This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
Since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have arrived, the New England Patriots have enjoyed plenty of success in recent years. Three Super Bowl championships, five AFC conference championships, and complete dominance in the AFC East. (11 division titles.) But there was a time, before the hoodie, the model-marrying quarterback and owner Robert Kraft arrived on the scene, that the Patriots were one of the league’s biggest jokes.
That time would be 1990, when the Patriots were so horrible, there were persistent rumours of the franchise leaving the New England area for greener pastures. But then-owner Victor Kiam decided to keep the Patriots in Foxborough for the time being.
But that wasn’t the only problem Kiam had to deal with in 1990. In fact he had plenty of issues during his tenure in New England. None garnered bigger headlines though, than the lawsuit brought against Kiam and the Patriots by Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson. A day after the Patriots week 2 victory over the Indianapolis Colts (their only win of the season) Olson was interviewing players following a light workout session when a couple of players complained to general manager Pat Sullivan saying Olson was only there to check out the players coming out of the shower. While Sullivan saw nothing wrong with Olson’s behaviour several other players started to harass Olson. Tight end Zeke Mowatt disrobed and for lack of a better term played with himself. Running back Robert Perryman was doing the same thing behind Olson’s back while wide receiver Michael Timpson egged his idiotic teammates while making crude comments towards Olson.
When Olson complained about the experience to Kiam, calling the experience a “mind rape”, Kiam allegedly responded with class and dignity by calling her a “classic bitch.” Kiam denied using crude language in an apology in a Boston newspaper. He did admit to call her a “classy bitch.” Oh those 1990 Patriots. Such esteemed wordsmiths and progressive thinking gentlemen.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and ordered an investigation that was to be conducted by former Watergate scandal prosecutor Philip Heyman. When the report was released, it was revealed that Olson was ‘degraded and humiliated’ by the players. Mowatt was fined $12,500 while Perryman and Timpson were fined $5,000 each. The team was fined an additional $50,000 because management failed to act immediately.
When the report went public, Patriots fans did not treat Olson well. She was harassed by fans while covering games at Foxboro Stadium. Her tires were slashed, her apartment was robbed and she received hate mail including death threats from some Neanderthal Pats fans. Olson was transferred to Sydney, Australia by the Herald’s owner who owned two newspapers in Australia’s largest city.
The incident harmed the Patriots on the field as well. Granted, they were an awful team to begin with but the last thing they needed was a scandal that made headlines across the country which had women’s rights activists seething. But the team was horrid make no mistake about it. The next game after the Olson incident, the Patriots were throttled 41-7 by the Cincinnati Bengals. That started a 14-game losing streak that only ended because the season ended. That incident really helped the Patriots in being a horrible football team.
The biggest problem on the field for the Patriots was on offense. They couldn’t score if they were playing a junior high team. The Patriots averaged a mere 11.3 points per game. Homer Simpson’s IQ score is higher than that. (allegedly) One problem was instability at quarterback.
Marc Wilson was the only signal caller that appeared in all 16 games for the Patriots, but his numbers were uninspiring to say the least. The BYU grad completed 52.5% of his pass attempts for 1,625 yards, 6 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a QB rating of 61.6. It didn’t help Wilson that his throwing arm was weaker than Applebee’s “hot sauce”.
Tom Hodson started six games for the Pats, completing 54.5% of his pass attempts for 968 yards, 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions for a QB rating of 68.5.
Veteran Steve Grogan started the first four games for the Patriots that season, and was the quarterback of record in the Patriots lone win that season. But injuries forced Grogan to the sidelines and his eventual retirement at the end of the season.
Irving Fryar was the best offensive player on the Patriots in 1990, but because of the quarterback carousel, he didn’t put up huge numbers. The Nebraska product did lead the team with 54 receptions for 856 yards and 4 touchdowns, but he couldn’t produce anymore because he had little help.
The rest of the receiving corps featured luminaries such as Hart Lee Dykes (great name), Marv Cook (who was pretty good to be honest), Greg McMurtry, Cedric Jones, Eric Sievers and two of the manly men who paraded their shortcomings around Lisa Olson, Mowatt and Timpson. For the record, Mowatt recorded 6 receptions for 67 yards in 10 games for the Patriots. That is usually an average game for starting tight ends. Timpson registered 5 receptions for 91 yards in 5 games. Besides being complete douches around Olson, they were crappy football players. A double disaster.
The running game wasn’t very effective for the Patriots either. John Stephens led the team with 808 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Stephens averaged only 3.8 yards per carry ranking him 31st in the NFL. Part of the problem was the Patriots used the Air Coryell attack on offense which limited the amount of carries Stephens would have.
The Patriots also used Marvin Allen, George Adams, Mosi Tatupu and Perryman in the back field to little or no success. Perryman had 97 yards in 7 games in 1990, before he and his “mini-me” were shown the door. I’ve seen a 1981 Pontiac Acadian go further than Perryman did on the ground.
Defensively, the Patriots weren’t much better. The Patriots were second-last in points allowed, surrendering 446 points or an average of 27.8 points per game. Only the Cleveland Browns were worse.
Run defense was a massive problem. The Patriots had the worst run defense in 1990, as opponents bullied an average of 167.3 yards per game. The Patriots wouldn’t have stopped Rob Ford going into rehab at that rate.
The Pats best defensive players, Andre Tippett (who is deservedly in the Hall of Fame and merited respect for surviving with this group of yahoos), Maurice Hurst, Ronnie Lippett and Fred Marion were all better pass defenders. So offenses just ran the ball on most plays, passing only to keep the Patriots D honest.
For the most part, Patriots fans didn’t bother to show up at Foxboro Stadium. And why should they. The team was terrible, the stadium was old and antiquated and the weather was miserable. No day described the 1990 Patriots season better than December 15. A home game against Washington on a Saturday afternoon. This was the Patriots only appearance on national television that season and they showed the entire country what Patriot football was all about in 1990. The weather was brutal. Cold, snow and wind blew through Foxboro Stadium. Barely 20,000 people showed up as Washington easily defeated the hapless Pats 25-10. The next week was even worse as the Patriots suffered their worst loss of the season, a 42-7 shellacking at the hands of the New York Jets.
When the season mercifully ended, change was in order. The first casualty was head coach Rod Rust, who only lasted one season in New England. Rust was brought in as a defensive specialist but he found out rather quickly that the Patriots specialized in not playing defense.
GM Pat Sullivan was the next to go. Sullivan was a holdover from the days when his father, Billy Sullivan owned the team. But new ownership wanted to go in a different direction.
When these moves didn’t work and with the possibility of going bankrupt, Kiam decided to sell the team to James Orthwein in 1992. Orthwein planned to move the franchise to St. Louis but the NFL blocked the relocation. So Orthwein sold the team to Robert Kraft in 1994. Kraft brought stability to the franchise and the team slowly became a contender. When Kraft hired Bill Belichick in 2000 to coach the team, the Patriots were on the verge. Eleven years after the disastrous 1990 season, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl.
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