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Book Review: The Complete Illustrated History of the New England Patriots (the 70s and 80s)

The 70s and 80s were a turbulent time for Patriots fans, according to Christopher Price's book (photo provided by Quayside Publishing Group)

By the time the Complete Illustrated History of the New England Patriots reaches the 1970s and 80s, Patriots fans naturally begin appreciating Bob Kraft.

Its a phenomenon.  Just reading about what the Sullivans did to Patriots fans during that period make us excited for next week’s game to look up and see the familiar face that built Gillette Stadium.  Christopher Price, the official scribe of the New England Patriots, gives detailed anecdotes of the ups and downs of this turbulent era in Foxborough that shaped today’s Patriots’ fan base.

Price’s account of this era shows a team that broke NFL records for rushing and scoring, showcased the best tackle-guard combination to ever play together in the NFL, and saw the Patriots play in their very first Super Bowl in league history.

This era also saw heartbreaking season endings, such as the ironic loss to the Raiders that came on a bad call (thank God for the tuck rule), a number of late-season collapses, and saw the Patriots on the losing end in one of the worst blow-outs in Super Bowl history.

Contributing to this mess was the Sullivan family, who acted more like children playing with their new toys rather than owners and general managers.  Price’s book details the adventures of owner Chuck Sullivan, who put up the New England Patriots franchise and Schaefer Stadium as collateral to help bankroll, promote and manage a Jackson family concert tour, which flopped and cost the franchise an estimated $20 million.  On top of that, general manager Pat Sullivan decided to pick a sideline fist fight with two Oakland Raiders players.  He later went on to to brag about it later and make the Patriots’ front office look like a frat house, which is exactly how the players treated it as a result.

In Price’s account of the Patriots during the 70s and 80s, readers are revealed to stories about the players that make ESPN’s short-lived “Playmakers” show seem legitimate.  As Pats fans were perennially let down, they also had to hear about a multi-player drug scandal, a mid-season domestic abuse case that involved a stabbing and a pregnant girlfriend, and a mysterious car accident involving a starting player while a game was going on (first-round pick wide receiver Irving Friar, the 80s Patriots’ version of Pacman Jones, played a role in every one of these issues).

Then there were the adventures with finding a long-term head coach for the Patriots.  The book details the roller-coaster ride the Patriots took under head coach Chuck Fairbanks, who was fired mid-season after taking another job, but brought back in after an blow-out loss in his absence.  After that, modern readers are introduced to his interim replacement, who the Sullivans decided was “too nice a guy” to remain head coach.  This preceded the controversial switch from Ron Meyer, who was fired with a winning regular season record because players didn’t agree with his Tom Coughlin coaching style, to Raymond Berry, who brought the Patriots to their first Super Bowl with a group of players that loved his Rex Ryan coaching style.

And that’s where it all came undone.  The Patriots seemed to let a good number of opportunities slip out of their hands under the Sullivan family’s management, which only lasted until 1988.  Price’s inside details, such as testimonies from players, personnel and officials from across the league, paint a picture that make readers comfortable with Bob Kraft at the helm when they consider how bad it could be.

After receiving a free copy of the book, I would like to inform everyone who reads this that Christopher Price will be holding book signings on November 27 at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham, Mass., as well as on December 4 at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough.

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