April 3, 1979

Chuck Fairbanks finally escaped Foxborough. Billy Sullivan made sure Fairbanks’ new employer paid a steep price.

It was the end of one of the sorrier sagas in the Patriots’ long-buried, checkered past.

Fairbanks had been trying to ditch Sullivan’s Patriots since the previous fall, once he found a coaching haven at the University of Colorado.

Sullivan had been steaming since the first hint of trouble,

The Pats had a contender – or seemed to – in 1978, until it all began to unravel when Sullivan suspended Fairbanks for a Monday night game in Miami. The Dolphins cruised to a 23-3, with assistant coach Ron Erhardt – Fairbanks’ eventual successor at the helm. New England finished the regular season at 11-5, good enough to host the Houston Oilers in a Divisional Round playoff game on New Year’s Eve.

The first playoff game ever at Schaefer Stadium was a disaster. Houston routed the Pats, 31-14.

From there, Sullivan and Fairbanks went to war. Lawyers representing the coach, the school, the team and the NFL fought in boardrooms and courtrooms. 

It didn’t end until Fairbanks forfeited $100,000 in deferred compensation from the Patriots, and paid $100,000 in lawyers’ fees and court costs.

Colorado paid an estimated $200,000 in legal fees.

The Patriots ultimately had their $250,000 in legal fees paid, and received $200,000 from the school, its boosters, and/or other deep pockets who couldn’t wait to have Fairbanks leading the Buffaloes into battle.