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Patriots official born-on date: Nov. 22, 1959

William H. Sullivan, Jr.
William H. Sullivan, Jr.

As we planned to celebrate the Patriots 60th birthday this month, we found some discrepancies regarding which date should be used for the team’s official founding. The Patriots 2019 media guide lists Nov. 16, 1959 as that date. But further documentation led to some questions.

The Patriots Hall of Fame presented by Raytheon has a letter on display signed by American Football League representative Lamar Hunt and the Boston franchise’s ownership group representative William H. Sullivan, Jr., that is dated Nov. 18, 1959 and states that $25,000 has been received and deposited to the American Football League account and confirms that an AFL franchise has been awarded to Boston. Case closed, right? Not so fast.

Because the letter contradicted the media guide, we dived deeper into history. A peak at the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s website revealed a third date – Nov. 22, 1959, which is also a date commonly used in some history books as the team’s “birthday.” With three different dates now in hand, we reached out to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to see why it listed Nov. 22 as the founding date. A Pro Football Hall representative sent us a document with the minutes from the AFL owners’ meeting which began on Nov. 22, 1959 at the Hotel Nicollet in Minneapolis, Minn., and carried over into Nov. 23.

On Nov. 23, the AFL owners voted to admit Boston. Here is the section from those minutes regarding the vote:

“The Chairman then advised the meeting that an application for membership in the American Football League, accompanied by a certified check for $25,000 as required under the Constitution and By-Laws, has been filed by Mr. William H. Sullivan, Jr., who represents a group which is interested in bringing a major league football team to Boston, and that it would be appropriate at this time to act upon such application. After extended discussion, on motion duly made, seconded and unanimously carried, the representatives of the member clubs unanimously voted in favor of the admission of Boston to the American Football League and the granting of a franchise to the group represented by Mr. William H. Sullivan, Jr.”

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So now we had Nov. 16, Nov. 18, Nov. 22 and possibly Nov. 23? Wondering from where the Nov. 16 date emanated led us into The Hall archives to reference old media guides, which, in the early 1960s, included a section on the founding of the team. The date typically used was Nov. 22, 1959.

Inexplicably, the 1969-1971 media guides used Nov. 29, 1959 as the founding date – a fifth date that emerged out of nowhere. In 1972, the media guide listed Nov. 16, 1959, which seems to have survived the media guides from that point forward (we did not check every media guide between 1972 and 2019, but 1972 was the first that used Nov. 16 and that date was also listed in 2019).

We were not sure from where Nov 29 or Nov. 16 came. So we went back to our documentation.

We then called the Patriots legal department to discuss our dilemma, shared information regarding the documentation and asked for advice. That’s how we settled on Nov. 22, 1959.

Legal advised that the meeting that took place on Nov. 22-23 would serve as the official board-of-directors’ meeting and, even though the vote actually took place on Nov. 23, the official legal date of the meeting was Nov. 22. Since the board (the league representatives described in the minutes) voted at that meeting to accept the Boston franchise, Nov. 22, 1959 is the official and legal day of the team’s founding.

The team, later named the Patriots, played its first game on Sept. 9, 1960 and won its first game on Nov. 17, 1960 – 28-24 over the New York Titans at The Polo Grounds. Including the postseason, the Patriots have won 546 games as of Nov. 20, 2019 – more than any of the original eight AFL Teams.

In honor of the Patriots turning 60, the Patriots Hall of Fame presented by Raytheon has compiled a list of the team's Top 60 moments.

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