Connecticut Was Once an NFL Home State for 2 Miserable Years
Connecticut is a blip on the professional sports radar. Aside from the University of Connecticut, a dynasty in both men’s and women’s college hoops, its most lasting contribution to sports has been as the home base of ESPN. Other than that, the “Nutmeg State” has not hosted a major pro team since the NHL’s Hartford Whalers left for Raleigh, N.C. in 1997.
For two seasons, Connecticut also played host to an NFL team. Unfortunately, those were two seasons the New York Giants would love to forget.
The Giants become nomads
In 1973, the New York Giants were devoid of two things a football team needs to be successful — on-field talent and a home stadium.
Since 1956, the team had shared Yankee Stadium with the Yankees. During their time at the stadium, the Giants reached six NFL Championship Games and won the 1956 title over the Chicago Bears. By 1973, the days of glory had long passed for both the team and the field.
The Giants hadn’t reached the playoffs since the 1963 championship game, and worse yet, they would soon be homeless. At the end of baseball season, Yankee Stadium would undergo extensive renovations that would put it out of service until 1976. The Giants had a brand new stadium under construction in New Jersey, but it would not be ready until that same year.
The Giants played their first two home games of 1973 at Yankee Stadium, the last they would play there. They would play the rest of their 1973 home games and all of their 1974 home schedule at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn., 70 miles away.
The Yale experiment fails utterly
Simply put, the Yale Bowl was not an NFL-caliber stadium. Although it held over 70,000 seats, it lacked for basic amenities, such as on-site bathrooms.
“You had to leave the bowl to go to the bathroom,” said Rich Hanley, who worked as an usher at the stadium. “Basically, it was like a cattle trough. To find your way back to your seats was sure interesting because they were scattered outside of the bowl.”
Players found the Yale Bowl conditions just as unpleasant. At halftime, teams crammed into a tiny room underneath the stands which, according to the players, was roughly half the size of a typical NFL locker room.
New Haven was a two-hour drive from New York City, making gameday travel an ordeal. Making matters worse was the fact that the Giants traveled by bus to home games from their practice facility in Jersey City.
As we used to say, we were the only team in the NFL that had to travel through three states to play a home game, practicing in Jersey City and going from New Jersey to New York to Connecticut and then coming back under the cover of darkness.Pat Hughes, linebacker, New York Giants (1970-1976) — quoted by Newsday
The poor conditions most likely took their toll on the team’s on-field performance. Of their 12 games at the Yale Bowl, the Giants won only once, a 1973 game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Remarkably, the Dallas Cowboys and the then-Washington Redskins won more games (two) at the Yale Bowl than the stadium’s “home” team.
The Giants played their 1975 home slate at Shea Stadium, sharing it with the Jets, Yankees, and Mets. This was the last season the “New York” Giants played their home games within the state of New York.
The NFL almost returns to Connecticut
The Nutmeg State very nearly got a second lease on NFL life in the late 1990s — 40 miles away in Hartford.
When Robert Kraft purchased the New England Patriots in 1994, he inherited the problem of Foxboro Stadium, a stadium practically outdated from the moment it opened in 1971. However, Kraft had trouble securing funding from the state of Massachusetts for a new stadium in Foxborough.
In November 1998, Governor Mark Rowland handed Kraft a deal too good to pass up. The stadium in Hartford, estimated to cost $374 million, would be entirely funded by the state. But there was a problem — Hartford’s NFL stadium would require clearing or moving a nearby steam plant. It would take $100 million and at least a year – possibly three – to clear the coal tar from the site.
At the last moment, in April 1999, Kraft reached an agreement with the city of Foxborough and opted out of the Hartford deal. This led to the construction of what is now Gillette Stadium, which has been a fortress for the Patriots ever since.
“It’s now official…I am a New York Jets fan, now and probably forever,” said Rowland in a press conference, as quoted by Sports Illustrated.