New England Patriots Super Bowl Champs

Jim Whalen and the 60’s Patriots

By Guest Columnist Michael Passanisi

The New England Patriots are one of the class teams of the NFL. Owned by the Kraft family, they play in a beautiful facility and have few financial worries. But their predecessors, the Boston Patriots of the AFL, had a much harder time of it.

Boston played in the American Football League from 1960 until the merger in 1970. They lacked a permanent home, jumping from Boston University (later Nickerson) Field to Fenway Park to Alumni Stadium at Boston College. Under the control of the Sullivan family, the franchise was cash-strapped, often with primitive facilities for both players and fans.

Without a large scouting budget, the Pats had to rely a great deal on local talent. Since Mike Holovak, who coached the team through much of that time, had spent many years as head mentor at BC, it was logical that a sort of pipeline developed between Chestnut Hill and the Patriots.

A number of former BC stars went on to fine careers under Holovak’s Pats, among them Art Graham, Ross O’Hanley and Jim Colclough. But seemingly one of the least remembered-perhaps unfairly- is a kid from Cambridge who went on to star both for the Maroon and Gold and the Pats: Jim Whalen.

Whalen went to high school at Cambridge Latin-now known as Cambridge Ringe. It was a school that had produced many fine athletes, including major league first baseman Eddie Waitkus, NFL back Vito Ananis, and Olympic high jumper John Thomas. Whelan starred on some Cambridge football teams in the late 50’s. He was recruited by Eagle coach Ernie Hefferle, who was dismissed after a subpar 1961 season.

Under the tutelege of Jim Miller, who came to BC in 1962 from UDetroit, the team flourished. From 1962 to 1965 they had a 26-12 mark and had wins over powers like Syracuse and Air Force. Starting at end, Whalen had 73 career receptions for 1230 yards and 11 TD’s, leading the team in catches in both 1963 and 64. His biggest catch may have been a TD reception in the final minutes of a 10-8 win over Holy Cross in 1964.”In those days,” Whalen recalls, “both BU and the Cross were huge rivalries”. Sadly, both schools are long gone from the BC schedule.

In the 1965 draft, Whalen was selected third by the Pats and fourth by the Minnesota Vikings, but decided to stay and play in his home town. The Pats coach was Holovak, who Whalen describes as “a nice gentleman, great to work with.” In a world where cursing is and was everywhere, Holovak’s strongest language is said to have been “gosh darn”.

The Pats under Holovak had been a strong factor in the AFL. After second place finishes in 1961 and 62, they defeated the Buffalo Bills in a playoff in 1963 to win the Eastern Division title. Though they were badly beaten by a superior San Diego team in the championship, they went on to a 10-3-1 mark in 1964, losing the deciding game for first place to the Bills in a snowstorm at Fenway Park.

1965 was Whalen’s rookie year, and though the team slipped to 4-8-2, Jim was third on the team with 22 receptions for 381 yards. Asked about his most memorable year with the Pats, Whelan replies simply “1966-Joe Namath.” In that season, an up and down one for the team, Whelan caught 29 passes for 502 yards and 4 TD’s.

The squad was led at qb by Babe Parilli, who in his last great season, threw for 2700 yards and 20 TD’s, and running back Jim Nance became the Pats’ first thousand yard rusher, gaining nearly 1500 with 11 touchdowns. Among the ups that year were a pair of victories over the Bills-20-10 in Buffalo and 14-3 at Fenway, but there were also downs, including a home loss to the hapless Denver Broncos and a tie and loss to Namath’s Jets. In the first game at Fenway, the Pats jumped to a 24-7 lead after three quarters, only to see Namath, in his second year in the league, throw for two scores in the fourth on the way to a disappointing 24-24 tie; some poor Patriots punts didn’t help.

Playing their last game of the season on a Saturday afternoon at Shea, the Pats needed only a win to clinch a spot in the AFL championship against Kansas City and a possible chance to represent the league in the first Super Bowl. The game began positively for the Pats- a drive that ended in a Parilli TD pass to Gino Cappelletti.

However, the Jets had three weapons the Patriots could not deal with- Namath and a pair of running backs named Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer. Sparked by these three, the Jets scored the next 24 points in the game. A TD catch by Whalen narrowed the gap a bit, but the Pats got no closer, falling 38-28. Namath-who claimed in a book that he was so drunk he remembered nothing he did in the game-threw for nearly 300 yards and Boozer and Snell combined for 45 carries and 241 yards. The Chiefs would play the Packers in the Super Bowl.

1966 marked the end of an up-era for the Pats. Increasing age of regulars and poor drafts brought a rapid drop in the team’s fortunes- 3-10-1in 1967 and 4-10 in 1968. Despite this, Whalen was second on the team in receptions in ’67 with 39 for 651 yards and was even better in ’68, leading the squad with 47 for 718 and 7 touchdowns. One catch in a Jets game went for 87 yards-one of the longest in team history.

The squad, however, was in deep decline and soon Holovak was fired. His successor was the ill-fated Clive Rush, and ’69 saw a sharp drop in Jim’s numbers-only 16 catches. New quarterback Mike Taliaferro apparently went to other receivers more often, such as first-round draft choice Ron Sellers and Charley Frazier.

In April 1970 Whalen was traded even-up to Denver for another tight end-Tom Beer. Ironically, Beer would go on to write a book about his days with the Pats and Broncos entitled Sunday’s Fools.

Whalen had one more good year in Denver, but then his numbers dropped again and he retired in the early 1970’s. Asked whether he keeps in touch with his former teammates, he answers “yes, I go to Gillette sometimes with my son and see some of the guys, though a number have passed away.”

Jim Whalen belongs to two Halls of Fame- Cambridge Ringe and Boston College. It’s too bad he and his teammates seem to be a bit forgotten. They provided lots of excitement for fans of the Boston Patriots.

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