FOXBORO, MASS., FEB. 23 -- Sullivan Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, was saved from the auction block at the 11th hour this morning when operators of the stadium declared bankruptcy and won at least a temporary relief from foreclosure proceedings.

While a licensed auctioneer in a red bow tie prepared to sell the structure from a flatbed truck in front of the 61,000-seat facility, officials for Stadium Management Corp. walked into U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Boston and filed papers that show the company owes more than $52 million to a long list of creditors.

The stadium was built for $6 million in 1971.

The bankruptcy filing was an emotional setback for the financially troubled family of William H. Sullivan Jr., members of whom have borrowed heavily to retain control of the team and stadium since Sullivan bought the franchise in 1959.

Patrick J. Sullivan, one of Sullivan's sons and the general manager of the Patriots, said, "My dad has worked for two years to keep us out of bankruptcy, but we were unable to do it."

However, Joel Kozol, an attorney for the Sullivan family, said bankruptcy proceedings will help stabilize the family's financial situation and may enable it to sell the team to a preferred buyer -- possibly Donald Trump, the New York real estate tycoon and a onetime owner in the defunct U.S. Football League.

"Donald Trump called me this morning and told me that he's still very interested in obtaining the team," Kozol said. "If he can get some sort of informal assurance that he's acceptable to the {National Football} league, he's prepared to close the deal in 24 hours."

Trump reportedly believes he might not be able to win the necessary approval of 21 of the 27 NFL owners because of the role he played in the USFL's antitrust suit against the NFL.

Furthermore, Trump owns three casinos in Atlantic City and the league traditionally has discouraged ties between gambling and football.

But the New York financier might be one of the few individuals with enough money to effect an end to a bitter legal dispute between the Sullivans and a group that has purchased an option to buy the Patriots for $63 million.

Led by New York restaurant owner Fran Murray, the group has been trying to exercise its option since December, but the Sullivans have refused to sell.