Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12, 1982: The Snow Plow Game

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - In this game, the weather was winning. Playing in a heavy snowstorm, the Dolphins and the Patriots were scoreless deep into the fourth quarter. The snow and wind had made footing treacherous, if not impossible. At time outs, the Patriots officials had been sending out a snowplow onto the field to clear off the yard lines so game officials could have some kind of idea where the field boundaries were.

With the game looking like it was destined to end up as a scoreless tie, the Patriots found themselves in field goal position. New England called time out, giving a chance for kicker Matt Cavanaugh to try to clear a spot off the turf from which to kick. He even resorted to dropping to his knees to try to clear a spot with his hands.

During the time out, Mark Henderson, the snow plow driver, was clearing off the line of scrimmage so officials could mark the ball. At the last moment, Henderson unexpectedly swerved into the backfield, clearing off a spot right where Cavanaugh would be kicking from. The Patriots were stunned at first, but then started applauding Henderson after realizing he had done it on purpose.

Miami coach Don Shula was furious and immediately started protesting the move, but there was nothing in the rulebooks expressly forbidding it. Meanwhile, with a clean surface from which to kick from, Cavanaugh made the field goal to put the Patriots ahead 3-0. With the conditions as they were, that's how the score remained.

Shula eventually lodged an official protest, saying the kick shouldn't count. Commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed with Shula but informed him that without a specific rule to cite, he couldn't overturn the play. The kick stood, but the rules were changed after the season to forbid the use of snowplows on the field during a game. The change came too late for the Dolphins.

Henderson, meanwhile, became a part of Patriots lore. A convicted buglar who was at the game on work release, he later said that he didn't have a problem clearing off the spot, saying "what are they going to do, throw me in jail?" The snowplow he used currently hangs from the ceiling at the Patriots Hall of Fame.

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