New England Patriots Super Bowl Champs

Things have changed – for the better

 

The following piece comes to us from Mike Passanisi, a writer and Pats fan and season ticket holder for many years:

Today Tom Beer lives somewhere in New Jersey. But 38 years ago, he was part of-and wrote about-one of the most amazing seasons in Patriot history. It began with high hopes and two incredibly lucky victories. It soon descended, however, into chaos-on the field, off the field, and even in the stands.

Beer was a tight end for the Patriots for three years-70,71, and 72. He wrote a book about his NFL days. It was called Stomped, Tromped, Kicked and Chewed in the NFL. The book was not really in the tradition of those of some former players at the time-angry books that charged the NFL with racism and even fixing games. It was more like ex-Yankee Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, which concentrated-to the dismay of many in Major League Baseball-on players drinking, partying, and chasing women. Beer’s book focused on the Broncos, Pats, and Dolphins-three teams he was associated with.

The son of a Detroit policeman, Tom Beer played his college football at the University of Houston. He was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos in 1967. He signed for $92,000, a paltry sum by today’s standards. It might have been higher, but the AFL-NFL bidding war had just ended with a merger of the two leagues, and contracts in the hundreds of thousands were gone, at least for the time being.

Beer’s three years in Denver were not particularly happy ones. The team went 3-11 in his first year, one of the wins being over the already-hapless Patriots, another an upset over Joe Namath’s New York Jets, but little else went right. Lou Saban, who coached at Buffalo before and after his Denver stint, was Beer’s coach for his three years with the Broncos. Though he was given to cliches, he was a hard taskmaster and his teams were at least somewhat respectable. In April, 1970, however, Beer was told he had been traded to the Patriots for tight end Jim Whalen. “What the hell kind of a trade is that?”, he reacted. “A tight end for a tight end.”

His first two seasons with the then-Boston Patriots were, to say the least, bizarre. After an opening game upset of Miami in 1970, the squad lost 6 in a row. Free spirit Joe Kapp, coming off a Super Bowl season in Minnesota but unhappy with his contract, was signed to play quarterback and proved to be a disaster; he threw three times as many interceptions as touchdown passes. After a 45-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, coach Clive Rush, an extremely troubled man whose behavior was becoming stranger and stranger, was let go “for medical reasons”. Assistant John Mazur took over. He was an improvement over Rush, but the team still finished the year at 2-12.


The following year, however, the team moved to Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, their first permanent home, and were renamed the New England Patriots. Despite some well-documented problems with the facility, the team showed some signs of improvement. Over a number of objections from writers who wanted him to trade his first draft choice, owner Billy Sullivan picked Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett, who had a fine rookie season. GM Upton Bell, who was hired in February, shuttled players in and out, and it seemed to work. It was a season of good and bad. One of the good was an opening-day victory over the powerful Oakland Raiders. Another was a 38-13 thrashing of the Super Bowl-bound Miami Dolphins. Going into their final game of the season in Baltimore, the Pats had a 5-8 record, three games better than 1970. But there were also serious problems.

The youthful, confident Bell had little respect for Mazur, the more traditional coach of the team. Privately, he wanted Mazur fired. When a long TD pass from Plunkett to Stanford teammate Randy Vataha gave the Pats a surprising 21-17 season-ending victory, Bell was clearly disappointed. He now had to keep Mazur, though he was given only a one-year contract.

Bell also encouraged the team to party together. “Our team parties,” Beer wrote, “had become more or less a weekly ritual, as many players celebrated for days, if not a full week at a time, at Daisy Buchanan’s, a Back Bay bar partly owned by Bruins hockey player Derek Sanderson…..Bell subscribed to the theory that players who practice together, play together, and drink together will weld a bond of solidarity that will eventually lead to winning together….for the single players who lived near the stadium in Foxboro, the weekly foray to Daisy’s was akin to being turned loose in a Nevada brothel…..the occasional secretaries and stewardesses who wandered into Daisy’s by mistake on a Tuesday night often needed track shoes and a can of Mace to get out.”

It was obvious that Mazur and Bell weren’t getting along. There was a split among players, with the younger ones supporting Bell, the older ones sticking with Mazur. Though there were optimistic predictions of the Pats continuing to improve, possibly to second place in their division, the opener was a huge disappointment. There was a strong crosswind and, with a weak running game, the Pats had to rely on Plunkett’s passing, which was way off. The Cincinnati Bengals, with some fine running backs, were able to control the ball and eased to a 31-7 victory. There were rumors that a loss to the Atlanta Falcons the following week would cost Mazur his job.

