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Pat Patriot and Phil Bissell
When Borge puts aside his bias, he's actually a good writer. Here's an article about Pat Patriot creator Phil Bissell.
BTW, I was at the game in '79 where the fans voted on a logo change (although I had thought it was '78
). To say the vote was overwhelming would be an understatement.
‘Pat Patriot’ creator and his ‘son’ happily get back in the game
By Ron Borges
Sunday, July 5, 2009
CARTOON CORNER-- Who knew?
Certainly Pat Patriot’s Pa didn’t. Not, at least, until he stumbled across an item on eBay last year. Only then did the true value of the artistic offspring become clear to its creator, well-known New England sports cartoonist Phil Bissell.
One can speculate endlessly about the value of a deftly drawn cartoon that becomes, through happenstance, sleight of hand and a touch of malfeasance, the logo of a football team destined for many things -- some good and some not. But how does one put a value on someone like Pat Patriot, for so many years the staunch symbol of a star-crossed team and arguably the greatest team logo in the history of sports?
Well, Bissell found out one stormy morning sitting in his home art studio down in the basement of Cartoon Corner, a wholly-owned (by Bissell) subsidiary of Rockport, which is the kind of town you think about when you think about New England -- just as Pat Patriot was the kind of guy you thought about when you thought about the Patriots until Tom Brady came along and left you with better memories of Foxboro in wintertime.
There it was on his computer screen, just like at the hardware store: True Value. It was a picture of the drawing Bissell sketched in about 45 minutes 50 years ago when his then-boss, Globe sports editor Jerry Nason, told him there was a new pro football team in town and he wanted a drawing that would bring home what the team was all about.
On eBay, a seller was claiming to have “a framed, authentic, signed original of the announcement and official logo ’Pat the Patriot’ for the Boston Patriots.” The seller said he’d gotten it from the creator himself “after completing some work for Mr. Phil Bissell.”
Asking price? How about $99,500?
“I couldn’t believe it,” Bissell said 18 months later, a touch of incredulity still lacing his voice. “I tried to find out who put it up (for sale), but eBay wouldn’t tell me. I don’t think it sold.”
Actually, over the years leading up to this season’s 50th anniversary of Pat Patriot’s birth, it sold plenty. It sold on T-shirts, jackets, sweaters, caps, helmets, ashtrays, stationery, decks of cards ... anywhere you could put Pat, which was everywhere for a long time.
This of course, made Phil Bissell a wealthy man.
As luck would have it, Phil Bissell had been looking at some photographs of Boston College football players the day Nason told him he wanted a cartoon for an upstart team from an upstart league, and his eye settled on a lineman. From there Bissell’s creativity, which remains abundant to this day, took over and Pat Patriot was quickly born, a 45-minute gestation period before he popped out of the end of Bissell’s ink pen as a Minuteman in full uniform snapping a football with a puckish Irish face while snorting, Now to make some history around here!!
Tucked away behind Pat and to his left stood a leprechaun with a pipe saying ’Tis a foine name PATriots.
Bissell didn’t think anything more of it.
“It was a day’s work for a day’s pay,” the 83-year-old sprightly father of Pat Patriot recalled. “That’s all. Then Pat was abducted.”
Nason, doing what editors too often do, took the work for his own and handed it over to Billy Sullivan, founder and owner of the American Football League team. Sullivan, whose new team had been named via a contest that he judged, put the framed logo on the wall of his home. Soon after, the story goes, he was looking at various logos when his then 8-year-old son Pat, who would later become the feisty general manager of the franchise’s first Super Bowl team in 1985, walked in to say goodnight. The father asked the son which of the many logos he liked best.
Pat said, “The one on the wall.”
Unbeknownst to Bissell, Nason had taken his Pat Patriot and told Sullivan, according to the artist, he could use it as the team’s logo “as a means of gaining personal favor.”
“He had been abducted by the sports editor, locked up in his office filing cabinet and then in the dark of night, whisked away to a new life,” Bissell writes in a developing manuscript and compilation of his artwork. “I didn’t know my baby had been kidnapped until the abductor (Nason) stopped by my desk on his way home one night and with his usual curled lip, reserved for me alone, said, ’Don’t get shook up when you read your name in my column tomorrow.’ And then proceeded to pull his cape over his face and slink slowly out the door.”
The first Bissell knew that Pat had become the logo of the Boston Patriots [team stats] was when he saw the headline in the Globe. A few days later, Billy Sullivan called to thank him and Bissell informed him he’d never agreed to any such thing. Thus began a friendship that would endure until Sullivan’s death in 1998.
“Billy asked me to come to his office the next day,” Bissell said. “I told him what happened. He said, ’We don’t do business like the Globe, Phil,’ and wrote me a check for a hundred bucks for the right to use it for a year.
“After that they gave me a royalty deal for 20 years based on that $100, but when they merged with the NFL that went out the window. I did become sort of the team cartoonist though. I did all the program covers and art for stories inside until NFL Properties took over to try and fill their coffers.”
A change of face
The first effort at abandonment of Pat Patriot came in 1971 when the team, believed to be under pressure from NFL Properties, started a search for Pat Patriot’s replacement. An artist was, according to Bissell, paid $30,000 to come up with a new logo. Drawings of Pat and his new rival were put in the two end zones before an exhibition game on Aug. 24, 1979, with 60,916 people in the stands and WHDH radio personality Jess Cain asking the crowd to cheer for each with an applause meter measuring the reception. The proposed logo, which coincidentally looked much like the flying Elvis that finally supplanted Pat in 1993, barely moved the arrow.
Pat Patriot? Off the charts.
“He won, but the NFL kept changing his face and his hands,” Bissell groused. “They gave him a terrible facelift. They said he was too tough a guy. They tried to make him look like Mickey Mouse. Pat was a worker and his hands showed it. They straightened them out.
“My Pat was like the people in New England. He toiled to get where he was. I wanted a surly guy, a real tough nut but a down-to-earth guy with a little Irish in him.”
As it’s turned out, Bissell was right about Pat. Although the flying Elvis that Los Angeles-based Everson Design Group produced in 1993 for $12,000 adorns the helmets and other paraphernalia of the three-time Super Bowl champions today, Pat Patriot has been resurrected. Actually, freed from exile would be more like it.
His creator, who made next to nothing off Pat, is also back, having been hired to draw the cover art for this season’s game programs as well as the media guide in honor of the team’s and AFL’s 50th anniversary. In observance, the NFL has christened a number of “Legacy” games and, thus, the return of throwback AFL uniforms ... and Pat Patriot. Predictably Bissell’s covers have been a hit, although one required a re-draw because the politically correct police balked at his depiction of Pat stripping off the side of a buffalo that looked exactly like the strip on the side of their helmets.
“I liked it, but some of my staff thought we might get some phone calls from animal activists,” Patriots media relations director Stacey James said. “We went back to Phil and he had a new cover in a day. I don’t know how he does it.”
In some ways, neither does Bissell. He is like a running back who makes people miss without ever seeing them coming. He is an artist filled with both talent and the inspiration to create something that didn’t exist until it pops out of his pen.
He is, like Pat Patriot, a New England original. Fired by the Globe in 1965 for insisting his art was his intellectual property and not that of people who had nothing to do with its creations other than financing it, he would eventually work for about every newspaper in the region, including his hometown Worcester Evening Gazette and the Herald. He also ran his own syndicate that serviced 200 New England newspapers as well as for several in Florida when he used to winter there.
Through all those times, Bissell also did freelance work for colleges and high schools, as well as commissioned art that hangs in nearly every major sports Hall of Fame. He’s proud to point out that he never got a real art degree, but was handed an honorary one from Lesley University two years ago. He’s proud of all that but prouder still of Pat Patriot, the pen-and-ink boy he still calls his third son.
“I’ve drawn over 50,000 faces but my wife used to ask me, ’Don’t they realize you’ve done other things?’ ” said Bissell. “I always told her, ’At least they know I did something.’ ”