Did You Know? – Football at Fenway Park

Though it may come as a surprise to some, Fenway Park has been the home of more than just baseball and the Boston Red Sox; not once, not twice, but professional football franchises have occupied Fenway Park three times in its 95 years of existence since the park opened in April of 1912 with an exhibition baseball game between its primary resident and Harvard University (the Red Sox prevailed, 2-0). Yes, in its storied past, the beautiful park has been transformed from a baseball diamond into a football gridiron, with goal posts standing before the bullpens and hash marks crossing through the infield, as the national pastime gave way to Sunday afternoon turf wars.

With the city awarded a National Football League (NFL) franchise in 1932, the Boston Braves took residence at Braves Field, the team taking the moniker of the baseball team with which it shared its season at home, in its first year of existence; the following season, owner George Preston Marshall moved the team across town to Fenway and changed its name to the Redskins. Unfortunately, the city showed little interest in football and attendance was poor, so much so that the 1936 NFL title game, which was scheduled to be played in Boston, was moved to the Polo Grounds in New York City. Ironically, the Redskins finished first in the NFL East division that season for the only time while in Boston and would lose in that title game to the Green Bay Packers, 21-6. The next year, the Redskins moved to Washington, DC, where they remain today.

The next team to play football at historic Fenway Park was the Yanks, the NFL’s second attempt to establish a Boston franchise; team owner Ted Collins picked the name “Yanks” because he originally wanted to have the team play at Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees. The franchise lasted five seasons in Boston but never caught on, likely due to the lack of success on the field; the team’s best record came in 1947 when they finished 4-7-1 in regular season play. Citing financial woes, Collins asked the league to fold the team in favor of a New York City franchise; that team would play three seasons in New York, first as the Bulldogs and then for two seasons as the Yanks. Collins would then sell the franchise to Giles Miller, who would move the franchise to Dallas for one season and watch the team go 1-11, the only win coming against George Halas and the Chicago Bears. Miller then sold the team back to the NFL, which awarded the franchise to Baltimore with Carroll Rosenbloom as the team’s new owner; that team would eventually become today’s Indiannapolis Colts, winners of Super Bowl XLI.

The last team other than the Red Sox to occupy Fenway Park was none other than the Boston Patriots, one of the original teams in the American Football League (AFL). After playing its first three seasons at Boston University’s Nickerson Field, the original site of Braves Field, the team moved to Fenway Park, where they played six seasons from 1963 through 1968. In its first season there, the team managed a record of 7-6-1, tying the Buffalo Bills for first place in the AFL East. Boston would win a one-game divisional playoff game against the Bills in Buffalo but then would lose the AFL championship against the Chargers in San Diego. The next season, the Patriots improved to 10-3-1 but finished out of the playoffs in second place behind Buffalo, which had gone 12-2. After another four seasons at Fenway Park, in which the team went 19-32-5, owner “Billy” Sullivan moved the team to Boston College’s Alumni Stadium. The team would play the 1969 season there, the 1970 season at Harvard Stadium, then finally took residence in Foxboro, MA, changing its name to the New England Patriots.

The ballpark has also been host to other teams as well, including the National League’s Boston Braves (known today as the Atlanta Braves), who played for a season there in 1914 while Braves Field was under construction; that “Miracle Braves” team eventually won the 1914 World Series, sweeping Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. The ballpark also hosted home football games for Boston College and Boston University; oddly enough, one-time BU All-American Harry Agganis quarterbacked more than a few games for the Terriers at Fenway Park before he eventually signed to play baseball with the Red Sox in 1952. Tragically, the Lynn, MA native would die just three years later at the age of 26 from a pulmonary embolism in the midst of the 1955 season.