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LEEInks List: Most memorable Patriots preseason moments

08.12.10 at 6:48 am ET
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The Patriots take on the Saints Thursday in a matchup between arguably the greatest NFL franchise of the last decade and the reigning Super Bowl champions. Too bad very few of the stars from either of those teams will actually spend much time on the field, as second- and third-stringers will account for most of the downs played in this preseason game.

Ah yes, the hotly debated NFL preseason is upon us. There is a current movement afoot to shorten the preseason. However, that would devoid football fans of some great moments surrounding the NFL’s version of spring training. As this list of the greatest Patriots preseason moments will prove, there’s the good (opening of new stadiums, team debuts), the bad (horrible, sometimes career-ending injuries) and the down-right entertaining (players trying out new roles).

10. Flutie tries out as punt returner

Any individual who has ever seen Doug Flutie play the game of football, and there are many given the popularity of the “Hail Mary,” knows that he’s a highly entertaining player to watch on the gridiron. The Patriots were trying to find a way to get Flutie on the field when they tried the Heisman-winning quarterback as a punt returner during a game against the Bengals on Aug. 26, 1988. Those in attendance might remember the Boston College product muffing the only punt that came his way. Obviously, the role never stuck, and neither did Flutie in New England. He headed to Canada after the 1989 season.

9. Pats play Cowboys in Mexico City

The Patriots and Cowboys played in front of what was the second-largest crowd in NFL history at the time when the teams took the field on Aug. 17, 1998, in Mexico City for a preseason game that was called the American Bowl. One more time, the second-largest crowd in NFL history for a preseason game. That means it was pretty memorable to the 106,424 individuals in attendance at Azteca Stadium, but for those Pats fans at home, it was just another preseason game as the hometown team beat the ‘Boys, 21-3.

Drew Bledsoe made his debut along with Bill Parcells in 1993, but neither could save the team from a 5-11 season. (AP)

8. Parcells, Bledsoe make debut

Two of the biggest figures in Patriots history — Drew Bledsoe and Bill Parcells — made their debut on Aug. 7, 1993, in a preseason game in San Diego. Parcells had just come out of retirement to coach the Pats, and Bledsoe was playing in his first NFL game after being drafted first overall out of Washington State. Sounds like it would be a pretty memorable affair, right? Well, the game, a 13-7 loss to the Chargers, was rather forgettable. Bledsoe went on to win the starting gig out of the preseason, but the Patriots suffered through a 5-11 record in the regular season.

7. First game at Schaefer, Plunkett’s first home game with Pats

The Patriots finally moved out of Boston for good in 1971 and moved into what was then called Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro. (It was later changed to Sullivan Stadium and eventually Foxboro Stadium.) In the building’s debut on Aug. 15, 1971, a whopping 60,423 fans showed up not only to see the new digs but also first-overall pick Jim Plunkett. Some fans might remember concerns about the stadium’s plumbing leading up to its opener.

6. First game at Gillette

Sure, the Patriots have technically played more games in Foxboro Stadium than they have in Gillette Stadium, but ask anyone’s who has been in both stadiums and they’ll tell you the opening of Gillette on Aug. 17, 2002, should be seen as a bigger deal. The Gillette opening also gets the nod because the team was coming off its first-ever NFL title in Super Bowl XXXVI, so anticipation for another season of football was as high as it had ever been in New England. This would have been even higher on this list had the team decided to raise the Super Bowl banner on this day instead of on the regular season opener in September. By the way, the Patriots beat the Eagles 16-15 behind three field goals by Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri.

5.  Brady injures shoulder

Patriots fans already had enough to worry about concerning the health of star quarterback Tom Brady in the 2009 preseason. The three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was coming off major knee surgery and hadn’t played in any meaningful games in almost a year. So when 350-pound Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth pancaked Brady in the tune-up on Aug. 29, New England fans everywhere gasped and moaned, “Not again.” Brady was seen trying to loosen his shoulder during the rest of the game but didn’t play. Luckily for New England, it all worked out as he was able to start in the regular-season opener against the Bills two weeks later.

4. First game against an NFL opponent

First games are nice (as we’ll talk about later in this list), but back in the early 1960s, the Patriots were accomplishing all their firsts in the fledgling American Football League. That’s why the Patriots’ first game against an NFL opponent on Aug. 13, 1967, was so important. However, the Pats showed they weren’t quite up to snuff with those in the more established league as they fell, 33-3, to a Baltimore Colts team led by Johnny Unitas, who would go on to be named NFL MVP that season.

3. Injuries knock out three Pats for season

It was the last game of the preseason. The Patriots were looking forward to the regular season, when the games actually, you know, count for something. Unfortunately, the injuries also count for something, no matter when they occur. So, when the Patriots lost future Hall of Famer Andre Tippett along with Garin Veris and Ronnie Lippett for the season in 1989, it was a major blow. One season removed from a 9-7 record, the team went just 5-11.

2. First-ever home game

The Boston Patriots took on the AFL’s Dallas Texans, who later became the Kansas City Chiefs, in the team’s first-ever home game, at Harvard Stadium. The Patriots lost, 24-14, in front of 11,000 fans as they prepared off a 5-9 season in which they would they would go 3-4 at home.

1. Tatum’s hit on Stingley

There can be no debate as to the most memorable moment in Pats preseason history. It is without a doubt Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum’s malicious hit on wide receiver Darryl Stingley on Aug. 12, 1978. After Stingley crossed over the middle and missed a catch, Tatum plowed into him, putting his shoulder into the wide receiver’s helmet. Stingley broke two vertebrae in the collision and was forced to live out the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. Tatum never apologized to Stingley for his actions, nor did the pair ever speak before Stingley’s death in 2007. The hit was back in the news recently, when Tatum passed away last momth.

Read More: Bill Parcells, Doug Flutie, drew bledsoe, Jim Plunkett