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Patriots, explained: Why are they called ‘Patriots’?

Our new series explores why the Patriots are the way they are.

Super Bowl XX Team Helmets Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The New England Patriots are one of the NFL’s most storied and successful franchises. Their more than six-decade history, however, is one of many ups and downs and stories worth taking a closer look at.

So, to get a better idea of this franchise’s identity our new offseason series explores the very foundation of this team. The idea is to explain how the Patriots became who they are today — one of the NFL’s model franchises.

Today, the series kicks off with a pretty basic question:

Why are they called “Patriots”?

On November 16, 1959, after an 11-year hiatus, professional football finally returned to the Northeast. Boston businessman Billy Sullivan won the bid to receive the eighth and final franchise of the newly formed American Football League.

The 44-year-old, who had previously failed to bring an NFL franchise to the city, started to build his team by hiring Mike Holovak as assistant coach and head scout and Ed McKeever as the club’s first general manager. Both Holovak and McKeever had previously worked at Boston College, Sullivan’s alma mater.

The new owner’s third hire would also have a connection back to Sullivan: Jack Grinold, who would go on to lead in the public relations department for the club’s first two seasons. Sullivan and Grinold knew each other through the Boston Braves, where Sullivan was serving as PR director and Grinold’s father as team doctor.

“I called up Mr. Sullivan and asked him if he needed anyone to do anything,” Grinold later recalled about joining the newly founded AFL franchise.

With his background in marketing, Sullivan knew that a catchy name for his new team was a must. He trusted Grinold to find one, but not without some publicity to go along with the search for the name. The team set up both a contest for fans to submit names for Boston’s new pro football franchise as well as an essay contest for school kids in which they argued what the new name should be.

The submissions ranged from Beantowners to Colonials, from Puritans to Braves. In the end, though, three finalists emerged: Minuteman, Bulls and — you guessed it — Patriots.

74 people submitted the latter and on February 20, 1960 the AFL’s final franchise officially received its name: Boston Patriots. As for the people suggesting that name, they receive free tickets for one of the team’s home games, according to historian Bob Hyldburg.

On the same day the name was made final, the organization also announced that its color scheme would be a fitting red, white and blue. Two months after the name and team colors were made public, the future logo was created: “Uniformed Patriot centering football” — colloquially known as Pat Patriot — by Worcester cartoonist Phil Bissell.

The team did not pick it as its official logo just yet, instead wearing a tricornered hat on its helmets in 1960. Pat Patriot was adopted for the 1961 season and would remain in place until 1993.

That’s a story for another time, however...