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Unforgettable thrill for young Patriots

Email|Print| Text size + By Wally Carew
January 20, 2008

A lot of young fans probably don't realize that our pro football team used to be called the Boston Patriots. And even the more informed fans probably can't recall where the team practiced its first season.

In that inaugural American Football League season of 1960, the team practiced at Emerson Playground in Concord and showered in the dark, musty, and downright creepy cellar of the Concord Armory on Everett Street.

How do I know? Because I was a junior and a starter on the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School football team that year. The school's nickname also is the Patriots, and we practiced on the same hallowed turf of Emerson Playground.

The playground is across the street from the armory, and the Patriots practiced in the left-field section of the baseball diamond, just inside a wire fence that enclosed the playground. Athletic Department employee Eddie Horne lined the outfield grass with lime between a set of goalposts.

There were three football fields and sets of goalposts on the playground, including the varsity game field where Concord High played its games. Led by legendary football coach Bernie Megin, Concord compiled a 59-game unbeaten streak, with one tie, from 1946 to 1952. That streak, incidentally, remains the state's longest. (The Acton-Boxborough Regional High School team had a 52-game winning streak, with no ties, from 2001 to 2005.)

The Patriots in those days were led by the team's founder, Billy Sullivan - oil man; crack publicist for Boston College, Notre Dame, and the old Boston Braves of the National League; and the best-known smiling and glad-handing local Irishman of his generation. Sullivan had big dreams, but limited finances. Still, he battled to get a pro football franchise in Boston.

One of his friends was Ed McCaffrey, the Concord postmaster and former Navy buddy of Richard Nixon. (How do you think he became postmaster?) McCaffrey arranged to have the Patriots practice in Concord for a token fee.

McCaffrey, a columnist for the local weekly newspaper, was a pretty fair country PR man himself. There were few people of importance he didn't know, and he convinced Concord officials that it would be good publicity for the town to have the modern-day pro football Patriots follow in the footsteps of the Revolutionary War Patriots.

What do I remember most about that special autumn in Concord 47 seasons ago? For one thing, security wasn't particularly tight around the armory.

I also remember that once the Patriots began practicing in Concord, scores of locals kids were soon parading around town in white Patriots practice jerseys. I had two of them myself.

On the field, my high school team had a better year than the Patriots. We finished the season by beating archrival Lexington, 30-6, on Thanksgiving Day to complete a 6-3 record. The Patriots, in their first season, ended up 5-9 under coach Lou Saban.

Looking back, it was a thrill for high school football players to share a field with a pro football team. We got a chance to interact with the pros, such as running back Jim "Cowboy" Crawford, who had played for the University of Wyoming.

How could I ever forget the names of the players from that long ago football season? On my high school team, the names were Francis, Taylor, McGrath, Windheim, Harris, Abbott, Grennan, Driscoll, Franz, and Donovan. The Patriots had names like Songin, Schwedes, Cappelletti, Lofton, O'Hanley, Cudzik, Garron, Dee, Burton, Bruney, and Sardisco.

Who would have thought, back then, that this fumbling, stumbling, short-on-cash, and talent-thin team would become the NFL powerhouse of the early 21st century?

Wally Carew is a Medford resident and author of "Men of Spirit, Men of Sports and A Farewell to Glory."

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