Here some incredible luck gave players and fans some false hopes. With the Falcons down by 2 points and the ball inside the New England 5-yard line with less than a minute left, kicker Bill Bell lined up for a “chip shot” field goal that would give Atlanta the win. One problem-he missed, and the Pats escaped with an improbable 21-20 win. The following week, however, was even stranger. Let Beer tell the story. “Playing the Washington Redskins, who went to the Super Bowl that year…we led 24-21 with only a couple of minutes left, and on fourth down Curt Knight tied the game for the Skins with a field goal. We were called for roughing the holder on the play, and rather than take the points cantankerous George Allen (the Redskins coach) elected to take the penalty, move the ball closer, and try for the win-with the tie to fall back on. Our defense held, and on fourth down-again-Knight set up for the field goal, this time from closer range; he missed it.” But that wasn’t all. With less than a minute left, the Skins blocked a NE punt. A Redskin fell on the ball in the end zone for an apparent TD, but the officials ruled he went out of bounds and it was ruled a two-point safety.

“With the score now 24-23”, Beer continues, “we had to kick to Washington, and the Redskins maneuvered themselves into position for another Knight field goal with a couple of seconds left. He missed that one too. It was incredible. Within the last two minutes of the game, we had the potential to…..win,tie,lose,tie,win, lose,win, lose, and finally win.”

Pats defensive back Rickie Harris was shown on the game’s highlights pointing toward heaven in thanksgiving. The optimism was back. “These past two games,” Bell was quoted as saying, “prove that we have the talent to beat any team in football. Our coaches and players did a great job in this game (they had played well). The coaches had the team well prepared and the players executed. But we do have a lot of fine football players on this team and beating the likes of Atlanta and Washington proved it.” How wrong he was. They were not a good team, just a lucky one.

The scores of the next two games begin to tell the story. A trip to Buffalo; a 38-14 loss. A visit by Joe Namath’s Jets; a 41-13 defeat. By the time the squad traveled to Pittsburgh to take on the powerful Steelers, fans and players alike realized that it all had been a kind of mirage. The two wins made it even more difficult to take. The writers and fans saw it as a kind of betrayal. The optimism disappeared, replaced by disgust. And unlike earlier years, 60,000 people were in the stands to boo. Two more poundings by the Steelers and Jets sealed the squad’s fate. “Barely a month earlier,” Beer wrote, “we had been the best young team in football. Now there were headines like ‘Is football the Patriots’ game?’ TV sportscaster Clark Booth suggested that we gave the word ineptitude a bad name.” In the first Monday Night Football contest ever played at Foxboro, the TV audience was treated to signs like “Bell-Mazur: the Gruesome Twosome” and “Sullivan’s Foxboro Follies: Rated X” A weak offensive line was forcing the rather immoble Plunkett to often scramble for his life; he would be sacked over and over again and throw 25 interceptions.

“Coming out of the passageway,” writes Beer, “we were greeted with a barrage of beer, obscenities, and insults. During the game, they were throwing whiskey bottles onto the field.” Unlike today, when a security force checks every fan to enter Gillette Stadium, the signs banning alcohol were virtually ignored.

The rest of the season, needless to say, was all downhill. After a 52-0 loss at Miami (still the worst defeat in team history), Mazur resigned. Bell had gotten his wish. Two weeks later, as the team continued to lose under interim coach Phil Bengston, Sullivan got his wish. He fired Upton. The Pats became perhaps the only team in modern NFL history to lose both their coach and GM in the midst of a season.

Following a 3-11 finish, Sullivan went in search of a college coach to lead the team. He found one in Chuck Fairbanks, who finally started the squad on the road back to respectability. But Fairbanks also cleaned house, and Beer was one of the casualties. He ended his playing career with a short stint in Miami. After a season in the front office of the New York Stars of the short-lived World Football League, Beer left the sport. His book, however, provides us with some fine insights into the early Foxboro days. How times have changed.


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One Response to “Things have changed – for the better”

  1. marshall says:

    Some a-hole dolphins fan just posted a mock draft and in it he called Patriots fans “thugs who don’t properly pronounce words.”
    http://knightsphins.blogspot.com/

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