerhardt Schwedes.

Bring back Superfoot Walker.

Bring back Snow Plow Henderson.

Don't give us this Super Bowl stuff. Don't tell us the New England Patriots have become a serious, dignified, respectable professional football club.

Don't tell us one of the goofiest franchises anywhere has come here to be mentioned in the same breath with George Halas and Vince Lombardi and other National Football League gods.

Tell us Bill Murphy is back and wants his single-digit jersey number again.

Tell us Harpo Gladieux is back in the bleachers, waiting to be paged into the game.

Tell us the spirit of the late, sort of great Clive Rush is still with the team, insisting that the locker room is bugged with secret microphones.

These are the Patriots we know and love. Spare us from these guys who win three straight playoff games on the road. These guys who whip the Jets at the Meadowlands, the Raiders at the Coliseum and the Dolphins at the Orange Bowl.

The last thing we want to hear is that the New England Patsies have become successful on the field and popular with their fans.

Return us to the first home game the Patriots ever played, the American Football League exhibition at Harvard that brought 11,000 fans pouring through the turnstiles.

Remind us of the only championship game in which the Patriots ever played, the AFL title game of 1963, when they held San Diego's Keith Lincoln to 206 yards rushing and 123 yards receiving, and came within 41 points of pulling off a swell upset.

"From what I've heard, I guess some of the Patriots' past is best forgotten," second-year running back Craig James said here Tuesday.

That is like saying that some of the DeLorean automobile's past is best forgotten.

More than a quarter of a century has passed since the Patriots burst onto the scene--well, staggered onto the scene--as the eighth and last addition to the AFL. While another chap from Massachusetts was moving into the White House, the bosses of the Boston Patriots were inviting citizens to grab a piece of America's new prosperity by investing in only the second professional team ever to issue public stock, the Green Bay Packers having been the first.

This was April, 1960. New England was about to enter a new frontier. The Kennedys were taking their touch football games on the road, but the Patriots were bringing big-time tackle football to the six colonies of the Northeast. A good time was about to be had by all.

Now, after 26 years, the Patriots have just started doing things right. Not once did they win an AFL playoff game except for the first one they played in, against Buffalo in 1963. Then they joined the NFL and continued failing to win playoff games, right up until a few weeks ago.

They kept losing and their fans kept boozing. One Monday night there was a near-riot in the Schaefer (now Sullivan) Stadium parking lot. When a man collapsed and required medical attention, the paramedics had trouble doing their work because they were being abused by drunken fans.

Another time, at Boston College, somebody tossed a cigarette onto the stadium field. It went into the pole vault pit and set the foam rubber landing cushion on fire. The stands had to be evacuated, so the fans were told to run onto the field, right in the middle of a game between the Patriots and Washington Redskins.

What a funny franchise. The first player ever drafted was a quarterback from Northwestern. That should have been a portent of defeats to come. The first AFL "territorial" draft pick was a running back from Syracuse, the immortal Gerhardt Schwedes. He was drafted in 1960 and lasted all the way through 1961.

"The Search for Superfoot" was a typical Patriot project. It was decided that the team desperately needed a kicker. The world was searched for talent.

Mike Walker, a nice bloke from the England, not New England, thought he would have a go at it. He won. Superfoot's only season with the Patriots was 1972.

Asked what he would do with the money he got for signing, Superfoot said: "I'd like to go to Florida and buy myself a pandemonium."

Those Patriot kickers were always buying nice things. Jeff White from Texas El Paso showed up at the stadium, signed his first NFL contract and immediately walked across the street to a car dealer, bought a new Ford and drove it home.

When John Smith, another Englishman, was kicking for New England, there was a snowstorm one day during a game with Miami.

Coach Ron Meyer noticed a kid driving a small snow plow, clearing drifts off the sidelines. He told this kid, Mark Henderson, a convict out on a prison work program, to drive onto the field and clear a spot near the ball so Smith could kick a field goal. Henderson did.

He has gone down in Patriot history, as has Billy Murphy, the wide receiver from Cornell who, for speed's sake, asked for a single-digit jersey number--"because it will make me feel lighter."

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