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Speaker Finneran's Fumble

Andrew J. Kim

The New England Patriots and the state of Connecticut signed a deal this past Thursday to move the Patriots a few hours south to Hartford in time for the 2001 NFL season. Boston joins an ever-growing list of cities that have lost beloved sports teams. Simply put, it's a crying shame for the proud folks of Beantown.

Let me start by saying that I'm not a native Bostonian, and therefore I'd have a hard time conjuring up fond memories of growing up watching the Patriots play every season. Nonetheless, I do have a home NFL team that I grew up watching, and it's hard for me to even imagine the angst of the people back home (including me) if the team suddenly decided to move to the state next door. Although the Patriots only have one foot out of the door right now, hard-core Patriots fans must face the reality that their beloved team only has two seasons and the remainder of this one left before the Patriots become someone else's team.

People in Connecticut are probably going to make the argument that they are just as entitled to have the New England Patriots as anyone else in the region. In reality, Bob Kraft, the owner of the team, is the first Patriots owner to forge a solid link between the team and the great city of Boston.

Since I've been in this area, it's always been the Boston Patriots if you ask me. People around here get pumped for every game, and the local sports bars that I walk past when there's a game are always packed. The local media obsesses about the team; take a peek at The Boston Globe on a Monday and the entire sports section is devoted to the Patriots. The few times I've listened to sports radio shows around here, caller after caller has griped about Bledsoe this, Parcells that.

The interesting question about the whole situation is what made Bob Kraft want to move his team away from a loyal, loving city? One might think that Connecticut must have enticed the Patriots with an offer they couldn't refuse.

The deal admittedly is nice; Connecticut featured a bipartisan deal including a Republican governor and a Democratic Speaker of the House that would revitalize an area in downtown Hartford to be known as Adriaen's Landing. The deal calls for Kraft to pay $50 million to own and operate a new hotel adjoining a planned convention center, $20 million to build and own an NFL entertainment center, and another $5 million for a downtown health center open to the public. In return, Connecticut would build a $265 million 68,000-seat open-air stadium with premium seats and luxury boxes, the hottest feature in new stadiums. In addition, the state would put in $90 million for infrastructure, parking, and transportation improvements around the stadium and Adriaen's Landing.

As enticing as the deal looks, the real reason Kraft is moving the team is because he simply has to. Foxboro Stadium, home of the Patriots, is substandard to the point that it is reputed as the worst stadium in the entire NFL. Kraft was looking for local support to keep the team in the Boston area and build a new stadium to which he was willing to put in $225 million.

All he requested from Massachusetts was subsidized infrastructure for the stadium. This proposal was more than reasonable, and the state Senate approved such a deal. Senate President Thomas Birmingham, D-Chelsea, says that he was surprised Kraft went for the deal considering it was very unfavorable compared to other deals cut by owners and cities across the nation.

The green light suddenly turned red when the plan reached the state House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran, D-Mattapan, who has reportedly called Bob Kraft a "whiny millionaire," didn't like the plan and single-handedly defeated it in the House that he controls. With this kind of warm reception from the folks back home, no wonder Bob Kraft decided to move his team. Basically, Finneran's unwelcoming words and actions chased the Patriots right out of the state.

It will be a sad day when the New England Patriots play their last game at Foxboro Stadium in front of a loyal crowd that has watched the team rise from mediocrity to a trip to the Super Bowl a few years ago. Critics might blame the pending move on another greedy, unreasonable professional sports team owner, but Bob Kraft is not to blame in this mess. Patriots fans should aim their blame at one Thomas Finneran. A few years from now, I hope he realizes that "you can't appreciate what you have until it's gone" the hard way.