Billy Sullivan Jr., a Boston businessman with a strong sports promotional background, secured an American Football League franchise on November 22, 1959. In keeping with the New England heritage, the nickname "Patriots" was selected by a panel of Boston sportswriters in a contest to name the team. The Boston team was involved in two significant "firsts" in 1960. The Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills in the first AFL pre-season game on July 30. On September 9, the Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos 13-10 in the first-ever AFL regular-season game.
During the Patriots' first decade, finding a suitable playing home in the Boston area was almost as urgent as putting a competitive team on the field. The Patriots played at Boston University Field in 1960 and 1961 and at Harvard in 1962 and again in 1970. From 1963 to 1969, the Patriots played at Fenway Park, the Red Sox baseball stadium. Then in 1971, two significant things happened. The team changed its name to New England Patriots and moved to a new 60,764-seat stadium in the town of Foxboro, about 25 miles south of Boston.
In spite of their stadium problems, the Patriots were frequent contenders during their AFL days. Mike Holovak, who replaced Lou Saban midway into the 1961 season compiled a 53-47-9 record. His best season came in 1963, when the Patriots defeated Buffalo 26-8 in a playoff for the AFL Eastern crown. In the AFL championship game the next week, however, they lost to San Diego 51-10. Holovak had few stars to build a team around but Gino Cappelletti, the team's placekicker and ace wide receiver, became the AFL's all-time high scorer with 1,100 points, 252 coming on touchdown receptions and the remainder on kicking. Running Back Jim Nance won AFL rushing championships when he rushed for an AFL record 1,458 yards in 1966 and 1,216 yards in 1967.
Following a string of losing seasons after the AFL-NFL merger, the Patriots became serious contenders in the late 1970s. The 1976 Patriots finished 11-3 and just barely lost to the eventual-Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders in a first-round playoff game. They won the AFC Eastern championship in 1978 and wound up a close second in 1979. Raymond Berry took over the coaching reins in 1984 and led the Patriots to a 51-41-0 record the next five and a half years. Berry's 1985 team had an 11-5 record, earned a wild-card playoff berth and won three straight AFC playoff games on the road and advanced to Super Bowl XX, where the Patriots lost to the Chicago Bears. That game marked the final appearance of guard John Hannah, who in 1991 became the first Patriot to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In recent years, Patriots ownership has changed often, from Sullivan to Victor K. Kiam II in 1988, to James B. Orthwein in 1992 and finally to Robert Kraft in 1994. With the highly-regarded veteran coach Bill Parcells in charge and the successful stockpiling of quality talent through the NFL draft, the Patriots won the AFC Championship in 1996 and earned a trip to their second Super Bowl.
Then in 2001, with new coach Bill Belichick and surprise star quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots completed a miracle season, winning Super Bowl XXXVI after a 5-5 start.
Belichick and Brady again led the Patriots to a world championship as New England posted a 14-2 regular season records in 2003 and 2004, and marched through the playoffs. Both seasons were capped by thrilling victories in the Super Bowl.