Does boston have a football team ? The dominance of professional sports in Boston — combined with spiraling costs, poor attendance and changing campus demographics — claimed the lives of two once popular collegiate football programs.
By a vote of its Board of Trustees on Oct. 25, 1997, Boston University chose to eliminate football from its athletic programs during its 91st season.
The power behind the push to jettison football was BU chancellor John Silber, a cantankerous, unpopular administrator who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1990 and was the subject of a Mike Wallace expose on 60 Minutes.
BU athletic director Gary Strickler had little to fight back with and Silber got his way on all BU matters. No athletic director wants a euthanized football program on his or her resume, but Stickler had no choice but to carry out Silber’s diktats.
“When it came to John Silber, it didn’t matter what you thought,” said former BU Sports Information Director Ed Carpenter.
“There was certainly the feeling of ‘why are we dropping football?’ But Silber said he was not going to give it money and it was a drain financially and that’s what happened.”
The BU program had a $3 million budget and was operating at a deficit, which made eliminating football a “business” decision that did not involve Title IX.
The vote took place following a 28-7 loss to crosstown rival Northeastern with 2,025 fans in attendance at Nickerson Field, which was once the home of the National League’s Boston Braves. BU’s only win in 1997 was a 33-8 thrashing of UMass in the season finale.
“I was at games that year and one of my jobs was to announce the attendance and I tended to inflate it and add a few thousand,” said Carpenter.
“During the game they called from downstairs and they said ‘this is the attendance and this is what you are going to announce and not one person more.’ That’s when I knew something was going on.”
Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby faced a greater degree of blowback when the football program was cancelled at the conclusion of the 2009 season. The NU Board of Trustees, with Roby’s backing, voted to eliminate football after a 72-year run.
The program’s annual budget of $4 million was not enough to be competitive in CAA while the need to upgrade Parsons Field, an off-campus facility located in a leafy Brookline neighborhood, was not worth the investment. Parsons Field has since been converted into a state-of-the-art baseball facility.
“I recognize that this was certainly a decision that was not popular.” Roby told the New York Times after the vote. “I respect that and I respect the emotions that are in play.
“I just hope that people will respect the way in which we went about doing it in order to be as respectful and as appropriate as we could, even if they don’t agree with the decision, they will come to appreciate the process and the rationale.
“We tried not to make decisions solely on wins and losses. When you look across the landscape and the conference we are in and what people are committing to in the long term to be successful. You have to ask yourself ‘are you prepared to match that level of investment?’ ”
BU and Northeastern are best known for their men’s and women’s hockey and basketball programs, which have enjoyed regional and national success since the elimination of football from campus.
Football Returns, Unofficially
It’s been 13 years since Boston University students have had a chance to experience what has become an autumn ritual on many campuses: cheering on their classmates at a football game.
But this weekend, gridiron fans have something to cheer about.
The Boston Terriers Football Club, BU’s new unofficial football team, plays its first home game, against the University of Maine Football Club, on Sunday, October 3, at MIT’s Henry G. Steinbrenner Stadium.
The football club, in its inaugural season, operates as a limited liability corporation unaffiliated with BU. It plays in the Yankee Collegiate Football Conference, a new college-level offshoot of the New England Football League (NEFL). The Boston Terriers Football Club marks the first organized football movement at BU since the University’s official football program was disbanded in 1997 for financial reasons.
Anthony Morgante (SMG’87), the team’s head coach, founded the team with Nikki Bruner (SHA’13, SMG’13), now president of the club, after she answered an ad he placed in the Daily Free Press last fall looking for help with a local sports team.
Morgante, an avid pigskin fan who played and coached in the NEFL, wanted to see football return to BU. “Practically every high school in the country can field a football team—could it really be impossible for a school with 30,000 students?” he asks.
The work of launching a team began a year ago. Morgante and Bruner first started a Facebook page and quickly attracted more than 1,600 followers. Last spring they began recruiting players, setting up informational meetings, and holding tryouts. The team now has 30 BU male students, as well as a staff of student interns, including a sports journalist and a videographer.
Starting quarterbackJoe Tiano (CGS’11) has high hopes for the season. “I feel we have both the heart and the talent to have a winning record and compete for a playoff spot,” the Massachusetts native says. “I would like to see our efforts translate to an official affiliation with the school and for us to become a positive addition to campus life here at BU.”
This Sunday is the team’s first home game, but its second game of the season. Last week the Boston Terriers beat the Northeastern Connecticut Warriors, a club team of Eastern Connecticut State University students, 18-8.
Because of limited space on campus, the club practices at Sartori Stadium, a turf field near Logan International Airport in East Boston.
Bruner hopes the club will soon become a mainstay on campus. “We’re trying to get students to feel as if we’re their team,” she says.
How a bad decision cost Boston (and New England) an NFL franchise long before the New England Patriots.
Long before the New England Patriots or even the Boston Patriots franchise existed, there was another NFL team in Boston (actually two, but this deals with only one of them). This is a bit of a historical perspective of what might have been, actually could have been for pro football in Boston.
From 1932 to 1936 Boston had a team in the National Football League. Yes, that National Football League. In 1932 they were called the Boston Braves. Sound familiar? Maybe not.
Moving the team and a legend to Washington
But that’s not the whole story. The “best” is yet to come. So Marshall arranged to take the team to Washington in 1937 and, yes, they have kept the name Redskins to this day. But that’s not the worst of the story.
In the 1937 NFL draft, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history was actually drafted by the Boston Redskins, who were on their way to Washington. It was slinging Sammy Baugh. Oh, what might have been …
How does this sound? Baugh led the Washington Redskins to win the NFL Championship in 1937 and 1942 and was named NFL Player of the Year by the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club in 1947 and 1948 for his play. In both of his Player of the Year seasons, he led the league in completions, attempts, completion percentage, and yards.
That’s right, Baugh led the Redskins to a Championship, in his rookie year! He played 16 years for Washington, and all of those great seasons could have been in Boston.
Baugh was not only one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, he was one of the greatest players. So if Marshall had waited for another year to move the team, the entire history of Boston football, Washington football, and the history of the NFL might have changed.
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