April 30: The Patriots’ Trickiest Play Ever: They Passed Before the First Kickoff

 

In 1998, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots pro football team, was seeking a new home for his franchise, which had outgrown their small and outdated stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

After failing to secure stadium deals in South Boston and then Rhode Island, Kraft set his sights on Connecticut. His quest for a new stadium coincided with Governor John Rowland’s dream to revitalize “Adriaen’s Landing,” the Hartford riverfront area south of the intersection of interstates 84 and 91. Rowland negotiated a ‘sweetheart deal’ with Kraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Patriot organization. Among other generous incentives, the development plans for Adriaen’s Landing were rearranged to focus on a new state-of-the-art Patriots stadium on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Governor John Rowland and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft stand next to an artist’s rendering of Adriaen’s Landing during a press conference in 1998.

An excited state legislature overwhelmingly approved the plan in late 1998. Connecticut was especially eager to regain a major national sports franchise following the departure of the NHL’s Hartford Whalers the year before. But on April 30, 1999, Kraft suddenly announced that he was pulling out of the deal to bring the Patriots to Hartford. Though he cited concern over construction delays as the official reason for breaking the deal, only four days later he announced that he had accepted a counteroffer from Massachusetts to build a brand new stadium for the Patriots in Foxborough.

The news came as a shock to Connecticans, many of whom suddenly saw Kraft as dealing in bad faith – conducting a cynical, underhanded manipulation of Connecticut’s politicians and sports fans to leverage a better stadium deal in Massachusetts. Although the broken deal didn’t hinder the ultimate development of Hartford’s riverfront, the New England Patriots stadium that never was remains one of the largest “what ifs” in Connecticut sports history.

Further Reading

Tim Rohan, “Hartford’s White Whale: How the Patriots Almost Became Connecticut’s Team,” Sports Illustrated

John Altavilla and Daniela Altimari, “Hartford Patriots? It Seemed Too Good To Be True,” Hartford Courant

Mark Davis, “Was Robert Kraft Ever Serious About Moving Patriots to Hartford?” wtnh.com