Not many people know, but all of those Patriots and Red Sox championship banners almost ended up hanging from the upper deck of Norwood Stadium.
On April 1st, 1958 Boston newspapers first announced the plan for a sports Stadium in Norwood.
The idea came from Lowell Massachusetts born Billy Sullivan, a business man with sports in his blood. When he was young his father had been a correspondent for the Boston Globe and Billy grew up to become a sports writer and publicity director for Notre Dame, Boston College and the Boston Braves baseball team. He later got into the oil business and was a key supporter of the Jimmy Fund in it’s early years.
In 1958 (50 years before Patriot Place), Billy Sullivan came up with an idea to build a Stadium complex in suburban Norwood Massachusetts, 14 miles South of Boston.
Located halfway between Boston and Providence, Norwood was a great location.
The $10 million, 165 acre Norwood Stadium project would have included the largest swimming pool in New England, 102 motel rooms, 180 office spaces, 104 bowling alleys (with two specially designed for television broadcasting of events), a restaurant capable of making 1000 meals a day, 96 executive roof boxes with air conditioning, and 7500 box seats.
A study was made about building a retractable roof for Norwood Stadium (3 years before the first roof of this type was actually built at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh) but all the cost estimates put the roof out of reach.
The Red Sox immediately released a statement that they were happy in Fenway Park and didn’t want to move. After general manager Joe Cronin had an unscheduled meeting at City Hall with Boston Mayor John Hynes, the mayor’s office revealed that the Sox and the city had agreed that they would explore every option available to alleviate the parking problem around Fenway, which was the main reason most people wanted the park relocated in the first place.
With the Red Sox resisting a move, Sullivan approached the Philadelphia Phillies with a proposal to play 21 of it’s home games in Norwood Stadium the following season. They also declined.
Sullivan saw the possibility to use the stadium for other events like bowling tournaments and championship boxing, but what he really wanted was an NFL team to share Norwood Stadium with the Red Sox, packing sports fans into his sports complex most of the year.
NFL commissioner Bert Bell was impressed with the Norwood Stadium plans and after a few meetings with Sullivan, agreed that the next franchise would be a Boston team based in Norwood. But Bert Bell died in the fall, and another of Sullivan’s supporters, Giants owned Tim Mara passed away soon after. With hope now fading for an NFL franchise, Sullivan turned to the upstart American Football League (AFL) to make his football dream a reality.
Sullivan happily paid the $25,000 franchise fee and was awarded an AFL team on November 16, 1959. On February 17th 1960, they were officially named the “Boston Patriots”, not a great sign for the Norwood Stadium backers. At that time, all of the other 7 AFL teams had stadiums to play in, and before long the pressure started to build to find a place for the new Boston team to play for their inaugural season.
On April 2,1960 Sullivan announced that Boston University had agreed to let the Patriots play rent free on B.U. Field for 2 years. Proponents of Norwood Stadium still had hope that if they could get the project started, they could convince Sullivan to move to Norwood for the 1963 season.
In 1963, a deal was struck for the Patriots to play at Fenway, where they stayed for 5 years. Norwood Stadium was all but dead.
After two single season stints at Harvard Stadium and Boston College’s Alumni Stadium, the Boston Patriots finally found a permanent home in Foxboro in the $7.1 million Schaefer Stadium in 1971. With the move out of the city, the team requested to change their name to the “Bay State Patriots” but were denied by the league. Finally, n March 22, 1971 they finally became the New England Patriots.
The Foxboro based New England Patriots have been the most dominant team in the NFL over the last 20 years, with 6 Superbowl wins. It makes me wonder – how many of these banners could have been hanging in Norwood Stadium today?