WELLESLEY, Mass., Feb. 23 -- William H. 'Billy' Sullivan, who brought what was to become the New England Patriots professional football team to Boston nearly 40 years ago, has died. Officials at the Doherty Funeral Home in Wellesley, Mass., confirmed today that Sullivan died Sunday night at his home in Florida at the age of 82.
A wake will be held Wednesday at the funeral home, with a funeral mass Thursday in St. Ignatius Church in Newton. A man of modest means, he survived against overwhelming odds to bring professional football to New England in 1959 when the team had no place to play. He survived the predictions that the franchise would fold in the team's inauspicious beginnings, which saw them play home games in Birmingham, Ala., and San Diego. He eventually moved the team to Foxboro in 1971 where they played in Sullivan Stadium, now known as Foxboro Stadium. Sullivan had first become interested in a sports franchise when he became involved in a proposal to build a 55,000 seat domed stadium in suburban Norwood to house the Boston Red Sox and a football team. But the deal, like so many others, collapsed and all Sullivan had to show at that time was a $6,000 stadium model in the attic of his Wellesley home. Then in 1959, using a borrowed $25,000, Sullivan was awarded the eighth and last entry in the fledgling American Football League. From 1961 to 1964, he served as the AFL's president and was instrumental in securing a $36 million TV contract insuring the league's survival. He also was on the committee that worked out the AFL-NFL merger in 1966. He eventually sold the team in 1988 to Victor Kiam. ---
Copyright 1998 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---