A New England Patriots Tale of Yore...
The New England Patriots were just 2-3 after the first five games on the 1982 season. The strike-shortened season had put wins at a premium, as the Dolphins, Jets, Bengals, Steelers, and Raiders sat at 4-1 with just four weeks to play. With a loss, the Patriots were almost certainly eliminated. On December 12, the Miami Dolphins rolled into town... along with blizzard conditions.
For three-and-a-half quarters the Patriots and Dolphins exchanged dropped passes, fumbles, and missed field goals. The field conditions made it impossible to handle the ball or keep footing. The score stood at 0-0 as the Patriots stalled on a fourth-quarter drive. The ball sat at the 16-yard line as coach Ron Meyer decided what to do next. Pats kicker Mark Smith had already slipped once on a field goal attempt, and Meyer was unsure whether to chance it again. On the other hand, going for it on fourth down seemed like an even bigger risk. Meyer called a timeout with 4:45 remaining and sent out Smith to put the Patriots ahead.
As Smith and holder Matt Cavanaugh dropped to their hands and knees, desperately trying to clear away a spot to kick from, Meyer got an idea. Throughout the game a John Deere snowplow had been employed to clear off the yard markers during time-outs. Meyer streaked down the sideline and asked the plow operator to clear a path for his kicker.
If Meyer wanted to steal the game, he picked the right man. The plow operator was 24-year-old Mark Henderson, a convict serving a 15-year sentence for burglary. Henderson had been working at Schaefer Stadium on work-furlough from Norfolk State Penitentiary. Henderson calmly drove the plow along the twenty yard line to avoid suspicion. Then, just as he reached the middle of the field, Cavanaugh gave a silent signal and Henderson followed him, carving a path behind the line of scrimmage for the hold and the kick to take place.
The Dolphins shouted and cursed as Henderson left the playing field. The Patriots lined up, snapped, and Smith booted a 33-yard-field goal to put the Patriots ahead 3-0. Instead of showing the kick, though, it was Mark Henderson and his snowplow on the stadium's Diamondvision. As his name was superimposed onto the screen, the crown began chanting his name over and over again as Henderson celebrated his fifteen minutes of fame. The Dolphins would fail to score on their possession, giving the Pats a 3-0 victory. Henderson was awarded the game ball by the team.
Dolphins coach Don Shula was irate, filing a protest with the league office and later regretting that he had not thrown himself in front of the plow. "That was completely illegal," he said after the game. When interviewed later, Henderson said of Shula's comments, "What were they gonna do? Put me in jail?"
Henderson relived his moment in 2001, as the Patriots brought back faces from the past for the final regular season game at Foxboro Stadium. As luck would have it, the game was against the Miami Dolphins. Henderson, who was presumed dead, reenacted his famous snowplow ride, then tossed the ceremonial coin before the game. Henderson's luck continued to help the Patriots, as they won 20-13 and moved into first place in the AFC East.