Published in the April 3, 2018 edition.


WAKEFIELD — Jerry Thornton, author, comedian, talk show host and authority on all things Patriots explained to last week’s Sweetser Lecture audience why he wrote his 2016 book, “From Darkness to Dynasty: the first 40 years of the New England Patriots.”

“I always wanted to read this book and the universe was taking its sweet time getting around to it,” Thornton told those who packed The Savings Bank Theatre for the opening lecture of the 2018 Sweetser Series.

He noted that the New England Patriots of the 21st century “have dominated not only on the field but off the field,” as “Deflategate” became not just a sports story, but one that led the national newscasts for two weeks.

“This book is not about those Patriots,” he explained. “This book is about the Patriots that were completely irrelevant.”

It’s true. “From Darkness to Dynasty,” covers the mostly hapless team that for the first four decades of its existence was known not-so-affectionately as the “Patsies.”

The Patriots of Thornton’s book were a team whose lewd locker room behavior would drive former Boston Herald sportswriter Lisa Olson not just out of Boston, but off the continent, all the way to Australia.

This was the team founded by Billy Sullivan in 1960 as the Boston Patriots. It was a team, Thornton explained, that for the first decade of its existence didn’t even have a stadium, playing its home games at Boston College, Harvard, Boston University and Fenway Park before finally getting a permanent home in Foxboro named after a third-rate beer.

Thornton told the story of how when construction of Schaefer Stadium was completed in 1971, the toilets didn’t work properly, leaving backed-up raw sewage everywhere. The local Board of Health said they wouldn’t allow the stadium to open until ownership demonstrated that the plumbing was fixed.

So, management scrambled to get the work done, according to Thornton, and then recruited everybody they could find, including front office people, secretaries and sportswriters. On a signal blasted from the PA system, they all ran into the restrooms and flushed as many toilets and urinals as they could.

After a late 1980s Patriots team somehow managed to make the playoffs, Thornton recounted, celebrating fans tore down the Shaeffer Stadium goalposts. But they didn’t just leave them on the field. Intoxicated with victory, among other things, the fans carried the goalposts off the field, out of the stadium and down Route 1, where two of the revelers got electrocuted when the metal posts came in contact with overhead transmission wires. The men survived, Thornton recalled, sued the Patriots, and won.

That same year’s playoff run, Thornton, related, didn’t bring out the best in the Patriots’ star wide receiver Irving Fryar.

“Fryar was, to put it kindly, ‘troubled,’” Thornton writes in is book. “Or to put it more accurately, ‘trouble.’” Thornton told the Sweetser audience that on the eve of a playoff game in Miami (remember “Squish the Fish?), it was revealed that the Patriots’ marquee wide receiver had severely cut his right hand.

“Fryar claimed that he had cut himself at home while putting a kitchen knife away,” Thornton said. But there were a few problems with that story. They included, Thornton recalled, several people who witnessed the reaction of Fryar’s pregnant wife when the player told her over dinner at a Boston restaurant that he had no intention of taking her on the trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The ensuing screaming match turned physical and Fryar wound up getting stabbed in the hand by his wife.

Thornton said that for this book, he “wanted to focus on the fun and dysfunction” of the Patriots team that he knew and loved growing up, before they became the most dominant force in sports. He explained that he wrote the book “for guys like my son, who have no idea how bad it used to be.” He said that he wanted “guys like that to understand why we are the way we are. We appreciate it more because of all the weirdness and failure.”

After his talk, Thornton stayed around and took lots of questions from the Sweetser crowd. Thornton called reports of a “feud” between Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Bellichick and quarterback Tom Brady “overblown.”

“Because it’s the Patriots, everything is magnified,” he said. “Any story about the Patriots gets blown way out of proportion.”