While almost all American professional sports teams have their devoted followers, certain franchises have elevated themselves to a legendary status that goes far beyond just the city they play in. In the world of MLB, you have teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The NBA has organizations like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and New York Knicks. Arguably the most iconic team in the NFL is the New England Patriots.
Spurred by their run of greatness behind quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have played themselves into the upper echelon of all-time great football teams. Yet, for a brief time in the 1990s, the Patriots almost ceased to exist altogether. Let’s take a look at the surprising story behind the New England Patriots and the team they almost became.
The Robert Kraft Patriots
The Patriots’ current owner is billionaire Robert Kraft. Kraft bought the franchise in 1994 for $172 million. At the time, that was the highest amount ever paid for an NFL team. Today, however, the team’s estimated value is a staggering $4.1 billion. If Kraft ever decides to sell the team, his investment will have delivered an almost unthinkable return.
In the 26 seasons since Kraft bought the team, the Patriots have failed to make the playoffs only five times. Not only did they become a perennial playoff team, but they brought home an impressive six Super Bowl victories. The Patriots also made it to the Super Bowl four additional times, only to come away with a loss.
In short, the Kraft-era Patriots have been outright dominant, establishing the franchise as one of the greatest of all time. Much of that success boils down to the incredible coach and quarterback tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Of course, management also did a stellar job of building a strong supporting cast year after year, thus empowering the greatness of both Belichick and Brady.
The team the Patriots almost became
The surprising story behind the Patriots is that all of this greatness almost never occurred. To understand why, we need to rewind to the time of James Orthwein, the Patriots’ owner just before Kraft. Orthwein purchased the Patriots from Victor Kiam in 1992. Orthwein’s goal was to move the franchise to St. Louis, changing the name of the team to the Stallions.
There was just one problem: the Patriots had a pre-existing lease tying them to Foxboro Stadium through the year 2001. In order for the team to move, that lease would have to be bought out, only the owner of the stadium refused to sell the lease for any price. As luck would have it, the owner of Foxboro Stadium just so happened to be Robert Kraft. Orthwein had no interest in holding onto the team until 2001, so instead, he sold it to Kraft.
How the Stallions would have shifted the entire NFL
The almost-relocation of the Patriots franchise to St. Louis ranks as one of the greatest sports what-ifs of all time. To begin with, if the Patriots had become the Stallions, then the Rams would have never gone to St. Louis. Instead, they might have ended up in Baltimore, Boston, or even stayed in Los Angeles.
Assuming the Rams would have moved to an east coast locale, the Raiders might very well have ended up staying in Los Angeles as the only NFL franchise, thus drastically shifting the entire west coast power dynamic. Meanwhile, if the Rams had ended up in Baltimore, the Browns likely would have stayed in Cleveland.
In that case, then-Browns coach Bill Belichick might never have been fired. And if Belichick never ended up going to the Stallions, then there’s a pretty good chance the franchise would never have selected Tom Brady. However it would have played out, it seems clear that the last 26 years of NFL history would have been drastically different if the Patriots had become the Stallions.