Connecticut was an interesting case study in fan loyalty this past Super Bowl. The New York Giants certainly have their fair share of fans in our state, even if many can’t remember the two seasons the team played at the Yale Bowl in the early 1970s. Up until the mid 90s, Channel 3 carried NFC games and we were known as the “Giants” station, which helped the Giants build a fan base here.
Being that this is New England, the Patriots also have a number of fans across Connecticut, but there is also a decent block of people who could never root for the team because of what happened 13 years ago. Some Patriots fans even became Giants or Jets fans because they felt misled and mistreated.
It was almost unbelievable when it was first announced in the fall of 1998: the New England Patriots were thinking of moving to Hartford. Sure, there had been flirtations with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers https://dennishouse.tv/2013/01/31/flashback-another-team-flirts-with-connecticut-the-hartford-buccaneers/ and Los Angeles Rams https://dennishouse.tv/2011/10/27/flashback-the-connecticut-rams/ but this was serious. Coming just over a year after the Hartford Whalers skated out of town, leaving us a minor league state, people embraced a Patriots move without hesitation and with open arms.
It was a big deal and a big story and we all know how it ended. The sad chapter was talked about quite a bit during the recent buildup to the Super Bowl. Most people were grumbling that they believe Patriots owner Robert Kraft was less than honest and strung Connecticut taxpayers along, never intending to move the team here, even though the state legislature and then Governor John Rowland offered the team the deal of a lifetime. Some blame the state, arguing Kraft was able to kill the deal because the state announced construction of a new stadium would be delayed.
In this week’s Face the State Flashback, we take you back to December 14, 1998, when Eyewitness News brought you a Patriots special, titled “A Conversation with the Krafts.” In it you’ll see Jeffrey Cole, the former moderator of Face the State now reporting in Philadelphia, Joe Tessitore, now with ESPN, and Eric Clemons, now with CTN. Along with me, we interviewed Robert Kraft and son Jonathan, and you’ll hear them talk about moving the team to Hartford.
As you watch the interview, let me know what you think the Krafts were thinking.
Thirteen years later the legacy of the Patriots debacle still hangs over Connecticut. Hartford never again was pursued by an NFL team, and no doubt Kraft would block any attempt by any possible suitor. The collapse of the Patriots deal has also inhibited lawmakers and business leaders from making an all out effort to restore a major league sports team to the capital city. No one wants to get burned again, even if we are the biggest television market in the country without a professional team. Within a two year period, Connecticut twice showed its commitment to big league sports, with a big season ticket drive to save the Whalers in 1997, and again with the Patriots a year later. So many people signed up for season tickets for there was actually a waiting list. Despite those efforts and impressive shows of support, fans were left empty-handed.
You can watch the entire Flashback this Sunday morning at 11AM, only on Channel 3. UPDATE: here is the video that aired February 12, 2012