Robert Kraft's purchase of the Patriots was years in the making before the deal was officially announced 29 years ago.
A longtime fan of the team, he strategically planned out the acquisition – parlaying an acquisition of the parking lots from original owner Billy Sullivan into a winning bid for Foxboro Stadium in bankruptcy court. It was a gamble, as the next two owners made plans to move the franchise to Jacksonville and St. Louis, respectively. But Kraft couldn't bear to see that happen, and finally purchased the third piece of the puzzle for a record $172 million – the most expensive price paid for a professional sports franchise to that point, before the 1994 season.
It sparked quite the outpour of excitement around the Patriots.
Almost 6,000 season tickets were sold the following day, February 26, 1994, with fans making the pilgrimage to Foxboro to wait in line despite a snowstorm. It set a single-day sales record for the franchise.
About 500 of those individuals remain season ticket members to this day, but no one could have anticipated what the next 29 years had in store.
Steven Medeiros had been a Patriots fan as long as he can remember, spending a lot of time at games here and there in his first years out of college. The 1985 Super Bowl loss to the Bears was heartbreaking but gave him hope for the future of the franchise, and the Krafts' acquisition almost a decade later intensified that excitement.
Medeiros: I was just so excited about the prospects at the time. You know, it was one of the first extravagances I bought -- I graduated from college in '91 and so a couple of years on the job, this was like one of the first treats that I guess I allowed myself. I was just excited about the team.
Medeiros was able to buy his tickets over the phone, but not everyone was as lucky with the influx of calls coming into the Patriots. Fans like Mark Lemieux and Mike Riu made the trek in the snow.
Riu: It was way before the internet and I couldn't get through on the phone. So I drove. I lived in Newton, so it was only like a half-hour away. My brother and I, starting in the late '80s when we graduated college, would go to five or six games a year. But we would buy tickets the Thursday before, and then when the Krafts bought the team we had a feeling that they were going to sell out. If we wanted to keep going to that many games, we'd have to have season tickets. There was a lot of excitement in the line with people kind of hoping that new ownership would take the franchise in a different direction than it had been the past few years.
Lemieux: You could sort of see how things were going to go with (Bill) Parcels and then you know, we were all hoping that Kraft would get the team and the land and all that stuff. So we decided we better do this now. Otherwise, we're not going to get in at all.
Don Noll had been a fan for a while too -- driving down to New Orleans to attend the Super Bowl against the Bears in his brand new 1985 Grand Prix with a pop-up trailer in tow. He and his friends didn't think much about new ownership or know anything about the Kraft family. He's impressed by how it all played out, though.
Noll: What they've done is amazing. What did they pay, like $172 million for the team? And now it's worth billions. I mean, they built a dynasty. What they've done to the stadium and the area down here, with their charitable foundation, it's amazing.
Noll and his wife, Janice, were pregnant during the Patriots' first Super Bowl campaign. She hoped to name their son Logan, but Noll wanted to pay homage to his favorite team and was insistent on either Drew or Brady.
Tom Brady leading New England to the club's first championship made the decision for them, and Brady Noll was born in March 2002. After the first three Super Bowls that Brady was too young to remember, the second wind in 2014, 2016, and 2018 rejuvenated the family's passion for the team.
Noll: I'd gone for so many years. I've seen everything. I've been to every Super Bowl, you know? I've done it all. But now my son, he's old enough, he's 20 now and he's been wanting to go the last five years. I took him to two Super Bowls. It's fun now again, I enjoy it.
Riu: I was hoping to have winning seasons. And we got much more than that. I mean, I lived through the 2-14 season and the No. 1 pick where we got Bledsoe, so it's a long, long cry from that.
Medeiros: I always hoped they'd make it back (to the Super Bowl after 1985), but I had no idea. I have kids that are 18 and 14, and it sort of makes me laugh, they've lived in an era where the team's been, you know, six Super Bowls, a quarterback that played for 20 years for the same team and went to the Super Bowl 10 times with six rings. You always hope for the best and want to see teams turn around, but on the day that I was buying the tickets, while it was full of hope and excitement about the team, I never imagined we'd see what we saw.
Lemieux: We are so lucky. I've been a sports fan since I was eight years old. I go back with the Patriots since Jim Nance and (Ray) 'Sugar Bear' Hamilton. Way back. You could never in a million years imagine the success. I think I've been to seven AFC Championship games, which if you think about it, it's just ridiculous. And now we're all a bunch of spoiled brats because now, you know?
Lemieux has been attending games since the '80s with his best friend, Dave Jenks, and they met their other two best friends in the parking lot while tailgating. He and Jenks bought a Winnebago some time back, and every home game, fill it with friends and family to make the pilgrimage from Walpole to Foxboro.
Lemieux: It's a great party. So now my kids all come up, my friends' kids all come to the game. So it's like the next generation of tailgaters. You couldn't imagine having as much fun as we've had.
Medeiros has similar memories, with love for the game passed from one generation to the next.
Medeiros: I brought my dad to a lot of games and we tailgated with the guys that were seated around us in the stands in the old stadium. My dad has passed away now. We were at the game against the Raiders in the snow, the Tuck Rule game, just times like that I look back and I was glad to be able to share that with him.
The fan that had the season tickets next to me was a guy from Rhode Island who was a navy vet, and my dad was a navy vet, and they became fast friends. That was the crew we would tailgate with every weekend, and as he grew older and my dad grew older, they weren't at games anymore, but it's one of his family members who are still using his seats. He's since passed too, but we all reminisce about old times. I think to myself, I've kind of known these people for almost 30 years now. I brought my son to his first football game. It's hard to try to encapsulate it into one or two or three distinct memories.
Riu's life has been even more entangled with the Patriots since he drove in the snow to buy tickets. He started working for the team in 1994 and still serves as the Kraft Group's Director of Application Services.
Riu: As luck would have it, I drove to the stadium to buy tickets. And then two months later, the Krafts had hired a CIO who I'd worked for before, he started recruiting me to come work here. In September, I went to my first season ticket holder game, and then a week later I started. I'm biased. Part of it is also working here, but I think it's been great to be a fan of what is probably the best-run organization in the NFL.