In a major blow to Connecticut, the New England Patriots said Friday the deal to move the team to Hartford is off.
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team officially notified Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland of "our termination."
The Patriots did not immediately disclose their plans for a stadium, but the NFL intends to discuss the situation at a league meeting in Atlanta on May 25.
"The New England Patriots will be playing football in Massachusetts, where they belong," said Gov. Paul Cellucci, in a statement from California, where he was promoting Massachusetts to filmmakers.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft had signed a tentative deal with Rowland in November to move the team to Connecticut after the state offered him a deal he seemingly couldn't refuse: a $380 million stadium on the Hartford waterfront.
In the last weeks, however, the deal seemed on shaky ground as it appeared less and less likely that the stadium would be completed by 2002 the year insisted upon by Kraft.
"This is like winning a game in overtime," said Massachusetts Senate President Thomas Birmingham. "Maybe we should have won it in regulation. But a win is just as sweet, maybe even sweeter, in overtime."
The Patriots' announcement comes days after Massachusetts political and business leaders announced a plan designed to keep the team in the Bay State.
Under the plan, which still needs legislative approval, Massachusetts would pay $70 million for infrastructure supporting a new stadium in Foxboro, the team's current home. But Kraft would have to pay for the stadium.
"The window of opportunity was very narrow and it took all hands on deck," said Paul Kirk, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and one of the prominent business leaders who had pushed for the latest Massachusetts deal.
National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue came to Boston last week to help negotiate a deal for Massachusetts.
"The Patriots have notified us of the decision," said Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman.
The Connecticut deal's collapse was announced less than 24 hours after Kraft met with Rowland in the Hartford Capitol, and two days before Kraft could back out of the deal without financial penalty.
Consultants had reportedly pointed to contamination of the site and problems in moving a steam plant off the existing property.
Although the deal was signed by both Kraft and Connecticut officials, escape clauses were included.
Friday's announcement was a slap in the face to Rowland, who had lobbied hard to bring the team to his state.
Rowland had said as recently as Thursday night that "failure is not an option."
On Friday morning, Rowland made his first public admission that the stadium couldn't be built by 2002 as the state had promised Kraft, but said he was confident the team would stick to the deal.
Cnnecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, said he would consult with Rowland to discuss possible legal action.
"We will take any action available to assert the state's legal rights," Blumenthal said.
He would not elaborate. But he had said Thursday that he was preparing to sue the NFL for promoting Massachusetts' effort to keep the Patriots despite the agreement Kraft had signed with Connecticut.
The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm in the Bay State, and especially in the Foxboro area, which stood to lose significant money if the team moved.
"Welcome home, welcome home," said Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. "I think it's extraordinary in such a short period of time so much was done."
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed