What could have been: the Hartford Patriots

Following the franchise's first Super Bowl title, the New England Patriots celebrate by rolling down Capitol Ave. in floats before having a championship-style pep rally in Bushnell Park. Lawyer Milloy and Tom Brady serenade the raucous crowd by the State Capitol.

Does this scene sound familiar?

Well it shouldn't. But the aforementioned parade could very well have taken place in Hartford, Conn. instead of Boston in February of 2002.

Being a lifelong native of the Nutmeg State, with family roots in the Greater Boston area, the Patriots impending move to Connecticut in the late 1990's was a mixed bag of emotions. Although an agreement between John Rowland, the then-governor of Connecticut, and Patriots owner Bob Kraft was in place, obviously the deal never went down. And even with some fans in Connecticut holding a grudge against Kraft and the Patriots, the story has been forgotten amongst most Patriot fans.

It was 1998 and Kraft was looking for a new place to play as Foxboro Stadium was becoming the most dilapidated venue in the sport. After looking at stadium sites in Boston, suburban Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Hartford came calling with an offer. The plan was to have the Patriots play in a brand-new downtown stadium along the Connecticut River.

The project would kill two birds with one stone. An NFL team would help revitalize the city on the sports landscape. The Hartford Whalers of the NHL had moved to Carolina the year before, and the University of Connecticut's basketball teams were the only game in town. UConn's football team was preparing to make the move to Division 1-A and needed a stadium to fit the capacity requirements. The Patriots would also help revitalize the city as a whole and help Hartford economically in the long run.

Rowland, who by the way is now a convicted criminal, gave Kraft a sweet deal. The Pats wouldn't have to pay anything. The state would put all the money ($375 million) up front for the 68,000-seat stadium and only 10 percent of the profits would go back to Connecticut. The rest would go to Kraft. In late November, Kraft agreed to move the team to the Insurance Capital in time for the 2001 NFL season.

Hiccups led to the Patriots reconsidering. The site of the stadium was contaminated land and the NFL wasn't thrilled about losing the Boston market. Massachusetts gave Kraft enough monetary help to keep the team in Foxboro. The real truth behind the whole thing may be that Kraft, an incredibly smart businessman, may have used Connecticut as leverage to get what he wanted from Massachusetts. Can't knock him, it worked. And the business ploy is the reason why the Patriots stayed in the Boston area and why some people in Connecticut hate the Patriots. Although it worked out for the Patriots and Massachusetts in the end, it's easy for people in Connecticut to wonder what could have been.

Polls by local news stations still show that more than half the state are Patriots fans, although there is a very large New York Giant and Jet presence, especially in the southern and western part of Connecticut. UConn got its stadium. Rentschler Field opened in 2003 in East Hartford. For four years at UConn, I watched the Huskies play there instead of at the home of the Patriots. Today, more than a decade after the proposal, the city of Hartford isn't what you call prosperous. And aside from an AHL hockey team, no professional sports team calls the city home.

It's understandable for some people in the state to hold a grudge, but it's best to look on the bright side rather than keeping the prospect of Connecticut celebrating three Super Bowl titles in your head. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls as the New England Patriots. The Patriots not only represent Boston and the state of Massachusetts, but Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine as well. It's been that way since 1971 and will remain that way.

The late Mosi Tatupu said it best. Prior to Super Bowl XX, Tatupu talked about the importance of the Patriots to a whole region, saying that they not only play for Massachusetts, but for the other five states of New England as well.

And that includes Connecticut.