It's very fitting for the Patriots organization, especially in their 50th anniversary year, to induct the club's original owner, Billy Sullivan, into the team's hall of fame.
Sullivan, along with running back Jim Nance, will be inducted into the Pats Hall of Fame on Thursday before New England takes on the Cincinnati Bengals in preseason action at Gillette Stadium.
Nance, who was the 1966 AFL MVP, will be the team's 14th player and first running back inducted. In just his second season with the Patriots, he earned league MVP honors, leading the AFL and setting a franchise record with 1,458 yards rushing. In the 10-year history of the AFL, Nance was the only player to eclipse the 1,400-yard plateau and his 104.1 yards-per-game average that season remains a franchise record — 43 years later.
“I am glad that the fans selected Jim Nance for this honor," Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said of Nance. "Like so many others, he was one of the reasons I became a Patriots fan. He was an attraction. He brought fans to the games and that was very important in building a loyal fan base. Four decades later, we still have many season ticket holders who became fans of the Patriots in the 1960s because of players like Jim Nance. The fact that he still holds some prominent rushing records 38 years after his playing career speaks volumes.”
Sullivan will go into the Hall as its first contributor. William H. Sullivan Jr. was awarded the eighth and final AFL franchise in November of 1959. After spending the 1960s playing home games at Fenway Park, Boston University Field, Harvard Stadium and B.C. Alumni Stadium, the team moved into the newly-constructed Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough.
“Billy Sullivan made professional football a reality in New England," Kraft said. "We are celebrating the Patriots’ 50th season and all of the wonderful memories we have as fans of the Patriots, and without Billy Sullivan there are no Patriots. I hope this recognition will ensure that his contributions are never forgotten by Patriots fans.”
Five years after the new stadium was built, Sullivan became the team's majority owner after purchasing additional stock. A year later, Sullivan became the sole owner after buying the remaining stock and in 1983, the stadium was renamed Sullivan Stadium in his honor. Sullivan owned the team until 1988 when he sold the team to Victor Kiam.
Fans are encouraged to gather in Patriot Place Plaza at 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon with the ceremony to begin at approximately 4:15 p.m. Legendary Patriots radio voice Gil Santos will emcee the event, with nearly 60 Patriots alumni, including several Patriots Hall of Famers, in attendance.