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Reliving some memorable Patriots games

Posted Jul 29, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Jul 29, 2012 at 11:13 PM

The New England Patriots may not have had the richest history among NFL teams; certainly, the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Chicago Bears have been around longer and can draw from nearly 100 seasons of great moments.

But the Patriots, a mere child by those teams’ standards, have had some classic, unusual and even bizarre games since the team entered the AFL as the Boston Patriots in 1960.

The Snowplow Game. The Tuck Rule. 19-0.

Patriot games.

Armed with statistics, fun facts and the words of the participants, Jim Baker and Bernard M. Corbett bring Patriots football to life in “The Most Memorable Games in Patriots History: The Oral History of a Legendary Team” (Bloomsbury; $25, hardback, 360 pages). Thirteen games are profiled, from the Patriots’ American Football League opener against Denver in 1960 to December 2007 against the Giants, when New England won to complete a 16-0 regular season.

The game I was most interested in reading about was the infamous “Snowplow Game” played Dec. 12, 1982. The authors are quick to note that work release inmate Mark Henderson actually drove a John Deere 314 Tractor with a brush attachment.

“Somehow, ‘the John Deere 314 Tractor with a Brush Attachment Game’ doesn’t have quite the same ring,” they write.

This was the game in which Henderson cleared a spot on the Schaefer Stadium so kicker John Smith could boot the winning field goal, which gave the Patriots a 3-0 victory.

The amusing part of the story was not that Henderson helped the Patriots win the game, but that some of the New England players believed he was actually a hindrance.

“He missed the spot and buried it and we had to clean off again,” lineman John Hannah tells the authors. “All that stuff, it’s kind of a joke. He hurt us more than he helped us.”

Steve Nelson, who was on the field goal team that day, said Henderson “put down his brush and made a perfect spot seven yards behind the ball.”
“It had to help,” Nelson said. “It was a miserable field.”

“The expression on Don Shula’s face was incredible,” teammate Tony Collins said.

Check out this video for more enjoyment.

The “Tuck Rule” Game helped New England begin its current run of success over the past decade. Another snowy game in Foxborough, and the Oakland Raiders thought they had forced — and recovered — a Tom Brady fumble to put the game away.

Instead, the play went to review and it was ruled an incomplete pass.

The authors quote Mike Pereira, the former director of officiating for the NFL: “If the forward motion of the arm continues, even in the process of attempting to tuck the ball back into your body, it’s incomplete.”

“Under the rule the way it’s written, overturning the fumble was the right call,” he said.

The Raiders and their coach, Jon Gruden, would disagree.

The call enabled the Patriots to tie the game on Adam Vinatieri’s low kick from 45 yards in the swirling, windy snow. Vinatieri then won the game with a field goal in overtime, sending New England to the AFC Championship where the Patriots would beat Pittsburgh to earn a Super Bowl berth.

The Patriots’ three Super Bowl victories — against the Rams, Panthers and Eagles — are given big play in this book. So is the Patriots’ victory against Miami in the AFC Championship Game that sent New England to Super Bowl XX, its first appearance in that game. What’s notable about that game is that the Patriots had lost 19 consecutive games at Miami’s Orange Bowl and were big underdogs against the defending AFC champions. But New England broke its jinx with a 31-14 victory in a game that still causes major head-shaking in South Florida.

Not every game chosen by Baker and Corbett was a victory. The Patriots 24-21 divisional loss to Oakland on Dec. 18, 1976, was a hard-hitting, brutal game that oddly enough, was decided on a roughing-the-passer call that seemed dubious at the time, given all the cheap shots delivered prior to that moment by both teams.

The oral history is great, but the authors shine by delivering nice charts and nuggets of information. For example, one graphic documents the best four-season runs in NFL history. The Chicago Bears went 37-5 from 1940 to 1943 (.881 winning percentage) and won three NFL titles. The Dolphins went 47-8-1 from 1970 to 1974 and appeared in three Super Bowls, winning two of them. And the Patriots are 10th on the list, going 52-12 from 2004 to 2007.

Single-score games since 1943 is another interesting chart; in addition to the Snowplow Game, Bucs fans will remember Tampa Bay’s 3-0 victory against Kansas City in a driving rain at Tampa Stadium that clinched the NFC Central title and the first playoff berth in team history.

Another appendix recalls the biggest comeback wins in Patriots history, and other one, called “Perfection Denied,” which shows 14 teams that were denied a perfect season, including the 2007 Patriots.

While this book is geared toward New England fans, it is certainly a good read for fans of football history. There are plenty of interesting stories, and the players tell it in vivid detail.


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