"On time" and "under budget" were the key words during the topping off ceremony for CMGI Field Tuesday.
A crane hoisted a 5,670-pound steel beam into the upper northwest corner of the new stadium nearly a year to the day the project began. Decorated with an evergreen tree, an American flag and a Patriots flag, the beam signified that the skeleton of the structure is now complete. All 325 construction workers currently on the project signed the beam before it was raised.
Despite recent poor weather conditions, the project, which began last April 5, is moving along on schedule. Unlike most construction projects of this magnitude, the building of CMGI Field has hit no major snags and is on schedule to open for the 2002 season. Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and players Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy were on hand. The hard work and effort of the workers was not lost on Kraft.
"For a facility in America to be on time and under budget that is this complex really speaks to what all of you have done and the love and commitment that all of you have put into this job," Kraft said to the workers. "I thank you very much for that."
For Kraft, who is privately financing the $325 million project, the day was another major milestone for what is his personal crowning achievement.
"This is a very thrilling day for myself and my family, my son Jonathan and the rest of my boys," Kraft said. "To be able to be here after having sat in the stands for many decades, after having gone to all the different facilities, and to see this actually happen is special."
Tagliabue recalled the initiation of new stadium talks for the Patriots.
"More than 10 years ago I came up to Boston to talk about a new stadium for the Patriots and try to get something started," Tagliabue said. "At the time I remembered that it was written in one of the papers that I was a good man on a fool's errand. It turns out, I hope, that I was a good man on a good errand because what happens in the next 10 years is going to be an historic thing for the Patriots and for the fans."
Bledsoe, who recently signed a 10-year contract with New England, is the man counted on to carry the team to success in the new stadium. He was thoroughly excited by the progress of his future stomping grounds.
"This place is awesome, isn't it?" Bledsoe said. "This is the first time I've been inside of this thing, and I think it's going to be really cool. It's certainly a different feeling standing in the middle of this place as opposed to the middle of Foxboro Stadium. It's pretty awe-inspiring."
Milloy could barely hold his excitement at the prospects of playing in the state-of-the-art stadium.
"I can just imagine myself going out, salivating at the mouth and getting ready to hit somebody coming out of the other locker room," Milloy said. "The new locker rooms are going to be four times bigger than they are now, and they'll have Jacuzzis and everything. I'm just going to sit back and wait another year, be patient, and then come out and win a championship here."
The facilities at Foxboro Stadium are run down, to be polite, and Bledsoe laughed when recalling his first visit to the current stadium.
"It was a shock," Bledsoe said. "Our facilities (at Washington State) were below average in the Pac-10, and those were far better than what we have at Foxboro. People don't believe us when we say we dress in our pads and drive five minutes to an abandoned mental hospital for practice; then we come back and take cold showers, and our weight rooms are smaller than most high schools. It was really a shock to come here and see how poor the facilities were. Now we're going from the bottom to the very, very top."
The quarterback also noted that the new stadium would help attract better players to the organization.
In the past, we've had guys come in here, look at our facilities and they are looking for another place to go," Bledsoe said. "Now they'll come here and see one of the best facilities in the world. It'll be a big selling point for us as opposed to something that turns people off."
Now that the steelwork is finished for CMGI Field, the interior work will be worked on. Construction of all new parking lots and on-site roadways has begun, and by the end of the month the concourse levels, concession stands and bathrooms in the stadium will be complete.
As everyone waits for CMGI Field to open, Tagliabue left this thought for the future.
"What is being launched here is not just a new stadium, it's the home of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots sometime soon in this next decade," Tagliabue said. "Keep up the good work, and we'll be here for the kickoff of the 2002 season."