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February 2, 2012

Haverhill helped put Pats on the map

HAVERHILL — As the New England Patriots seek another Super Bowl victory, the team emblem is everywhere — on T-shirts, hats, key chains, bumper stickers.

But there was a time when people knew little about the Patriots. Haverhill played a role in putting them on the map during the year of their birth — 1960.

With owner Robert Kraft's Patriots focused on Sunday's big game, some local people are recounting how 52 years ago they convinced then-owner Billy Sullivan to have his upstart Boston Patriots play in Haverhill Stadium.

It was the first time the Patriots played in uniform and in front of the public.

The year before, Sullivan of Lowell gathered a group of businessmen and scraped together $25,000 to secure the eighth and final franchise in the new American Football League, which formed to compete with the established National Football League. The two leagues would merge 10 years later.

"The newly formed league in 1960 was a gamble for the upstart new eight team owners who were known as 'The Foolish Club,'" Patriot historian Michael Paolino of Groveland wrote in a special report to The Eagle-Tribune Aug. 6, 2000.

In it, Paolino recalled the events that led to the link between Haverhill and the Patriots.

Lions Club lured Patriots to Haverhill

During the summer of 1960, the Haverhill Lions Club was raising money for an eye research program and came up with the idea to hold a charity football game involving the Patriots. William Miller, vice president of the Lions Club at the time, convinced his fellow members that such a game would benefit the club's charities and bring attention to the new Patriots organization.

The Lions Club promised Sullivan a packed house if his team would play a scrimmage involving its own players in Haverhill Stadium. It would be a night game — the best chance to attract a big crowd.

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