Last Thursday night's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals put a dark cloud over Patriots nation. The afternoon leading up to the game had plenty of sunshine marking a special day in Patriots history.
The organization formally inducted running back Jim Nance into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Also inducted as a contributor was founder William H. "Billy" Sullivan. The ceremony was held in front of The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon. Longtime Patriots radio play-by-play announcer Gil Santos emceed the event. Over 60 Patriots alumni were in attendance including both Sullivan's and Nance's families.
Jim Nance's daughter Rachel addressed the crowd on behalf of her father. Although she never had the opportunity to watch him play, fond memories of her youth and extended family help restore his legacy. She offered a "special thanks to the Kraft family" as their commitment to the franchise is "extraordinary and he [Jim] would be blown away." She believes her father had three equally important families. The Nance family, football family and fan family collectively molded the type of person he became.
He epitomized a people-person. Never saying no to a picture or autograph while respecting his fellow peers. He had the "greatest sense of humor you could imagine," according to friend Gino Cappelletti. "Professional, dedicated and a great smile," he added when asked to describe Nance in a few words.
He had a gritty and hard-nosed style on the field. A prototype running back, he played for the AFL's Boston Patriots from 1965-1971. After a difficult rookie campaign, 1966 was his coming out party. An All-Star selection, the AFL's Most Valuable Player award and 1,458-rush yards highlighted his accomplishments. His encore saw another All-Star selection a year later.
Syracuse University provided the platform to showcase his athletic abilities. Besides being a three-year starter and leading the Orangemen in rushing in 1964, he twice received All-America honors as a NCAA Championship heavyweight wrestler. Many believe his allusiveness on the mat helped finetune his football skills.
Patrick Sullivan spoke on his father's behalf. He opened by praising Jim Nance, saying his family has "a lot of pride in joining Jim" on being inducted adding his father would be proud.
Sullivan's respect for the game, especially in the New England area, was profoundly mentioned. He had a vision football could flourish. He sought a franchise that would be important to the people of New England, much like the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins. The prospect of having a team wasn't just to win games – but also a way for professional athletes to give back to the community.
Founding the Patriots and spearheading the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 was the focal point of his career. Under the surface however rested a family man at heart. "He was a kind, generous, thoughtful father," Patrick said. "He cried at my sisters wedding, laughed with joy at the birth of each of his 15 grandchildren who he adored, was immensely proud of the accomplishments of my three sisters."
Following graduation from Boston College in 1937, Sullivan began a career in sports writing. He worked as a publicity director at Boston College, Notre Dame and Boston Braves as well. He also served in the United States Navy.
After getting involved in business endeavors he pushed for a football franchise. At first, he was denied in launching a Boston-based team into the NFL. A year later, the eighth and final team for the AFL's inaugural 1960 season was awarded to Sullivan. That inception gave birth to the Patriots franchise.
A pioneer in raising the profile of the AFL, he helped negotiate a television agreement with broadcaster NBC and created the first player-pension plan. After the NFL-AFL merger, he changed the franchise's name from the Boston Patriots to the New England Patriots in 1971 based on the team's move to Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough. The Sullivan-led Patriots appeared in 1 AFL Championship game and one Super Bowl in 1986.
Sullivan and Nance joined Bruce Armstrong, Nick Buoniconti, Gino Cappelletti, Bob Dee, Steve Grogan, John Hannah, Michael Haynes, Jim Lee Hunt, Steve Nelson, Andre Tippett, Vito Parilli, Stanley Morgan and Ben Coates into the team's Hall of Fame.